Milwaukee Bucks: Should the Bucks be interested in J.R. Smith?

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 27: (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 27: (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks are still in the market for free agents at the back end of their roster. Could veteran scorer J.R. Smith be an option?

With Thanasis Antetokounmpo officially announced as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night, all of the free agents who have been reported as agreeing to deals with the franchise this summer have now been signed.

As a result, there’s a real sense of clarity with Milwaukee’s roster having 13 players in place, leaving them with two open spots to fill between now and the start of the season.

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It’s entirely possible that the Bucks may opt to carry an open roster spot into the season to allow them to add a buyout candidate or sign a G League standout at a position of need later in the season. Even in that scenario, though, it’s realistic to expect at least one more Milwaukee deal in the very near future.

At this point, it’s no secret that Kyle Korver is likely at the top of the Bucks’ wish list for one of those spots, but the market for him is highly competitive with both the Lakers and 76ers also interested. As Korver continues to mull over his decision, the Bucks also owe it to themselves to consider other options.

One such option could be J.R. Smith. The 33-year-old was finally waived on Monday after sitting out the majority of last season with the Cavaliers. Following Tyronn Lue‘s firing early in the season, Smith fell completely out of favor and essentially spent the rest of the year away from the team as Cleveland tried to find a trade partner. A trade never materialized due to Smith’s $15 million contract, but now the Cavs have finally accepted the hit and set Smith free on the open market.

That lengthy layoff certainly raises questions about what Smith could look like and just how much he could contribute next season. Any teams sniffing around Smith as a free agent will undoubtedly be very eager to get a handle on where his conditioning is currently at, but if that checks out, he can still have value.

Put simply, Smith can score the ball, and even in transitioning away from the higher volume scoring role he took on earlier in his career over the past four or five seasons, the New Jersey native has become a much more efficient long-range shooter. For his career, Smith has shot 37.3 percent on 5.3 three-point attempts per game.

As demonstrated by their interest in Korver, shooting remains a priority for Milwaukee, and it should. Mike Budenholzer will want his team to continue to let fly from deep and, as things stand, the Bucks are set to enter the season with fewer sharpshooters than they boasted last season. Considering Milwaukee finished the season desperately needing just a few more triples to fall as is, gambling on shooting with the final two roster spots makes perfect sense.

If Korver wants to come to Milwaukee, that’s not even a gamble. Korver enjoyed the best years of his career in Budenholzer’s system and his personality is an ideal fit for the rest of Milwaukee’s roster. Bringing in Smith would be something different, though. There’s an element of the larger than life about Smith, and that has often come to the fore both on and off the court.

If his shooting appeals enough in its own right, the Bucks could bet on their culture being strong enough to welcome Smith in and encourage him to adapt. The fact Smith meshed so well with LeBron James for much of his stay in Cleveland also offers proof of how winning has helped to focus Smith’s mind in the past.

With the Lakers supposedly not in the running for Smith, he’s likely one of the more accomplished free agents left on the market in terms of being attainable in both salary and in regard to competition for his signature.

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Perhaps the Bucks have another position of need in mind — a backup point guard would seem like a logical one — and if that’s the case Smith and Korver may not be a scenario that interests them. But if Korver opts to sign elsewhere, don’t be surprised if Smith emerges as a backup plan for the Bucks.