NEW YORK — The New York Knicks signed J.R. Smith on Friday, hoping his 3-point shooting can improve one of their biggest weaknesses.
The timing may be risky with the Knicks playing their best basketball of the season, but the Knicks think Smith will be worth the risk.
“We just felt that it was an opportunity to acquire a very good basketball player and to help us in a way that I think we’re in need of,” interim general manager Glen Grunwald said. “He’s a talented offensive player, shoot the ball, he can get to the rim, he can run the floor, so we just felt it was the right fit for what sort of we’d be facing the rest of this year.”
Smith is returning to the NBA from China, where he signed to play during the lockout. He was ineligible to return until his team had completed its season and FIBA, basketball’s governing body, had given him clearance.
Smith had declared his intentions to reunite with former Denver teammate Carmelo Anthony earlier in the day on Twitter, saying “New York Knicks it is!”
The Knicks still had their two-year exception, worth about $2.5 million a year, to offer. The second year of the deal is at Smith’s option.
Smith is a streaky shooter with deep range and has averaged 12.5 points in the NBA since he was the No. 18 pick by the Hornets in the 2004 draft. He spent the last five seasons with the Nuggets, twice scoring more than 15 points per game.
Grunwald said Smith shot around 50 percent from 3-point range while playing for Zhejiang of the Chinese Basketball Association. The Knicks rank 26th in the league from behind the arc.
But the Knicks are taking a chance of messing up the chemistry they have developed while winning seven straight games behind Jeremy Lin. Plus, Smith has developed a reputation as a chucker.
“He’s not stopping the ball, that’s for sure,” coach Mike D’Antoni joked, flicking his hand as if we he were taking a shot.
Plus, Smith is also temperamental and has clashed with teammates and coaches, plus spent time in jail on a reckless driving charge.
“We had people that had let’s say inside personal experience with J.R. and they all came out in favor of this move,” said Grunwald, mentioning director of pro player personnel Mark Warkentien, Denver’s former general manager. “We talked to a lot of people, we are comfortable with the decision we made and we’re hopeful that it’s all going to work out for the best.”
Smith won’t arrive until Saturday night and won’t get a chance to practice, so it’s doubtful he plays Sunday against Dallas.
“I don’t think so,” D’Antoni said. “That’s a little much.”
To make room on the roster, the Knicks waived forward Renaldo Balkman.