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Troubled Gunner Not Drawing Interest?

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One of the Association's best instant offense producers of a season ago is currently not only unsigned but not drawing interest around the league either.

As Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News reported on Friday, Nuggets reserve guard J.R. Smith has heard all but nothing about the possibility of a lucrative new contract for next season.

Smith is a restricted free agent with a $3.04 million qualifying offer on the table from the Nuggets.  When he spoke to the media last week, he told them that he had heard nothing more from the Nuggets about a longer-term deal.  The same was true regarding the league's other 29 teams.

Count me as intrigued to see what appears to be execs around the league drawing a character (and defense) line of sorts.

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It's hard to imagine another reason for the lack of interest in Smith thus far.  The man has progressed statistically in each of his four seasons in the league, and he is coming off of what is easily the best season of his career to date.  Playing less than 20 minutes per game off the bench for the Nuggets this season, Smith averaged 12.3 points per game, and he did so with tremendous efficacy.  He shot 40.3 percent from behind the arc and posted an absurdly good true shooting mark of 60.3 percent.  That figure placed him eighth among shooting guards and 26th in all of basketball, which assuredly isn't too shabby. 

Smith loves to heave from the outside, but at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he has a great frame and is gifted with superb explosiveness.  He can lift off in traffic or on the break for thunderous slams and acrobatic lay-ins.  That the man is a versatile scoring threat has long allowed him to get away with the fact that the rest of his game is fairly lacking.  He averages less than four boards but turns the rock over nearly three times per 36 minutes, and he has long been reputed as a remarkably poor defender.

But there are certainly players in this league that can get away with shooting the ball and doing little else -- especially if they can shoot the ball with the confidence and accuracy that Smith does.  But not many of them have character baggage to Smith's extent.

He may be the only active player in the league directly responsible for another human's death, having run a stop sign that led a collision that killed a close friend in the passenger seat of his SUV back in June 2007.  He has a fairly lengthy list of dangerous driving behaviors, none of which were the cause of his three-game suspension by the Nuggets to begin the 2007-08 campaign.  As Tom Ziller wrote at FanHouse, that appeared to be courtesy of another incident in which he caused a ruckus in a club and then instigated an altercation that left another human seriously injured.  He also apologized to the team for being a "cancer" prior to last season and was then publicly reprimanded by Carmelo Anthony (of all people!) for being a "disappointment" to the team.

And that's just a part of it.  Smith has garnered a rep around the league for being a not-so-great teammate, hard-to-coach player and general distraction.  His days in New Orleans -- where he reportedly feuded with coaches as well -- weren't much better. 

All that in mind, it's still at least a bit surprising to see Smith without a single free agent offer.  There are no shortage of players in this league who have run themselves into off-the-court trouble (some time and time again), and many continue to get contracts.  Smith is a truly impressive physical talent, and at the level he produced last year, it's baffling to see him without at least one suitor who believes that his team can be the one to not only maximize Smith's potential on the floor but his character off it as well.

Perhaps it's still too soon after all the trouble Smith had last summer, and maybe the situation will be different next summer if he resorts to taking the qualifying offer and keeps his act together over the next year.  Here's to commending any owner with the ability to resist the temptation of pursuing a player like Smith with the big money.  But label me utterly shocked if this gunner hasn't raked in at least a lucrative offer or two by summer's end.

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