Smith is only shooting 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point arc, but neither of those are far below his career numbers of 42 percent and 37 percent, respectively. The argument also can easily be made that Smith – who is taking 15 shots per game this season, far above his career average of 10 – is simply being asked to carry more of an offensive load as the team’s secondary offensive option.
So fault Woodson for his laissez-faire offensive coaching of Smith, but only if you credit him with turning J.R. into a two-way player who brings energy and effort every single night.
Smith is far from perfect. But for the Knicks, he has been a godsend.
After returning from a stint in China, Smith signed with the Knicks last season for a pro-rated share of the $2.5 million “room exception.” He rebuked overtures from the Clippers, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls, amongst others. The Pacers were the only team that could offer Smith a richer payday than the Knicks, but they did not, and his decision to sign in New York seemed to be more financial than anything else.
After opting out last summer, Smith re-signed with the Knicks, taking a two-year deal worth $5.7 million. However, the second year is a player option that Smith is not expected to exercise, once again making him a free agent this summer.
And that is when things will get interesting.
In two seasons with the Knicks, Smith has proven that he can be a dependable player for an NBA team. And though some of his off-court antics deservedly draw some criticism, Smith is good guy and a good teammate. He has matured and grown as a person and it is a shame that more attention is paid to his Twitter antics than his super cool and radically impromptu bike rally with young Knicks fans or, more recently (and importantly), his teaming up with SK Energy Shots and raising awareness for its charitable campaign to feed homeless children.
Unfortunately, those things don’t win you the Sixth Man Award. And Smith is not likely to win it since the Knicks have been in a three-month tailspin, but it is worth noting that Smith has very quietly become one of the more important members of the most successful team the Knicks have fielded in 13 years.
For the Knicks, Smith is a keeper.
This summer, if Smith re-enters the free agent market, the Knicks will have his “early” Bird rights. Early Bird rights are a weaker form of Bird rights which are given to a team after a player has played two years with the team. Because of the designation, the Knicks can offer Smith a four-year contract worth about $24 million.
In the unlikely event that Smith opts into the final year of his current deal (worth $2.9 million for next season), he would become a free agent in the summer of 2014. At that point, the Knicks would have his full Bird rights.
Whether he opts into his final year or not, it is too early to know how long Smith’s tenure in New York will last.
For the sake of him and the franchise alike, it should be a relationship that continues, because both sides have won immensely.
Sixth Man Award winner or not, Smith has emerged as a figure of monumental importance for these Knicks. Sadly, that is probably something that most people outside New York probably do not see.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops whose columns appear here on Tuesdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton
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