The Knicks season ended last night when the Pacers defeated them in Indiana to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks were the oldest team in NBA history for the 2012/13 season, and they have a lot of offseason decisions to reach in lieu of their loss to the Pacers.
The first such decision concerns the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith. Smith recently reiterated his desire to remain in a Knicks uniform next year despite the popular consensus he'll opt out of the contract that will pay him $2.9MM next season. He tweeted about wanting to return (Twitter link) today as SheridonHoops.com's Ben Baroff pointed out. But Smith isn't the only question mark as the Knicks head into the offseason after their best playoff performance in more than a decade.
A few notes from around the NBA's Eastern Conference.
J.R. Smith is likely to opt out of his deal for next season with the Knicks, and once he does, he'll be looking for a long-term deal, writes Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. While Smith's comments suggest he'd favor the Knicks over other teams, New York can't do any better than a four-year deal worth about $25MM, since they only have his Early Bird rights. As our Ryan Raroque surmised when he looked at Smith's free agent stock, the Sixth Man of the Year will be able to command a hefty raise on his $2.8MM salary this season. We'll soon find out whether the Knicks' best offer will be enough.
Washburn has more on the NBA as part of his weekly column, and we'll round that up along with other Sunday afternoon tidbits here:
Among those who have helped keep the Knicks afloat during their bout with injuries this season was J.R. Smith, the only player on the team's roster to have played in 80 games this year. The 27-year-old New Jersey native arguably became the team's most important offensive weapon when Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire were inactive. With recent rumblings that Smith is likely to opt out at season's end, the winner of the NBA's 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year award will undoubtedly enter the summer an entirely different commodity than he did nearly one year ago.
The Knicks saw significant roster changes during the 2012 offseason, including the departure of starting shooting guard Landry Fields. Though Smith entered training camp with his eyes on an opportunity to earn a starting position (ESPN NY), head coach Mike Woodson ultimately decided it was best to bring him off the bench, a role which the enigmatic shooting guard accepted and consistently thrived in. Other than the Clippers, the Knicks were the only other team in the NBA to feature a two-guard reserve as their second leading scorer, with Smith averaging a career-high 18.1 PPG. The 6'6 guard had also been an important contributor in other areas, averaging 5.3 RPG (also a career high) and 1.3 steals per game.
Interestingly enough, Smith made around $2.8MM this season, which was less than the annual contracts of Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Marcus Camby, and Steve Novak (in addition to Anthony, Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler). With a player option of $2.9MM next year, it was no surprise to hear talk that Smith plans to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Despite Smith's recent statement that he'd love to retire as a Knick, the possible financial overtures from other teams during the upcoming offseason may be too lucrative to pass up at this point in his career.
We've already mentioned New York's Early Bird rights on Smith, which would allow them to offer at least a two-year contract starting at 104.5% of this year's average salary. With that being said, there are more than a handful of teams from both conferences expected to have significant cap room this summer. Though June's draft could considerably play a role in determining team needs heading into free agency, a franchise like the Suns - who struck out last summer in their pursuit of Eric Gordon - could jump at the opportunity to land a scorer like Smith.
For his position and role as a scorer compared to several other prominent scoring wings in the league, an offer starting at around $5MM from the Knicks would be easy for teams with ample cap room to outbid. Looking at J.R's season averages more closely (18.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 2.7 APG in 33.3 MPG) and comparing that to Rudy Gay (16.1/6.1/2.7/35.8) and Joe Johnson (16.5/3.5/3.0/36.7), Smith has certainly made a case to earn the biggest contract of his career, considering the latter two are currently signed to max-contracts. While I'm not advocating that Smith receive a max-deal, his next contract should indubitably be more than what he has been earning over the last two seasons.
In March, Smith averaged 22.1 PPG and 6.0 free throw attempts per game while shooting 44.2% from the field and 34.5% from long distance. In April, he averaged 22.0 PPG, 4.5 FTA, and shot 48.3% overall along with 40.0% from deep. Smith's production over the final two months of the season was very impressive, considering New York's 13-game winning streak and 16-2 finish over the remaining 18 games to help clinch the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The notable increase in his presence as a scoring threat can be majorly attributed to his focus on attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line in addition to a more disciplined shot selection (as Tommy Beer of HoopsWorld chronicled last month).
Though we've yet to see how he'll continue to perform for the rest of the postseason, Smith can market himself as having played the best regular season of his career. Set to turn 28 in September, the New Jersey native is settled into his NBA prime and has shown the ability to be an important and efficient contributor on a 50-plus win team. While I wouldn't necessarily label him among the summer's big fishes in free agency, he's definitely a significant one whether he remains in New York or decides to change addresses.
Last week, a report suggested that former Lakers coach Phil Jackson was interested in returning to an NBA role for next season. While it doesn't sound as if any of the current head coaching openings are enticing enough to attract the 11-time champion, Jackson confirmed that he has interest in a comeback.
Speaking to Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip to HoopsHype), Jackson said he's talked to three or four teams and that "there are some interesting situations that are presenting themselves." However, according to Jackson, those discussions involve potential front-office roles rather than coaching positions.
While we wait to see if anything comes of Jackson's talks with NBA teams, let's check in on a few notes from around the Pacific Division:
Coming off a career-best season and a Sixth Man of the Year award, J.R. Smith will have the option of hitting free agency this summer, and it sounds like he'll take advantage of that opportunity. Moke Hamilton of SheridanHoops.com hears from a source close to Smith that the Knicks shooting guard is "very, very likely" to turn down his 2013/14 option and become a free agent.
Because New York only held Smith's Non-Bird rights last offseason, the team was only able to sign him to a contract that started at about $2.81MM this season. That makes Smith's player option for '13/14 worth only about $2.93MM, a figure he could easily exceed on the open market.
As we explained earlier today, and as Hamilton details in his piece, the Knicks will hold Smith's Early Bird rights this summer, meaning the team will be able to offer him a deal of up to four years, starting at a salary that figures to be in the neighborhood of $5.5MM. That will exceed the amount of the mid-level exception, meaning the Knicks should be able to outbid over-the-cap teams, though Smith could receive stronger offers from clubs with cap room.
Still, Smith has frequently expressed a desire to remain in New York, suggesting on Monday that he'd like to retire as a Knick. He was willing to accept a below-market salary to stay with the team last summer, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him do it again this year.
J.R. Smith, fresh off winning the Sixth Man of the Year award today, figures to be in high demand if he declines his $2.933MM player option for next season. Other teams will be able to give Smith more money on a new contract than the Knicks could, since the team only possesses Early Bird rights on him, but Smith said on ESPN's SportsCenter today that he would like to stay in New York, as Jared Zwerling and Ian Begley note.
"Without a doubt," the 27-year-old swingman said. "I was born in New Jersey, born and raised. I would love to retire a Knick."
This time of year, it's common for free agents to express their desire to remain with their current teams, only to reverse course in the summer. It's noteworthy, though, that Smith insists he doesn't want to go elsewhere since he could make more money if he signs with a team that has ample cap room, unlike many other free agents who have financial incentive to stay put.
The Knicks have commitments that would almost certainly make them a taxpaying team next season, so the best they could do for Smith would be to use his Early Bird rights to give him 104.5% of this season's average salary. The average salary won't be known until the league finalizes its books in July, but it's currently estimated to be $5.276MM. If that figure holds, the most the Knicks could pay Smith next season would be $5,513,420. The contract would be limited to raises of no more than 7.5%, so the Knicks couldn't backload their offer.
Smith could probably command offers of around $8MM or $9MM annually from other teams, though that's just my speculation. Still, Zwerling and Begley point out that Smith has received more endorsement opportunities in New York, and he's certainly played better with the Knicks than in his previous stops with the Pelicans and Nuggets.
1:44pm: Smith has been officially announced as the Sixth Man of the Year, with Crawford, Jack, Martin, and Anderson rounding out the top five, in that order. Smith received 72 of 121 first-place votes, with Crawford (31) and Jack (14) picking up most of the rest of the first-place nods.
9:12am: The NBA will make an announcement at 1:30pm CST today from the Madison Square Garden training center, according to the Knicks (Twitter link). Howard Beck of the New York Times reports (via Twitter) that the press conference will be for this year's first award winner, as J.R. Smith will be named Sixth Man of the Year.
Smith, 27, came off the bench for the Knicks in each of his 80 games this season, averaging a career-high 18.1 PPG and recording a 17.6 PER. It was the best season of Smith's nine-year NBA career, as he emerged as the Knicks' second scoring option behind Carmelo Anthony.
We'll hear later this afternoon how exactly the voting broke down, but Jamal Crawford (Clippers), Jarrett Jack (Warriors), Ryan Anderson (Pelicans), and Kevin Martin (Thunder) were also expected to receive consideration for the award.
While there are no games on the NBA docket tonight, there are still plenty of news items to pass along. Here are some odds and ends from around the league:
Depth at guard and the resurgence of Jeff Green have helped the Celtics remain relevant in the wake of Rajon Rondo's injury, as HoopsWorld's Stephen Brotherston details. Brotherston ponders the chances of a Heat-Celtics clash in the first round, and believes the Celtics would relish another playoff series with Miami. I'm inclined to believe Doc Rivers, who told reporters yesterday, including Mike Petraglia of WEEI.com, that he's not trying to match up with the Heat."Listen, I’m not that dumb," Rivers said. "I’m not the brightest guy but come on. Really, you would love to avoid anyone (like Miami)."
While we wait to find out Boston's first-round opponent, there's plenty of other news from the C's and their Atlantic Division rivals: