Albeit different types, both reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith and surprise rookie Chris Copeland are both heading towards free agency. Smith will opt out of the final year of his contract sometime Tuesday, as was expected all along, to become an unrestricted free agent. On Monday, the Knicks extended a qualifying offer to Copeland (1 year, $988,872 million guaranteed), which makes him a restricted free agent. He has until July 23 to accept it, but can also test the free agent waters. This is not a guarantee that either have played their last game as Knicks, but it is certainly possible.
In Smith’s case, the Knicks hold his Early Bird rights, which mean they can offer him about $5 million a season for a max of four seasons. After averaging over 18 points and 5 rebounds a game and winning a major individual award, there is no question that Smith could command more on the open market. The Knicks will have to hope that Smith’s prior comments of wanting to retire a Knick are true, because he’ll be leaving money on the table if he indeed comes back. Perhaps the lure of playing close to home and for Mike Woodson are enough to sway him.
There’s no doubt that Smith had an excellent season and that he is a legitimate scorer off the bench. But what was proved in 2012-13 is that if he’s your true No. 2 scoring option, you are not a good enough team to win a title. He’s simply too erratic and unreliable in big games. If the Knicks are going to bring Smith back, and all signs are pointing to this being a priority of theirs, it will be interesting to see if they look to make a move for more scoring. Their options are severely limited, of course, and any trade would probably have to involve Iman Shumpert, who nobody that roots for the Knicks really wants to see go.
According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Copeland could be drawing interest from the New Orleans Pelicans. The most the Knicks can offer Copeland is the mini-mid level exception of $3.1 million per year, but remember that Pablo Prigioni is also due to be a restricted free agent. While Copeland was a great story this season, Prigioni is a better all around player and is much more versatile than Copeland. If the Knicks had to choose between the two, I personally believe think they would go with Prigioni. However, there have been rumblings that Copeland, like Smith, could take less money to stay with the Knicks. While the Knicks do need to improve from last year, bringing back Smith, Copeland and Prigioni would have to be considered a success.
It’s possible that we could get an idea of what the Knicks expect to happen with their free agents based on what they do in Thursday’s draft.