This didn't always appear to be the case. First, Smith denied his qualifying offer, rendering him a free agent as of July 1. Then with the 24th pick in last Thursday's NBA draft, New York selected Tim Hardaway Jr. out of Michigan. The decision to become a free agent on top of the selection of the 6-foot-6-inch guard led some to believe it was the end of J.R. Smith in the Big Apple.
The denial of the qualifying offer was imminent from the start. After the type of production Smith gave the Knicks last season, there was no way the guy was going to play for $2.9 million. He was always going to feel the market out whether or not he decided to return and nobody can blame him -- we would have done the exact same thing.
On draft night, many (including me) thought it could be the end of Smith in orange and blue. I soon realized how wrong that assumption was. Hardaway wasn't drafted to replace Smith as the No. 2 scorer for the Knicks, but that's how some have continued to see it.
So because Glen Grunwald drafted a shooting guard it means Smith is out the door? Um, no. Actually New York wants J.R. back painfully bad. The Knicks were protecting themselves with a long, athletic guard that can shoot. It never meant Smith is gone; it means that there's somebody to help at the ever-important shooting-guard position in the event that he doesn't return.
In fact, when you think about it, it doesn't even make sense to assume that the draft pick would make New York shy away from re-signing the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
There is no way the rookie would step into the role Smith played this past season. At 34 minutes, 18 points and 5 rebounds, what Smith does for the Knickerbockers is more than most can give them, let alone a late first-round pick.
Say what you want about Smith, but he was the second biggest reason for the 54-win season behind only Carmelo Anthony. Speaking of Anthony and despite their scoring prowess at times, the Knicks didn't have a great supporting cast of guys who could score to compliment Melo. That isn't exactly going to make him NOT shoot the ball. He's a volume player and only had Smith to really depend on. Felton did his job at the point, but it's not like the Knicks were harboring a collection of scorers that nobody knew about. On many occasions, it was just numbers 7 & 8 that were responsible for a heavy chunk of scoring with the deep bench pinching in.
Now imagine losing Smith? And you want to complain about Melo shooting too much? Just imagine how many shots he will probably take then (not that I mind; without him NYK would be nothing.) Still, it isn't what is best for the team. The Knicks need to improve with ball movement and spacing, something they lost throughout the 2013 playoffs. However, those things only come if there are shooters to space the floor with. It wasn't good enough when they had J.R. Smith, what makes any of us think it will be better when they don't? Right, it won't.
As far as the pick goes, there is less pressure on Hardaway if he isn't depended on to replace a key cog in the wheel of the No. 2 seed in the East. He needs to be a part of the supporting cast and emerge on his own as he gets accustomed to the NBA gameBack to Smith, the Knicks without a doubt want to bring him back and part of that is because they're getting him at a bargain. With their money woes, $24 million over four years to Smith is exactly the break the Knicks need financially to compete with the rest of the conference. A fan who does not want that deal straight up does not want to give the team the best chance to win.
He is worth much more, and will be offered much more by other teams. Word around the league is that Milwaukee leads the J.R. Smith sweepstakes. The Bucks and a couple of other teams (Detroit, New Orleans) are prepared to blow the Knicks' offer out of the water with hopes of getting the New Jersey native to pack his bags and leave New York.
If Smith wants to move to Milwaukee and make close to double-digit millions and play for an OK-team that doesn't finish above 6th, that's up to him. He would improve their team, or another team, drastically if that's the case.
But let's not think we have J.R. pegged because we see his tweets and tattoos. If he chooses to stay, his willingness to take less money shows he wants to win above all else and that is all fans can ask for. And with whatever else comes along with being a high-profile athlete in New York (endorsements, etc.), it seems he would make close to the same amount that he would for basketball in another city.
New York gives him the best chance to win and vice versa. That $5.5 million a season would get some quality NBA players, but this is really a no-brainer.
Smith is giving New York the first chance to meet with him and discuss his future. By all accounts, he wants to remain a Knick, pick up where he left off from last regular season and prove he is not the guy we saw in the playoffs. The postseason performance is still on our minds, but it is time to look forward. Smith and New York is the perfect fit, and the Knicks need him to keep pace with the improving teams around them.Brian Sausa is a native of Queens, New York. He has covered a variety of NY area sports teams for New York Sports World.
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