<
>

Clippers think they can sign J.R. Smith

A source with close knowledge of the J.R. Smith free-agent situation told ESPN New York that the former Nuggets shooting guard will likely make a decision about his next team in the next day or so. An ESPN report said the Knicks and Clippers appear to be the front-runners to land Smith's services.

The source said the Clippers "still think they have a shot" to sign Carmelo Anthony's former Nuggets teammate. On Thursday, Smith flew back to the states from China, where he had been playing since the start of the 2011 lockout.

For Smith, the decision could come down to more money vs. playing with former Hornets teammate Chris Paul (they played together in 2005-06). That's according to a source who said Smith is struggling financially.

The ESPN report said 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 Clippers, meanwhile, can offer him only the veteran's minimum for the rest of this season.

A big question the Knicks have to ask themselves is how they envision playing sixth-man scorer Iman Shumpert, who's been coming on lately, alongside Smith off the bench. Shumpert's continued development is key for the Knicks to be successful, especially on the defensive end (he's fourth in the league in steals per game at 2.12).

But 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.

Stay tuned to the Knicks Blog for the latest.

You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.