J.R. Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year award coming off the bench for the Knicks last season, and was an important reason why the team was potent enough to finish with the second best record in the East.
This season, however, Smith would like a new challenge.
From Ian Begley of ESPN New York:
“I’ve always wanted to start. Everybody knows that,” Smith said. “I won the Sixth Man [Award] last year, so I felt as though there’s nothing left to prove at the sixth-man spot. But at the same time, if that’s what my team needs me to do, that’s what I’ll do. If Coach wants me to be a sixth man, I’ll be a sixth man. If he wants me to start, I’ll start. That’s up to him.”
Iman Shumpert is going to start for New York for a minimum of five regular season games, because that’s the length of Smith’s league-mandated suspension for multiple violations of the NBA’s drug policy.
There’s also the little fact of Smith’s offseason knee surgery, which still has him sidelined from a health standpoint.
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has publicly said he’s considering starting Smith when he returns, but that seems like more of a motivational tactic with Shumpert than anything else. The reality is that New York needs Shumpert’s defense in its starting lineup more than the team needs Smith’s scoring there, so despite J.R.’s wishes, the starting spot would appear to be Shumpert’s to lose.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.