After almost a year of wallowing in free agency, JR Smith found himself back in the NBA after the Los Angeles Lakers picked him up back in July to bolster their roster.
While he didn’t exactly provide a significant contribution in six regular-season games and 10 playoff appearances, the 6-foot-6 swingman got his second NBA ring in the process.
Smith’s future in the league is again in question as he enters free agency this offseason.
The 35-year-old shooter didn’t exactly play much to leave a lasting impression for other teams, as he tallied just 2.0 points on 27.3 percent shooting from downtown in the 2020 playoffs.
Some pundits believe that Smith is in the same boat as teammate Jared Dudley and should just retire while he is on top. Swish, however, is as defiant as they come, and he will likely vie for another NBA roster spot next season.
Judging by the form he displayed in his comeback year, Smith won’t be receiving the big bucks. His best bet is to sign another minimum deal with a contender who just wants his championship experience.
Let’s have a look at three of the most ideal teams for JR Smith in free agency.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers still hold Smith’s best (and most realistic) chance of holding a roster spot in the NBA next season. If Smith puts in the work to regain his old form this offseason, he might get a chance to gain a bigger role for L.A.
The Lakers might have an opening on the wing with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope possibly headed elsewhere, and it’s unclear what will happen with Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma. That could leave room for a few more JR Smith minutes.
While Smith already looks past his prime to make a significant difference, he will still be one of the cheapest options out there. The Lakers will have tight cap space since they will re-sign Anthony Davis to a max extension, even if it’s just a short-term one. They also have other free agents to deal with, including Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and Markieff Morris.
The Lakers could give Smith another one-year veteran’s minimum deal just to shore up their roster. If someone better comes along, they could always waive him.
If Smith does get signed next season, chances are it will be in La La Land. Plus, good buddy LeBron James will likely vouch for him for at least another year.
2. Brooklyn Nets
While the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Boston Celtics are still expected to be the top dogs in the East next season, the Nets have also inserted themselves in that conversation. Superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are expected to be 100 percent, and the Nets would love to add other veterans to establish a championship-ready unit.
Brooklyn might lose its best shooter in Joe Harris in free agency, which would open the door for another gunslinger on the roster. It would be a gamble to rely on the 16-year vet at this stage of his career, but it might be in the Nets’ best interest to roll the dice.
The payoff would be quite nice if JR Smith could give them some production at around 10 minutes a night. If not, his signing wouldn’t really hurt the Nets’ cap sheet or flexibility.
Smith struggled from downtown throughout the 2019-20 campaign, but he’s still a 36.7 percent career shooter. Durant and Irving alone will command a lot of attention on defense, so a shooter like Smith would have open opportunities to let it fly.
Plus, Smith already has a good relationship with Irving, with whom he won a title back in 2016 with the Cavs. If returning to Los Angeles is not in the books for Smith, heading back to New York is also not a bad idea.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers do need shooters, and new head coach Doc Rivers is expected to get some new reinforcements in his first year with the team.
While there will be younger and better options in free agency, the Sixers could take a shot at the eccentric guard if they miss out on the big names.
Plus, Philly doesn’t have any cap space to begin with given the mammoth salaries of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford. A guy like JR Smith might just be the only one they can afford this offseason.
Josh Richardson didn’t exactly play as well as expected of his this season, so maybe Smith can come in and get some of those minutes if he continues to underwhelm.
Much like how LeBron James is with the Lakers, the Sixers also have a big playmaker in Simmons who can locate shooters like Smith lurking in the corners. However, the two-time NBA champ must prove he can still hit those open looks on a consistent basis.