HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The New York Knicks have three free agents – J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland – that can be offered more money by other teams than they can by the Knicks, a result of their limited time in New York and that the Knicks are over the luxury tax threshold.
At the same time, if any of the three got away, the Knicks had limited means to replace them with equal talent. All they have to offer is the tax-payer’s (mini) mid-level exception and veteran’s minimum contracts. And they would have to eat into the mini mid-level if they were to re-sign Prigioni or Copeland for more than the minimum.
But with the market for shooting guards drying up, Smith agreed to a new four-year deal with the Knicks Thursday morning, according to multiple reports. The contract will pay Smith the maximum allowed under the Early Bird exception, about $24.5 million over the four years. The fourth year is a player option.
Smith was the Knicks’ second-leading scorer last season and was voted Sixth Man of the Year. With his one-on-one scoring ability, he was able to make something out of nothing on countless possessions last season.
But he often stopped the Knicks’ offense and went iso too early in the shot clock. And after he got ejected (and suspended a game) for an elbow to Jason Terry‘s head in Game 4 of the first round, he proceeded to shoot a miserable 34-for-117 (29 percent) over the Knicks’ final eight games.
(By the way, the Smith-Terry dynamic adds another layer to the Knicks-Nets rivalry.)
Smith is the ultimate feast or famine player and the Knicks would be better off if they could replace him with a better defender or a more disciplined and consistent scorer, especially since they’re adding another no-D, tunnel-vision scorer in Andrea Bargnani. Looking up and down the Knicks’ roster, it’s becoming more difficult to find teammates who complement each other’s skill set.
But again, there was no way to replace Smith’s points and minutes with someone of equal value had the Knicks just let him walk. And his contract is reasonable enough that he could eventually be traded.
That may be the Knicks’ ultimate plan. They couldn’t sign a new player for full mid-level ($5 million per year) money, but they could sign Smith and then eventually trade him for a guy (presumably a a better fit) making mid-level money.
That’s exactly what the Brooklyn Nets did with Kris Humphries. When Humphries was a free agent last year, the Nets didn’t necessarily want to bring him back. But they had his Bird rights and couldn’t spend the same amount of money on another team’s free agent. So they signed Humphries to a two-year, $24 million contract, with the idea that they could eventually trade him for another player making similar money.
The plan worked, with the Nets using Humphries’ contract (set to expire after this season) in the deal that will bring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. If they had let Humphries sign elsewhere last summer, that trade couldn’t happen.
Is that the Knicks’ plan with Smith? Time will tell. As an Early Bird signee, he won’t be eligible to be traded until Jan. 15, 2014.