Source: J.R. Smith weighing options
Free-agent swingman J.R. Smith currently lists on his Twitter page the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers as teams he is considering.
However, the Knicks and Clippers appear to be the front-runners to sign him, according to the source with knowledge of the talks.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Wednesday that he has spoken to Smith recently and that the conversation went "very, very well."
The Knicks remain the presumptive favorites to sign Smith because they can offer him a pro-rated share of their $2.5 million mini-midlevel exception and a player option for a second year. The New York Daily News reported Thursday that the two sides are closing in on a deal. Smith's agent, Leon Rose, met with Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan after Wednesday's Knicks game, the newspaper reported.
The Clippers, meanwhile, can offer Smith only the veteran's minimum for the rest of this season.
While Smith would likely make far more than $2.5 million as an unrestricted free agent this summer, the security of that player option for next season could be an important factor in his decision, according to a source.
Smith was due to fly back to the United States from China late Wednesday night. He had been expected to make a decision on Tuesday, according to two league sources, but has yet to choose.
Each day that goes by is lost money for Smith. New York's $2.5 million mid-level exception will be pro-rated by each game missed after Feb. 10. All other contracts are pro-rated from the beginning of the season, meaning the gap between what the Knicks can offer and a pro-rated veteran minimum actually will narrow as time goes on.
Of course, each day that goes by is another day new suitors could emerge, or a team like Indiana -- which currently has the most salary cap room in the league -- could jump ahead of the line and offer more than the Knicks.
Clippers point guard Chris Paul has been actively recruiting Smith, whom he played with on the Hornets for two seasons.
"I think our chances are very high," Paul told ESPN.com's Marc Stein earlier this week. "Who knows J.R. better than me?
"Also, he knows he'll have the opportunity to play here," Paul said. "He can only make us better."
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Paul believes the presence of three of Smith's former teammates on the Clippers' roster and the minutes and shots opened up by the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by Chauncey Billups will be strong lures.
Paul -- referring to Kenyon Martin and Billups, both of whom played with Smith in Denver -- told Stein he attributes his optimism to "my relationship with J.R., Kenyon's relationship with him and Chauncey's relationship with him."
The Clippers were interested in Smith even before Billups' injury last week, believing they could use more offensive firepower off the bench. But that was going to be a tougher sell with the Knicks so desperate for shooters to play alongside Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and the fast-emerging Jeremy Lin.
Without Billups, though, L.A. is suddenly offering a larger role that could offset the Knicks' financial edge. The choice could thus come down to where Smith thinks he has the best chance to showcase himself for the rest of the season after signing in China during the lockout.
The challenge for the Clippers is that Smith is also being recruited hard by Anthony, another former Nuggets teammate who, like Smith and Paul, is represented by Rose. Smith has been playful about his intentions, frequently responding to fans of the Knicks, Heat, Lakers and Clippers via his Twitter feed in the days leading up to the end of his Chinese season on Wednesday.
On Tuesday he tweeted that he had a good conversation with Lakers coach Mike Brown.
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from ESPN.com senior writer Marc Stein contributed to this report.
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