Wednesday in China, J.R. Smith hopped on a plane and said “zai zian” to the Zhejiang Golden Bulls of the Chinese Basketball Association where he played during the lockout. His team is out of the playoffs and he is on his way home.
The only question is, where is that plane going to land? New York or Los Angeles?
While a number of teams — Indiana, Orlando, Minnesota — have courted Smith, it’s down to the Knicks and Clippers reports Ramona Shelburne with ESPNLosAngeles.com.
The Knicks remain the presumptive favorites to sign Smith because they can offer him a pro-rated share of their $2.5 million mini-midlevel exception and a player option for a second year. The Clippers, meanwhile, can offer him only the veteran’s minimum for the rest of this season.
While Smith would likely make far more than $2.5 million as an unrestricted free agent this summer, the security of that player option for next season could be an important factor in his decision, according to a source.
The one thing Smith wanted was meaningful minutes, something he would get with either team. The Knicks have needed a two-guard all season, the Clippers stepped up their pursuit of Smith (with Chris Paul as lead recruiter) after Chauncey Billups went down for the season with an Achilles injury.
Expect Smith’s decision to come soon — his contract is pro-rated from when he signs, so the sooner it happens the more money he makes.