According to what everyone expects, J.R. Smith will opt out of his contract for the 2013-2014 season, declining the $2.93 million player option he has with the New York Knicks.
Even though he had a terrible playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, averaging 13.5 points per game on 28.9% from the field, but after a regular season in which he averaged 18.1 points per game on 33.1 minutes a night while coming off the bench, it’s not going to be difficult for him to find a better contract than the one he’s on now.
Smith was the Sixth Man of the year last season, although some think that giving players awards for being nothing more than volume scorers isn’t the right way to be rewarding and acknowledging NBA excellence. Smith will be eligible for a $5 million deal if he re-signs with the Knicks, via the Early Bird exception. That contract can be up to four years, but not fully protected.
The Knicks won’t find someone who brings that many points to the table, especially with their contract situation, even if Kidd and Smith don’t stay with the team, being way over the luxury tax. The NBA announced that the salary cap next season will be exactly $58 million, a slight drop from this year, but the Knicks can’t make any significant moves in the off-season even with the lightened load, although they now have only 8 players (not including Smith) signed up for next season.
The question if keeping Smith on the team doesn’t have to do with money, it has to do with what the Knicks think will happen next season. There’s no doubt they need another scorer next to Anthony, but Smith’s points come at a price to team basketball and defense. Amare Stoudemire might become that guy again, but many don’t believe he’ll be a star in the NBA once more. Iman Shumpert is on the right path, but perhaps still short of what the Knicks need.
With that scenario unfolding before them, keeping Smith becomes a default option they probably have to follow, despite knowing that he’s not the kind of player who will help them reach even higher if he is playing such a significant role on this team.