Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks gave guard Chris Smith (the brother of J.R. Smith) a roster spot in a surprising move last Friday.
Smith, whose only professional experience is in the NBA summer league, will get a fully guaranteed $490,000 contract if he's still on the 15-man roster by Wednesday night's opening game against Milwaukee.
Due to Smith's limited experience and perceived lack of NBA-level talent, commentators are searching for ulterior motivates.
While some are crying nepotism, others are theorizing that the Knicks made the move to appease CAA — the powerful sports agency that's highly influential within the franchise.
CAA represents Chris and his brother J.R., who re-signed in New York for $17 million this summer. It also represents Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, and executive Allan Houston. Coach Mike Woodson only got a new contract in 2012 after the team reportedly pressured him into switching agents, and now he's with CAA as well.
CAA also has business deals with MSG Sports, the division of the Madison Square Garden Company that manages the Knicks. CAA is MSG Sports' "outside property sales consultant," and has helped broker a bunch of sponsorships agreements including a $300 million deal with Chase.
These two companies are very close, which is why the Chris Smith deal is getting scrutinized so closely.
The New York Times wrote about the deal:
"C.A.A. represents several of the team’s players, coaches and executives, including Woodson, Carmelo Anthony and the Smith brothers. With Anthony planning to opt out of his contract next summer so he can explore free agency, the Knicks — and Steve Mills, the team’s new general manager — have been clear in their desire to do what they can to entice him to stay. Perhaps the decision to sign Chris Smith plays into that calculus."
Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting (the excellent SB Nation Knicks blog) had some even stronger words:
"On the other hand, that's gross, Knicks. Is pleasing CAA worth keeping arguably the worst player in the NBA on your roster when someone with talent could have had that contract? Is J.R. Smith really worth two roster spots? Do you think that appeasing one agency maybe makes you look like huge suckers to the rest of the league? Does any party that requires appeasement really deserve your business? A move like this, however small, looks awful to the rest of the league and suggests a priority other than winning."
Bleacher Report's Howard Beck, the longtime New York Times beat writer who knows the Knicks more than anyone, saw it the same way:
CAA, doin' work. RT @ScottCacciola The Knicks keeping Chris Smith is ... curious.
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) October 25, 2013
Yahoo writer Adrian Wojnarowski fired some shots Smith's way as well:
Chris Smith made Knicks when his brother, J.R., signed his extension. That's the business, but he should spare everyone how he "earned" it.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) October 25, 2013
Out of context, this doesn't seem like a huge deal. Chris Smith is the 15th man on the roster. There's a good chance he won't see the court this year. They can just cut him if they really want to bring in someone else (although that $490,000 is guaranteed).
But every roster spot is valuable. In 2011 the Knicks used their final roster spot on Jeremy Lin, who went on to light the league on fire. In 2012, they used their final roster spot on Chris Copeland, who played meaningful playoff minutes and got a $6-million deal from Indiana.
$490,000 is nothing to the Knicks, but sacrificing a roster spot for reasons that have nothing to do with basketball could be costly.
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