J.R. Smith Still Hasn’t Signed and is Still Available


I know what you’re thinking. “J.R. Smith is still a free agent?”

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Yes. Yes he is. J.R. Smith is still technically a free agent.

As one of the key cogs on a newly minted NBA championship squad, Smith figured he could capitalize on that cache to the tune of a big payday. He figured wrong, chiefly because his reputation as a head case precedes him, much as it did last season when he opted out of $6.4 million in guaranteed money to dip into free agency. He eventually had to settle for a short term deal (a 2-year, $10.3 million contract with an opt-out option after the first season), for less annual money than he had been initially guaranteed. Because the Cavaliers own his full Bird rights, they can exceed the cap to bring him and LeBron James (still a free agent) back, and be able to dip into the luxury tax in doing so.

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What has Smith done to warrant such wariness?

Two major car accidents (one of which yielded a vehicular manslaughter conviction and jail time); three subsequent license suspensions in New Jersey alone and one subsequent citation for driving a motor-scooter without a license; embraced the nightlife of New York City to the detriment of his team (buying that tank, partying with Rihanna on the eve of a playoff game); having his salary withheld by the Guangdong Golden Bulls (where he played during the 2011 lockout) because they claimed he faked an injury; being reportedly tough to control as a player and teammate, and other petty head case stuff.

The flip side of that coin is that the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year is exactly what the Bulls need: a great shooter — one of the best volume three-point shooters in the NBA (he had 510 attempts in the playoffs and regular season combined) — who has transformed himself into a very solid wing defender, who has the size (6’6”, 225 pounds) to guard either wing slot.

Last year, his new commitment to defense helped him beat out Iman Shumpert for the permanent starting two-guard spot next to James in Cleveland. He started all 77 games he played in, shooting 40 percent from deep on 6.3 treys a game, averaging 12.4 points, 2.8 boards, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals a night.

As the rotation tightened in the playoffs, his minutes increased to 34.8 a night, and his three point production rose up to 7.2 attempts per game, as he converted a fantastic 43 percent of them. He shot 45.9 percent from two-point range, although he only attempted 1.8 of those a night in the playoffs. Smith went for 4-of-5 from deep to contribute to a record-shattering playoff moment for the Cavaliers — the team converted 25 trey’s that night, the most-ever in a single game, playoff or regular season.

Smith’s biggest weakness as a shooter is, oddly, his free throw shooting. You’d figure a knock down jump-shooter of his caliber could convert 85 percent of his gimme’s pretty handily. Instead, he’s a career 73.4 percent shooter from the charity stripe and had his worst season in that arena just last year by making just 63.4 percent of those free throws. That’s almost Rondo-level bad.

Regardless, I’d love him for the Bulls, and you should too.

With a proven veteran leader like Dwyane Wade on the floor and in the locker room, Smith’s more… eccentric proclivities could be held in check. And the Bulls desperately need someone with his shooting and wing defense. He’s basically a younger, healthier, better Mike Dunleavy Jr. (albeit, without the size to slide over to the 4-spot).

Right now, the Bulls only have the non-taxpayer’s exception available, plus the Bulls supposedly don’t like locker room headaches. But, they did sign Rajon Rondo, so maybe they’ve relaxed that policy this summer.

Smith reportedly wants around $15 million for his services, but considering that most teams have already filled up their caps adding almost all of the non-minimum salary free agents, the window for such a payday could be closed. Dion Waiters, a similar head case-type without Smith’s championship pedigree, rejected a $6.8 million qualifying offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Sam Presti, and wound up signing a two-year deal worth $6 million total with the Miami Heat. Smith is six years older than Waiters and will probably get offered more than that somewhere.

That’s where the Chicago Bulls come into the equation.

The Bulls could definitely find $8 million worth of cap space to make him a serious offer. They could definitely find a way flip the guaranteed contracts of young pieces like Tony Snell ($2.4 million), Doug McDermott ($2.5 million), Nikola Mirotic ($5.8 million), Isaiah Canaan ($1 mill) or Jerian Grant ($1.6 million) and a pick into cap space.

This would give the Bulls either $7.5 million or $10.8 million in signing space. Moving Mirotic is kind of contingent on internal confidence in Bobby Portis and/or McDermott’s ability to be a legit stretch-four.

Honestly, it feels sort of dicey. Anyway, someone will take a flyer on McDermott’s shooting and the other young guys. Would Smith settle for $8.2 million? It depends on the rest of the market, but… I’d imagine so. This team desperately needs shooting and with Wade in the fold, maybe the Bulls could get Smith in line.

If the Bulls didn’t have to lose Mirotic in the deal to free up space for Smith, I’d still do it. It still wouldn’t exactly make the Bulls a contender, but if the Bulls would rather move all their intriguing young pieces for a serious game-changer, then they totally should.

But, J.R. Smith is just a tier below that level in terms of what he can contribute to these Bulls this year. The Bulls need shooting, and he’s just dangling out there, hoping for a dance.