Report: Chris Paul leading Clippers J.R. Smith recruitment

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J.R. Smith is expected back in the United States this week an NBA free agent. His team in China has been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and the season ends this week.

And the Clippers want him. Badly. Especially now that their starting two guard is gone for the season.

The Clippers are not alone in coveting Smith — the Knicks are considered the frontrunners, the Lakers and others are in the mix — which is why Chris Paul has become the Clippers lead recruiter, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The Clippers were interested in Smith even before the season-ending injury to Chauncey Billups last week, believing they could use more offensive firepower off the bench. That was going to be a harder sell to Smith, who is looking for a larger role. Now, they can offer Smith the opportunity to start.

Like Billups did with recently-signed Kenyon Martin, point guard Chris Paul has taken a lead role in recruiting Smith, according to the source. The two are close from their two seasons as teammates with the Hornets.

If you want a connection, Kenyon Martin (and Chauncey Billups) have the same agent as Smith.

But it may come down to money. Which is good for New York.

The Knicks can offer $2.5 million (their mini mid-level) and he would get most of that (it is pro-rated from only Feb. 10). The Clippers can only offer a veteran’s minimum deal that is pro-rated from the start of the season. The Knicks also have room for a starting two guard so he gets his run.

But CP3 is trying. And unlike the Knicks, the Clippers are a threat to make it to the finals. Just depends on what Smith wants.