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Friday, February 17, 2012
J.R. Smith: 'New York Knicks it is'

By Jared Zwerling

After narrowing his choices down to the Knicks and Clippers, unrestricted free agent J.R. Smith tweeted Friday morning: "New York Knicks It Is!"

An ESPN report on Thursday said the Knicks were the presumptive favorites to sign the former Nugget because they could 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, could only offer him the veteran's minimum for the rest of this season.

A source who had knowledge of Smith's free-agent situation said his decision would come down to dollars vs. playing with ex-Hornets teammate Chris Paul (they played together during the 2005-06 season). The source said Smith was struggling financially, and would lean towards the Knicks, who had three times more money to offer him than the Clippers.

In order to make room for Smith, a New Jersey native who starred at Newark's St. Benedict's Prep, the Knicks have to cut a player. A possible candidate is Renaldo Balkman, who has been out of the rotation since early January.

On Thursday, Smith flew back from China, where he had been playing since the start of the 2011 lockout. He is expected to sign with the Knicks today, attend their game tonight against New Orleans, where he started his career in 2004, and then suit up in the blue and orange against the Mavericks on Sunday.

Once he hits the court, he'll provide immediate help beyond the arc. The Knicks need 3-point shooting desperately, as they rank fifth-worst in the league in accuracy (30.3 percent), and Smith is a career 37.1 percent gunner from downtown. In addition, Smith brings slashing, athleticism and, although he's not extremely efficient at it, the ability to run the pick-and-roll -- a staple in Mike D'Antoni's offense.

After Friday's shootaround at the Knicks' training facility, D'Antoni said Smith adds depth at shooting guard and Landry Fields will continue to start. He didn't have much more to comment because the signing wasn't official yet.

With the Knicks on a seven-game winning streak, the eventual Smith signing is just another layer of optimism for the team this season. Soon, Carmelo Anthony will return and then Baron Davis and Josh Harrellson. In due time, the Knicks could have one of the deepest teams in the league -- and depth is more important than youth in a shortened season where rest and day-to-day injuries are inevitable.

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