5 Potential Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Knicks Guard J.R. Smith
With a new, Phil Jackson-led regime at the helm and a glut of guards clogging up the roster, the New York Knicks are understandably looking to make some moves this summer.
In fact, according to ESPN’s Ian Begley, no fewer than three of New York’s backcourt bulwarks—Shane Larkin, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith—are officially on the trading block. The goal being, it seems, to open up more playing time for second-year man (and the much cheaper) Tim Hardaway Jr., who is coming off a stellar performance at the Las Vegas Summer League.
And while the first two’s rookie deals ought to make them attractive targets for teams looking to bolster their perimeter depth, Smith’s comparably onerous contract (two years at a little over $12 million, including a year-two player option) makes him the much tougher sell.
In fact, even Smith acknowledges his putrid play last season pretty much guaranteed his spot on the block. In fact, he says he doesn't even blame Jackson for the wanting to do so. From an interview with ESPN's First Take (via ESPN New York's Ian Begley):
"No. Absolutely not. The way I was playing, I was playing like a person who didn’t want to be there," Smith said. "Not looking as focused as a person should be in that situation that we were, in the trenches. I wouldn’t blame them at all."
That’s not to say there won’t be suitors, of course. Put in the right situation with the right leadership around him, Smith remains, at the very least, a viable and potent scoring option off the bench. After all, it was just one year ago that Smith reeled in the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.
We’ve compiled a list of five possible landing spots for the man they call “Earl”—teams with both the offensive need and financial flexibility to look past Smith’s occasionally sophomoric on-court behavior.
Could Smith have already played his last days in Madison Square Garden? Let’s run some numbers.
Sacramento Kings Get: J.R. Smith
Knicks get: Jason Terry, cash considerations
True, this wouldn’t help New York’s backcourt logjam in the short term. However, Terry’s expiring contract alone could be enough to entice Jackson to bring the aging veteran aboard—even if his playing time stands to be minimal.
For the Knicks, it’s all about the summer of 2015, when the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani officially come off the books. With Carmelo Anthony set to take up a significant chunk of the resulting cap space, though, even Smith’s $7 million player option could prove a sizeable bottom-line burden.
Sacramento, meanwhile, stands to have considerable cap space at its disposal next summer, making Smith’s prospective re-upping a marginal risk at worst. What’s more, the shot-happy shooting guard—mercurial as he is—would give the Kings an immediate bench upgrade.
So long as New York remains willing to live through a lost season, trading Smith for an expiring contract makes more than enough sense. Even if all Terry provides is one year’s worth of veteran presence and locker-room diplomacy.
Detroit Pistons get: J.R. Smith
Knicks get: Jonas Jerebko, 2015 second-round pick
Same logic as the Kings trade: New York gets a player on a shorter deal, Detroit gets a player it could actually use—the kind of prime-time floor spacer new Pistons president and head coach Stan Van Gundy need to put around Andre Drummond, much like the former did with Dwight Howard while with the Orlando Magic.
Here's Bleacher Report's Ben Leibowitz on precisely this point:
To his credit, SVG has stayed busy throughout the offseason courting underrated free agents both before and after the big domino—LeBron James—finally decided to fall.
But what’s the big picture here?
Using historical context, it appears as if SVG and his staff want to emulate what worked so well with the Magic. Van Gundy led Orlando to the NBA Finals in 2008-09 behind the exploits of Dwight Howard down low and three-point sharpshooting from guys like Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee and J.J. Redick.
From New York’s perspective, getting a player like Jerebko—young, versatile and at least theoretically a fit in the triangle offense—would be worth it.
Indeed, even if Jackson’s intended target is only there for the short term, having that player be system-ready would make the team’s overall learning curve that much smoother.
Adding Smith to a mix that already includes Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith might not seem like the smartest move from a pure chemistry perspective. But so long as Smith’s stroke is hovering around the 40-percent mark, Van Gundy should find dealing with the attendant extracurriculars a bit more tolerable.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers get: J.R. Smith
Knicks get: Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver, Will Barton
According to HoopsStats.com, the Blazers have finished dead last in overall bench scoring in each of the past two seasons. For a team supposedly closing in on contention, that’s not good—at all.
If you’re Jackson, why not try to use that as leverage to pry away a couple of expiring contracts and one young asset (Leonard) who could use a change of scenery?
Smith would give Portland instant bench credibility, especially if veteran combo guard (and unrestricted free agent) Mo Williams opts to take his talents elsewhere this summer.
Even if Jackson doesn’t keep Barton, having Claver to bolster what remains tenuous frontcourt depth would be the chief motivating factor. The tricky part would be getting Portland to renounce Meyers, a one-time lottery pick who just hasn’t quite found his footing.
Even if it means New York parting with a second-round pick, this is a deal that could pay off in both the short and the long term.
Minnesota Timberwolves get: J.R. Smith
Knicks get: Luc Mbah a Moute, 2016 second-round pick
Speaking of terrible bench scoring, the Timberwolves finished 25th in that department last season, not to mention 30th in three-point shooting.
If Minnesota has any chance at all of convincing Kevin Love to stick around (unlikely, we know), they’ll have to take some chances on moves that help them in the short term, even if their future financial situation is somewhat compromised.
This is a deal that fits squarely into that category. Smith’s remaining two years might not be that attractive, but if it means more wing scoring and thus a better chance of cracking the playoff picture, it’s a risk the Wolves must be willing to take.
As for the Knicks, Mbah a Moute would at least give them some defensive versatility, even if his triangle contributions wind up being minimal. At the very worst, his salary comes off the books next summer—a practical prerequisite for all of the potential trades mentioned thus far.
Dallas Mavericks get: J.R. Smith
New York Knicks get: Brandan Wright
In Smith, Dallas could successfully plug the hole left in Carter’s wake while giving them a player who, at just 28 years old, offers much more in the way of offensive versatility.
The Knicks, meanwhile, would land their desired expiring project, along with a player who—if all goes well—could easily be brought back on a fresh, affordable tender next summer.
With Dallas now committed long term to Dirk Nowitzki and Parsons, owner Mark Cuban likely won’t have a whole lot of cap room next summer to begin with. Which is why taking on Smith—his boons as well as his burdens—wouldn’t be near the risk it might for other teams.