Harris DeckerLet’s start off with the obvious: This is not breaking news, J.R. Smith has not been traded and according to no is a trade is imminent.
All that said, the major clues point towards one of two things happening over the next few days. Either Smith will be indefinitely benched, riding behind Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. — and even Toure Murry — on the depth chart OR a trade involving the dysfunctional shooting guard is imminent.
After receiving a $50,000 fine from the league for his “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct,” Smith was promptly benched by Mike Woodson in arguably the biggest game of the year. After sitting out against the Heat, he came off the bench to play 27 minutes vs. the 76ers (14 points, 6 assists) and 25 minutes against the Suns (10 points). Tuesday night, he was benched again and after the game Woodson and Smith gave the media mixed messages.
Woodson gave his usual when asked about Smith.
“I’m not even commenting on JR. I just didn’t play him tonight. I just didn’t play him,” he said.
This has become his go-to response when asked about No. 8. Smith had a lot more to say.
“If I’m not helping this team, there’s no point in me being here,” Smith said. “The communication from my end is over.”
Over is a strong word. One that usually eludes to the end of something. Could it be Smith’s time in New York?
The evidence that points to a trade goes well beyond a few post game sound bytes. As Jonathan Wagner pointed out after the game, getting benched, then playing well in two consecutive games (one of which featured Smith taking the final shot), then being benched again feels like it’s leading to something. There are really only two options: Benching or trading him.
Who would take Smith? There is no easy answer. Smith is obviously a huge headache but he has the ability to score when motivated and in the right system, could be a productive player. If he starts to play anywhere near his 2012-13 stats, he’s a bargain. Last year he averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. At around $6 million per year for the next three years, he’s overpaid if he’s playing the way he is now. He’s a bargain if he gets it together. The all important question is if a team will take a chance on him?