The New York Knicks can’t be surprised that guard J.R. Smith has decided to opt out of his contract and elect free agency. In fact, despite Smith’s heroics last season which kept the Knicks afloat while Carmelo Anthony was out, his election of free agency should be a relief for the Knicks.
The Knicks certainly needed Smith during the regular season last year as Smith averaged 18.1 points while coming off the bench. He was a much needed sparkplug for the Knicks who needed a secondary option after Amare Stoudemire went down with an injury. However, the price to retain Smith would probably be more than what you would get in return especially when the return includes off-court drama as evidenced by Smith’s relationship with singer Rhianna that made headlines during the playoffs.
The Knicks already have a viable option on the roster to assume the role of secondary scorer and his name is Iman Shumpert. Shumpert spent a good portion of the year coming back from an ACL injury and looked tentative at times, especially in driving to the basket. However, once he felt comfortable he looked like a legitimate star in the making.
Shumpert averaged only 6.8 points per game in the regular season but averaged 11.0 points per game in the playoffs. Smith, conversely, watched his points per game average dip to 14.3 and shot just 33 percent from the field, down from 42 percent in the regular season.
The Knicks don’t need to dump large sums of money into keeping Smith when they have an intriguing option in Shumpert sitting right in their laps. The Knicks could use the money saved from Smith leaving to help shore up areas of need. The Knicks won’t have a lot of money to play with this off-season and they need a viable back-up point guard and a center to back up Tyson Chandler after watching Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby fail to fill that void last season.
Shumpert’s performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals where he drained four three-pointers in the third quarter could just be the tip of the iceberg. Shumpert has the explosiveness and creates the excitement whether it is hitting threes or slashing through a defense or even playing defense that the Knicks need. More importantly, Shumpert just turned 23 and has plenty of basketball ahead of him and the best is yet to come. It is time for the Knicks to trust him with a bigger role and let J.R. Smith find a new job.