As free agency gets closer and closer, the San Antonio Spurs now have another player to evaluate as a potential new acquisition.
Cleveland.com first reported that J.R. Smith will opt out of his contract and elect to test the free agent market.
The timing of this announcement is especially curious, given that the Cleveland Cavaliers are just a day away from their final game in Cleveland this season.
As a pivotal game 6 looms for the Cavaliers, they now not only face the possibility of their season ending, but perhaps the last game for Smith in a Cavaliers’ uniform.
Smith has always been a terrific source of offensive production. He averaged 12.4 points per game this season as the Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard.
He’s a prolific gunner from downtown, and although he goes through his sporadic episodes of futility, he’s also prone to absolutely catch fire. He shot 40% from 3-point range this season, and made a total of 204.
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He’s been a remarkably consistent scorer throughout his NBA career. In his 12 year NBA tenure, he’s averaged double digit points in all but 1 season, including a current streak of 10 straight. What makes it even more noteworthy is that he has been a reserve for most of that time.
He won Sixth Man of the year in 2013, and has started half or less of the games he has appeared in for a season in 9 of those 12 years.
His performance in the NBA Finals this season has illustrated his improved defensive adequacy, so it’s somewhat unfair to categorize him as purely an offensive spark best utilized off the bench.
The contract he opted out of would have given him about $5.3 million next season, and he’s likely using this opportunity to get a raise from the Cavaliers or another team. Smith was one of just 8 players this season to hit 200 or more 3-pointers, and in an increasingly outside shooting-reliant league, Smith is a valuable commodity, especially with his defense no longer decreasing his worth to a lineup.
The Spurs will probably have enough cap room to throw big money at one marquee free agent, and Smith should not be high on their priority list.
He may not command an absurd amount of money for the talent his brings, but giving Smith what his market value indicates he’s worth will impede them from signing a more high-impact player like Kevin Durant, Hassan Whiteside, or Al Horford.
Shooting guard isn’t a pressing concern for the Spurs, but they could very well be looking at a vastly different depth chart at the position next season. Manu Ginobili appears close to retirement, and Kevin Martin is unlikely to be re-signed.
That leaves Danny Green as the starter with Jonathon Simmons as the heir apparent to be the second-stringer.
DeMar DeRozan recently opted out of his deal with the Toronto Raptors to become a free agent, and perhaps the Spurs will consider using their cap space to bring him aboard.
Smith is a nice complementary piece, but the Spurs should look to devote their cap space to signing a star player.
Smith should only be considered as an alternative option far down the road, and only if the Spurs aren’t able to lure a star free agent like Durant, Whiteside, Horford, or Mike Conley to San Antonio.
Even guys like Joakim Noah or Bismack Biyombo should be higher priorities than Smith. Both of them are projected to get much more money than Smith, but possess bigger risks than the 4 other players listed above.
Smith is an intriguing player, but the Spurs should steer clear. It’s not that Smith couldn’t help the team, but they have bigger needs than shooting guard. It would be a shame if the Spurs couldn’t land a star center because they gave too much money to Smith.
Smith is going to get a big contract from someone, but it shouldn’t be San Antonio. He’s going to be 31 next season, and perhaps he’s looking to cash in one last time following the terrific season he had this year.
The Spurs should devote their resources to not only a better player, but a better player at a position more in need of bolstering.