Most NBA players will do the thing that makes most sense financially, so it’s not surprising that J.R. Smith opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks, with the Milwaukee Bucks, in a position to offer a lot of money to the shooting guard, very interested in seeing him join them.
It’s been a very long time since Smith was a starting player (his rookie year), but after averaging 18.1 points per game for the Knicks last season, there was no way he was staying with a $2.9 million contract.
The Knicks would love to see Smith playing for them next season, and he himself would like to stay in New York, but because they’re over the cap, they can only offer him $5.58 million with early Bird rights. The Bucks, under the salary cap with both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings probably leaving, can offer a lot more than the Knicks in both Smith’s case and for another free agent, Chris Copeland.
The question for Smith is this – does he leave New York, a city he loves playing in, for a small-market team like Milwaukee, even if they do offer him a big contract ($8 million a season?) and the opportunity to be a starter and a leader? Or is $5.8 million enough for him, knowing he’s staying on a team in a good situation and where he’s had playoff experience and offensive success.
For the Bucks, there are similar questions regarding the option of Smith. One of the problems with both Ellis and Jennings (who is a restricted free agent), is that they’re volume shooters, and Smith isn’t all that different if not much worse in that aspect.
He’s a 42.6% career shooter, and did even worst in the postseason, averaging 14.8 field goal per game on 33.1% from the field. Unless the Bucks are sure they can tame him in some way, giving Smith a big contract isn’t the kind of deal that’ll will take them forward; it’ll feel more like covering their asses about having a player who can potentially score 20 points a game on a team that looks very limited on all fronts, and especially on offense at the moment.