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Report we all expected: J.R. Smith to test free agency

Apr 24, 2013, 2:01 PM EST

John Starks, J.R. Smith AP

Strike when the iron is hot. It’s not just advice for blacksmiths; it applies to NBA free agency as well.

The iron is never going to be hotter for J.R. Smith, the freshly minted NBA Sixth Man of the Year. He averaged 18.9 points per game and was one of the key reasons the Knicks are considered a threat in the playoffs.

The man wants to get paid, and his option with the Knicks for next season will pay him a below market $2.9 million. So as expected he will test free agency, reports Chris Sheridan at SheridanHoops.com.

Smith has a player option for next season, and a source close to Smith tells SheridanHoops.com that it is “very, very likely” that he will opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

If you’re thinking the Knicks will just pay whatever to re-sign him, welcome to the world of the new NBA CBA.

The Knicks are over the tax apron but have the “early Bird” rights to re-sign Smith, which means how much they can offer is limited. Sheridan explains it well.

An incumbent team (the Knicks in this case) can re-sign an early Bird free agent for the greater of either: (A) 175 percent of his salary under the terms of his immediately expired agreement, or (B) 104.5 percent of whatever the league’s average player salary is for the first year of the new deal….

Because Smith would be an early Bird free agent if he opts out this summer, under the first calculation, the Knicks can offer him a starting salary of $4.9 million by using the 175 percent rule….

But for all intents and purposes, we can safely assume that the average player salary will end up being around $5.34 million. Under the second calculation, the Knicks could give Smith a starting salary of $5.58 million.

What that means is the most the Knicks can offer is four years, $24.8 million (after raises). A team under the salary cap — say the Dallas Mavericks or Houston Rockets or a number of others — can come in over the top and offer more.

Not that any of them will, and it’s not to say Smith wants to jump ship. He likes New York. But the possibility is there and it’s tough to walk away from money on the table.

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