Led by J.R. Smith, the CBA's Zhejiang Golden Bulls are currently fighting to qualify for the postseason. Smith's squad wouldn't make the playoffs if the regular season ended today, but with a week of action remaining, the Golden Bulls are still in contention.
For Smith, a playoff berth would delay his return to the NBA, potentially extending his team's season into March. Regardless of when he arrives, we can be fairly certain the CBA's leading scorer will play in the NBA this season, so let's examine a few possible fits for him.
Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv reported last week that Smith was considering five NBA teams — the Bulls, Clippers, Knicks, Lakers, and Thunder. Let's run through those clubs:
- Bulls: They could offer Smith their $1.9MM bi-annual exception, but there's not a clear fit here. Assuming he's healthy, Richard Hamilton is Chicago's primary two-guard, and the Bulls may not to be able to offer Smith the minutes he's seeking in a rotation that also includes Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer.
- Clippers: They could definitely use Smith, particularly following Chauncey Billups' season-ending injury, but could only offer the veteran's minimum salary.
- Knicks: Their $2.5MM mini mid-level is available and, even taking into account Jeremy Lin's recent emergence, a backcourt acquisition would help. If Smith hopes to play for a contender, the Knicks' 10-15 record doesn't inspire much confidence, but they are only a half-game out of the playoffs in the East.
- Lakers: They could only offer the veteran's minimum, and likely would prefer to add a point guard rather than another perimeter scorer.
- Thunder: They could offer Smith most of their mid-level exception, as I outlined yesterday, but it seems unlikely they'd be interested with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, and Daequan Cook already on board.
While there are plenty of other teams that could offer Smith significant playing time, significant money, or a chance to contend for a title, there aren't many that could offer a combination of all three. If Smith is looking for the best possible fit on all three fronts, he might consider two other clubs:
- Spurs: They're thought to have interest, and they have their full $3MM taxpayer mid-level remaining. Manu Ginobli should be back in action soon, but adding Smith to lighten the load on the Spurs' veteran backcourt in this season of back-to-backs could be huge.
- Timberwolves: They have their $2.5MM mini MLE and room for improvement at shooting guard. While the T-Wolves may not be ready to make a deep playoff run, they're in the playoff hunt, a game back of Dallas for the eighth spot in the West.
Ultimately, Smith's decision will come down to a matter of preference. Does he want to make as much money as he can, play as many minutes as he can, or compete for a championship? I won't try to guess what he's thinking, but it seems to me the Clippers, Spurs, or Timberwolves would give him the best chance to showcase his talents and earn a larger free agent contract this summer.