DENVER, CO - APRIL 25: J.R. Smith #5 of the Denver Nuggets reacts after scoring against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2011 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
J.R. Smith has apparently made it clear that the Minnesota Timberwolves are an option once he returns from China this week. The Wolves have apparently said that they aren't interested, but wouldn't he at least be an upgrade from Wes Johnson?
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a pretty excellent point guard in Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love is an All-Star power forward and Nikola Pekovic seems like he might be coming into his own as the team's starting center. The team is lacking on the wings, however, making the recent J.R. Smith rumors an intriguing option for Rick Adelman's roster.
The seven-year NBA veteran has played for the Denver Nuggets the past five seasons, but instead of waiting out the lockout this season, he decided instead to take his talents to China while the bickering continued into December. It worked out for Smith, too, as he put up huge numbers while receiving $3 million in salary for his five months in Asia.
His team's season will end this week without a playoff berth, however, meaning Smith is free to return to the NBA as a free agent as soon as this weekend as long as the paperwork gets cleared up. He has plenty of suitors, but as noted Monday, one of his top options is apparently the Timberwolves.
That comes with a caveat, however, as Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick wrote that Smith isn't in the Timberwolves plans. This strikes me as a bit odd, however, considering that the Wolves have a chance at making the playoffs this season, have a gaping hole on the wing (sorry, Wesley Johnson) and wouldn't have to make a long-term commitment to Smith if they want to save cap room for the summer.
Smith, a known sharpshooter with unlimited range, is an excellent athlete and could probably be a decent defender if he ever put his mind to it. On the downside, he often takes terrible shots -- he's one of those "WHY DID YOU FREAKIN' SHOOT TH ... Nice hit, man!" type guys -- and isn't known to have the best attitude at all times. It couldn't hurt, however, to see if playing alongside Rubio and Love might get Smith to come into his own while playing for what could be a huge contract this summer.
The biggest reason to sign Smith, though, would be to replace Wesley Johnson in the starting lineup. According to John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating, Johnson ranks as the 327the best player in the league ... out of 335. He's still started 27 of 28 games, however, despite shooting just 23 percent from beyond the arc while contributing very little else to the team.
It might not be prudent to pay Smith a prorated $5 million for what might amount to a couple of months of turmoil, but it seems safe to say that Johnson isn't the answer ... and, if nothing else, Smith might be.