There’s a certain amount of uncertainty around this New York Knicks team heading into the offseason. Perhaps J.R. Smith’s contract situation isthe number one uncertainty with the team. However, following Saturday’s season-ending Game 6 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Smith tried to clear up his intentions. From Ian Begley of ESPN:
“I want to retire a Knick,” Smith said when asked about his future following the team’s season-ending loss to the Pacers on Saturday night. “I don’t want to go anywhere else. I love it. I love my teammates. I love my coaches. I was sitting in the locker room looking at my jersey after the game just knowing I don’t want to be anywhere else except for in the orange and blue. So we’ll see.”
Smith is expected to opt out of his $2,9 million player option next season and become an unrestricted free agent. Smith had limited options last season and signed a fairly small offer with the Knicks. However, given Smith’s mostly productive season, he is due for a pay raise, especially as he hits the prime of his career.
The Knicks cannot pay Smith as much as other teams with cap space, but they do have a few advantages. They can offer him a decent contract, around the average league salary of about $5 million with small increases each season. If Smith is willing to sacrifice a big pay day for one more year, however, the Knicks will own his Bird Rights (they currently have his Early Bird Rights) and could sign him for whatever they/he pleases and for however long they want.
The Knicks obviously have the advantage of being the Knicks, too. Smith is from the New Jersey and loves the city. Likewise, he’s become very close to the organization, namely Carmelo Anthony, who he’s spent nearly his entire career playing with. And, of course, there’s Mike Woodson, whose trust and love of J.R. Smith surely outweighs any other coach Smith could play for in the NBA.
There’s almost no doubt that the Knicks will try to keep J.R. Smith around. However, there’s a legitimate argument about how much he’s worth. Yes, J.R. just had the best season of his career, averaging career-highs in points (18.1 per game) and rebounds (5.3). He had moments where he looked like a legitimate All-Star, like this past April where he averaged 33 minutes per game, 22 points on 48.3% FG and 40% 3FG, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. Smith’s best moments were a big part of the Knicks’ regular season success.
However, for the second straight year, Smith’s game and focus waned in the postseason. During the past two postseasons, his combined stats come out to 13.2 points per game, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. Most alarming, however, is that he’s been attempting 15 shots per game and shooting a combined 32.3% FG and 22.6% 3FG. Smith’s contributions drop radically in the playoffs in nearly every category. And this year, Smith’s focus took a sour turn with an intentional elbow to Jason Terry’s face in Game 3 of the first round, earning Smith a suspension; talks of going golfing while in the midst of a series; and going clubbing at night.
Smith’s regular season contributions are great and needed. However, for a team that has higher aspirations than the second round, the Knicks need Smith to be better than those lowly numbers above.
Personally, I welcome Smith back. However, I would prefer it to be in one of the aforementioned $5-million per year contracts that the Knicks can offer this season. This would keep New York from overpaying Smith, and it would also likely be for a shorter time, thereby retaining cap space for 2015.