A judge sentenced Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith to 90 days in jail for causing an auto accident that killed his friend, though Smith will likely end up serving only 30.
Municipal Judge Debra J. Gelson on Tuesday suspended 60 days of the sentence providing Smith performs 500 hours of community service consisting of visiting sick children at hospitals.
Smith was taken to county jail Tuesday night to begin serving his sentence.
"He's 23 years old; he's a tough kid and he's going to do these four weeks and come out a better person," said Kevin Hextall, an attorney representing Smith.
Gelson also suspended Smith's license for two years, to begin next March after Smith's current license suspension expires.
Smith, who didn't comment after the sentencing, expressed regret at causing the accident that killed his friend, 21-year-old Andre Bell, in June 2007.
"It's been unbearable to deal with," he said to the court. "I am deeply sorry. I never intended for this to happen. It tears me up that it went down like that."
Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien released a statement Tuesday night saying the club supported Smith but would not comment any further.
Smith admitted driving an SUV through a stop sign and colliding with a car in Millstone Township, about 20 miles east of Trenton, in June 2007. Bell later died from his injuries, and another passenger in the SUV and a woman driving the car were injured but recovered.
Smith sustained scratches and an injury to his left shoulder.
A grand jury declined to indict Smith, but he faced five motor vehicle violations and pleaded guilty to reckless driving.
Gelson focused on Smith's checkered driving record in rejecting Hextall's request to impose a fine but not jail time.
She also gave weight to Smith's two speeding tickets in Colorado since the accident, which she termed "disturbing," and said letting Smith off without jail time would send the wrong message.
"There has to be deterrence," Gelson said. "Young people look up to Mr. Smith; he's a role model. What would that say to them? That's it's OK to speed?"
Bell's family has filed a wrongful death suit against Smith. Attorney Harvey Grossman, representing the family, said discussions are under way.
Of the lawsuit negotiations, Hextall said Smith "has every intention of trying to resolve this matter."
Smith, a 6-foot-6 guard, recently finished his fifth NBA season and averaged 15 points per game for Denver.