With Chauncey Billups sidelined for the season and no clear options at shooting guard on the roster, the Los Angeles Clippers are in the market for a new player. They need a scoring punch, the sort of guy who can hit threes and add enough athleticism to keep pace with the Lob Angeles ethos. In other words, they need J.R. Smith, soon to return from his bogus journey to China to help an NBA team over the last few months of the season.
Smith has several suitors, including the suddenly resurgent Knicks. But the Clippers might have a leg up on their competition, because they have Chris Paul. Beyond Paul's greatness on the court, he has a strong relationship with Smith. From Ramona Shelburne for ESPNLosAngeles.com (via SLAM):
Like Billups did with recently-signed Kenyon Martin, point guard Chris Paul has taken a lead role in recruiting Smith, according to the source. The two are close from their two seasons as teammates with the Hornets.
Also like Billups and Martin, who are both represented by agent Andy Miller, Paul and Smith both are represented by agent Leon Rose. That would seem like an advantage, except for the fact that Rose also represents New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who said this week he'd be happy to have his former Nuggets teammate join him in New York. [...]
The Knicks are the presumed favorite to land Smith because they can offer him both a large role on the team, and their pro-rated $2.5 million mini mid-level exception. Exceptions are only pro-rated after Feb. 10, so Smith wouldn't be losing much. Most of the other teams reportedly interested in him, like the Lakers or Clippers, can only offer him a veteran minimum contract, which would be pro-rated from the beginning of the season.
While the financial difference is distinct, it won't be huge (roughly $1.5 million depending on when Smith signs), making the choice more about which organization Smith wants to set himself up with in the future, and where he'd have the best chance to showcase himself the rest of the season.
What the article doesn't mention is that Paul and Smith once wore these awesome tuxedos to a Hornets event, so clearly they share a special bond. Expect this deal to happen just so CP3 can get closer to J.R.'s sweet hat.
Shelburne is right to point out that the issue for Smith is more about the contract he can get after this season than the amount he'll earn from now until the end of the 2011-12 campaign. The Knicks, with their high-octane offense, would seem to be the better choice if Smith wants to get shots. He'd be a great fit for Mike D'Antoni's offense, and if Jeremy Lin proves able to integrate with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire then they should have an offense worth paying attention to.
On the other hand, the Clippers can offer Smith a platform that other teams cannot. With or without Smith, Paul and Blake Griffin give them a chance to make the NBA Finals. In case you haven't noticed from examples including J.J. Barea and Derek Fisher, role players on contending teams tend to get a lot of consideration in the free-agent market even if their numbers don't measure up to those of other players. Smith comes with more baggage than those players, but the glow of a deep playoff run can cast anyone in a new light.
If Smith is willing to take less money and fewer shots per game — an arguable point, given how many players on the Knicks like to dominate the ball — the choice seems clear. Whether or not he makes that decision should tell us a lot about what he wants out of his career.
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