The Los Angeles Clippers have put themselves in the right position at the right time. They were the opportunistic team with the young talent to acquire Chris Paul to pair with budding young superstar. Now L.A.’s other team seems to be the place everyone wants to go. The Clippers have All Star starters for the first time in the franchise’s Los Angeles history… and they have two of them.
First, the Clippers struck and signed Kenyon Martin after FIBA released him from his contract in China. Martin is set to join the team in Orlando although it does not appear he will play.
Los Angeles is not done yet though. The team has its eyes set on another late-season import from China — J.R. Smith.
Smith has been tearing it up in the CBA in China, averaging 35.4 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game for Zhejiang. He is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc too. The move to China has been a good one for Smith. Now with that season preparing to come to a close, he is preparing to come back to the NBA.
The Clippers seem to be the best fit and the early leaders for his services.
Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times writes the Clippers are hoping to add Smithonce he is eligible to return to the U.S. when he would become an unrestricted free agent. Zhejiang is fighting for a playoff spot, but if the Golden Tigers fail to make the postseason, he could be back in the NBA by All-Star Weekend.
There should be a market for Smith once he becomes available. Smith averaged 12.3 points per game and shooting 39.0 percent from 3-point range. Obviously, he is not getting the ball the same way he is in China in the NBA. Turner cites not only the Clippers interest, but also Smith’s relationship with former teammates Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and (now) Kenyon Martin. Turner reports the Knicks and Lakers are also considering signing Smith.
The Clippers currently have 15 players on their roster, so they would have to drop one to make room for Smith. Then there is the consideration of how Smith fits into the roster.
Caron Butler is a nice signing, averaging 14.8 points per game, but Ryan Gomes has taken a step back with fewer minutes off the bench behind him. Gomes is shooting 35.2 percent from the floor and averaging 2.9 points per game. The Clippers could use another floor-spacing shooter to give their dynamic players more space to operate. Not that Chris Paul needs much space.
Chemistry could be the issue.
In former NBA player Casey Jacobsen’s running diary for SLAM, he named a young Smith the most selfish player he had ever played with:
I played with J.R. his rookie year in New Orleans in 2005. We were a bad team, full of me-first guys, but he took the crown. I’d never seen a guy so intent on shooting the ball every time it hit his hands and I’m sure I never will again. Watching him during his latest Denver years, I can see that not much has changed.
Smith certainly is not shy about shooting. He has averaged at 10 field goal attempts per game in every season but three, including last year when he took 9.9 field goal attempts per game in nearly 25 minutes per game. For his career, Smith hoists 15.6 field goal attempts per 40 minutes.
But that is also his job. He is a shooter and teams sign him knowing this is what they are going to get. The Clippers are shooting only 36.5 percent from beyond the arc and make about 8 3-pointers per game on about 22 attempts per game. Los Angeles could use another shooter around Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Right now, there is no 3-point shooting off the bench as Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams and Chris Paul are really the only shooters on the team.
So Smith could be a perfect fit playing with some strong veterans who can manage him well.