Hamilton: Slowly but surely, J.R. Smith has become expendable for Knicks

Moke Hamilton, NBA Analyst

While Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton and Amar’e Stoudemire were leading their troops to a 102-92 win that may signal a turning point in their season, Metta World Peace was in street clothes, but even he was closer to playing than J.R. Smith.

For the entire duration of the game, and for the first time in his career as a Knick, Smith was benched by Mike Woodson in a meaningful game.

J.R. SmithBefore, during and after one of their biggest victories of their season, Woodson declined to comment on Smith, but after the game, the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year had plenty to say, including that he arrived to Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, fully expecting to play.

“I expected to do the same thing I always do,” Smith said. “I did my same routine and it didn’t happen.”

As for what that means for Smith’s future as a Knick after surfacing in trade rumors earlier this week, he is unsure.

“Honestly, I don’t even know at this point,” he said, when asked if he believes his future is still in New York. “At one point, I was for sure, and now it’s rocking the boat. But it is what it is.

“It’s the nature of the business.”

So, at least for one night, Smith lost his spot in the rotation and confidence on his future is in New York. He lost those shortly after he lost $50,000 as a result of an NBA-levied fine for “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct.” On Thursday, though, he may have lost something more valuable than all of those things—the support of his head coach.

Parked in the last seat on the bench, the one furthest from Woodson — it was where Smith belonged. And if reports that surfaced on Wednesday are true, the Knicks are trying their best to ensure that Smith takes his class clown even further than that.

But the most disturbing thing about Smith is how far he has regressed from last season. His erratic play has been a touchy subject for Knicks fans all season long. Despite his 34.8 percent connection-rate from the field and his paltry 11.3 point per game averages this season, Woodson has shown incredible loyalty to Smith, giving him the ball in important situations and not making Smith’s green light on the offensive end become amber. It has been curious since Smith’s defensive focus has waned noticeably.

Apparently, though, even Woodson has a breaking point. After word got around that Smith untied Shawn Marion’s sneaker during the team’s 92-80 win at the Dallas Mavericks on January 5, Woodson addressed the situation before the Knicks took on the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

Before the game, Woodson correctly pointed out that Smith’s focus needs to be on the court and on helping the Knicks turn their season around. Smith responded by attempting to pull the same stunt again—pun intended.

Though he did not commit the act—Smith called it a “joke gone bad” on Thursday night—he was not left laughing once the league levied their punishment and certainly not once Woodson extracted his revenge.

Away and isolated from his team for most of the night, Smith did not participate in huddles during the game and sat with his shoulders slouched for the balance of the game’s second half. He certainly appeared to miss being out on the floor with his teammates, but by the looks of it, the feeling was not mutual.

Raymon Felton’s 14 assists were a season-high and Amar’e Stoudemire’s 14-point, 11-rebound double-double was his first since April 2012. With Anthony’s efficient 29 points, eight rebounds and five assists—and without Smith—the Knicks did just fine and if that does not get J.R.’s attention, nothing will.

One other thing that obviously has not gotten his attention is the simple fact that positive play and effort are not requests that Knicks fans make on their heroes—they are mandates.

And if there is one miscalculation Smith has made during his tenure as a Knick, it is this: Knicks fans do not care whether he spends his Saturday nights in the city’s hot spots or his Sunday mornings in church. Knicks fans always have and always will care about the effort and quality of the on-court product.

In Smith’s case, that has been subpar, to say the least.

Since arriving in New York back in February 2011, Smith, like Latrell Sprewell once upon a time, joined the team with a reputation of being a knucklehead. Upon his signing with the club, reports surfaced that Smith, while playing professionally in China during the 2011 NBA Lockout, was fined more than $1 million by the Zhejiang Golden Bulls for various transgressions—allegations he denied.

Between then and now, Smith has simply allowed the negatives—his criticism of Jeremy Lin’s contract, his playoff suspension and meltdown following his elbow to Jason Terry, his drug suspension and his overall questionable shot selection—outshine his positives.

Yes, there have been positives, but his latest transgression just goes to show that the next lapse in judgment by Smith is always just around the corner. That type of immature, volatile personality is a dangerous one to depend on.

What’s more, Smith has failed to comprehend one other universal truth: when things are not going well, you do not act out and you do not have fun, at least not publicly. With a city that eats, sleeps and breathes basketball, the fan base suffers pain with each and every loss — as crazy as it may sound. As the team’s second offensive option, Knicks fans do not want to see or hear Smith having fun, because losing should not be fun.

When you find yourself in the “dark place” that Anthony spoke about recently, you sit down, shut up, get serious and at least pretend that your number one priority is figuring out what has gone wrong. Smith has failed to do that, or, at least, he has failed to give the impression that he is focused when he is on the floor. That is unacceptable.

With the Knicks entering Tuesday’s game against the Pistons at 11-22 and Smith shooting a career-low from the field, there simply should have been no time for joking and no time for clowning around. Over the course of this season, no player in the Knick locker room has appeared to take the losing harder than him, but one could easily argue that no player has contributed as much to it, especially in the wake of Smith’s mind-numbing three-point attempt at the end of the team’s lone loss in the State of Texas at the Houston Rockets on January 3.

Say what you want about Andrea Bargnani’s similarly stupid shot selection back on December 18 in Milwaukee, but at least the Knicks won that game.

If you are Smith, if you value your place on this team and if you truly want to put the transgressions behind, you would quit the clown act, focus on your game and find a way to once again be a meaningful contributor.

You would spend a little more time with Amar’e Stoudemire — the epitome of a proud professional.

You would mimic the Heat’s Ray Allen, being the first in the gym and meticulously and redundantly working on your craft.

J+R+Smith+Indiana+Pacers+v+New+York+Knicks+O8FoUcbLiFVxAnd you certainly would have gone on the record with the bright lights and TV cameras rolling and offered some sort of sincere apology for being a knucklehead instead of hiding behind an empty 140-character tweet claiming to be sorry for letting fans down.

Instead, Smith spent most of his night pouting and sulking. Without him, the Knicks and Madison Square Garden did the opposite.

With Toure’ Murry and especially Tim Hardaway each showing that they can be meaningful contributors on a winning team, the Knicks ran the HEAT off of their home floor the same way Woodson—Smith’s biggest supporter—probably ran him out of the locker room before the game.

And while he was sitting there seeing Stoudemire turn back the clock and Anthony set the tone for his team on both ends of the floor, and while he saw his team get high-percentage shots and look more like the 54-win team of last year than the abysmal unit they resembled over the first three months of this season, Woodson, for the first time, probably thought what most Knicks fans have been thinking for a while.

Could the team possibly be better off without Smith?

On Thursday night, against the two-time defending NBA Champions, they were.

More than the league-imposed fine, more than the ire of his head coach and even more than the embarrassment of another transgression, for Smith, that is a scary question.

At this point, it is up to him—with a renewed focus and dedication to becoming a professional—to ensure that question is answered in the negative.

As he sat next to World Peace, watching his team rock the Garden without him, Smith was so close to the action, so close to the passion. But in the end, he was something even worse than being temporarily exiled.

He was expendable.


Moke Hamilton is the NBA Analyst for SNY.tv and, along with Lead Writer Harris Decker, hosts the Knicks Blog Podcast each and every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton




35 comments
ericcwilliamsii
ericcwilliamsii

@JJEmru A lot of attn for untying shoes, or, a severely overstated “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct.” Lighten up, folks

rico
rico

Love your posts Moke, you're my favorite blogger here, even if you're a Nets guy.

This one is well written as usual but it's sort of re-capping everything painfully obvious to anyone who watches the Knicks.


I was hoping for more of potential destinations for JR (trades) than why he's a numbskull who's still not over his injury.





beatseven
beatseven

"it's the nature of the business"...Really JR? This clown just doesn't get it.

Blaze NYK
Blaze NYK

Good.  Its about damn time!  I loved JR last year but ever since he was voted 6th man of the year, he has let his ego get in the way of this team.  The day he won the 6th man of the year award he had an amazing game 2 against Boston, especially when he first came off the bench.  But since then…


1.  Elbow the Jason Terry and suspension.  Cost the team a sweep of Boston

2.  Partying at the club until late in the night before playoff games.  Again, cost of sweep of Boston and helped us lose the Pacers series

3.  Weed suspension.  I don't judge people who do that but come on, you make millions.  Its easy to beat those tests if you're smart at all.  

4.  Tweets dissing the team or organization.

5.  Purposefully freezing out the coach in Boston by only taking one shot after being criticized for taking too many shots

6.  Shoegate


This list doesn't even include previous stuff like dissing Jeremy Lin or the booty shot on Twitter.  Not to mention his horrible, selfish play.


JR was amazing last year.  He head a clear role as the 6th man and with veterans like Kidd and KT on the team, he could do his freelance thing and thrived for us.  He was huge no doubt.  But he let it all go to his head and now that he has a fat paycheck its like he doesn't care about the team, only himself.  The fact that he tweeted bad about The Knicks when they cut his brother was ridiculous.


So where do we go from here?  Honestly, with Shump, Hardaway and Murry emerging, JR is far more expendable.  But I think in the next game Woodson should take him out of the doghouse.  See how he responds.  I don't even care if he misses shots.  I do believe the knee surgery has affected his game.  But he can still hustle, play good D, rebound and make the smart play and not be selfish.  If he does that, give him minutes.  If he responds to this benching by lashing out again, trade him.  I'd look to trade him eventually anyways but I believe JR loves being in NYC and being a Knick.  I think woodson benching him and the team putting out rumors they want to trade him will wake him up.  He needs a wake up call.


sankofa
sankofa

This is for the JR supporters....first off I never wanted him to be resigned this summer. Ive always felt like he's taking minutes from Iman, Hardaway's development. Besides his iso heavy game...he's not a good defender. Im well aware of his ability to get hot offensively....but what about when he's not shooting well? how does he help the team? The issue really isn't JR...the issue is that Woodson has made him 30 min... crunch time player! Which he should never have been!

We have to many sg's Hardaway has the potential to win rookie of the year, but with the minutes he's playing I don't think it'll happen. Iman scoring has been picking up...we know he helps on the boards, and the defensive end. Murray plays both ends of the floor and can play the 1 or 2 spot. the main reason I want him gone at this point is....I believe he we will become a malcontent if his minutes are reduced. At this point its a uphill battle for the knicks....they need as little distraction as possible.

I would do "ANYTHING" To get rid of JR...trade, cut, whatever it takes.

Cris MaddGenius Eastmond
Cris MaddGenius Eastmond

I just want to quibble with the idea that Amare, a guy who managed to twice find his way out of the lineup in a playoff game in his short Knicks tenure, is "the epitome of a proud professional." Go Knicks.

knicks1996
knicks1996

his contract is not bad why dont they buy him out for 8mil and not deal with this bs any more

strengthofalion
strengthofalion

@MokeHamilton great article. We are better without him cuz it provides more minutes for shump, hardaway and toure! Period

MeloStat301
MeloStat301

WAIT...how is it that 1/3 of The CAA big three was benched last night on national TV vs the champs for the world to see??? Look that's right....the CAA CONSPIRACY is a bunch of crappola!!! Smh.

knicktap3
knicktap3

Listen obviously JRs antics have been over the top especially with how he has performed this season. Woodson was right to sit him and the team responded. However, many fans and reporters are blowing the situation way out of proportion. This is who he is, for better or for worse. If you want to say that you're willing to bench him for the rest of the season/waive him because his shot and athleticism is off (partly because of the surgery) that's understandable. But don't say that this CLEAR joke of his in the pistons game was worthy of him getting absolutely shunned for his basketball life.

Because when Woodson gives him his chance to earn back minutes (which he probably will on Saturday) who knows what he's going to do. I have a good feeling that he will play a bigger role for the Knicks than you all might imagine by the end of the season...

"Fans" and the media have a short memory and despite there being the suspension earlier this season, there has been sort of a whirlwind of stuff that he's been invoked in recently. In two weeks when Smith goes off or starts to heat up, all of the fake fans better not flip flop.

Kal Ripken
Kal Ripken

I've seen this a couple times and I fail to see the logic. Just because a team wins without a player doesn't mean they are better without them, it just means they can win without them. Tyson didn't play tonight and I wish somebody would say we are better without him. I'm glad Woody is disciplining JR tho, he did a good job last season reeling him in hopefully he can do it again.

dogmanx23
dogmanx23

JR not playing is not the reason NY won tonight. We MOVED the ball. It hardly ever got stuck to anyone. This is how you beat Miami. We had 52pts in the paint. More pts then from the outside. That's pretty incredible for this team who lives by the outside shot. Only way you do that is by moving the ball. 


This is why we've lost all year. It's not JR. It's the ball not moving. It starts with Melo, then everyone else follows. JR, Felton, Shumpert, Martin etc etc. 


Would it be nice if JR was off this team? Yes it would be but he's the last reason why we are 13-22. 

Blaze NYK
Blaze NYK

@sankofa All valid but one thing JR does very well is rebound.  He is one of the top rebounding SGs in the league.  But yeah, I'd totally trade him for another PG or big.

Blaze NYK
Blaze NYK

@Cris MaddGenius Eastmond  He got injured.  How is that his fault?  Dude has had like 5 knee surgeries and a detached retina and has always worked his way back into the game.  He's adapted his game to make up for the lack of athleticism.  ITs not his fault the Knicks offered him the contract they did and he has never slouched when it came to rehabbing his way back from an injury, which a lot of players after the amount of setbacks he's had would do, especially with the money he has guaranteed.  The fire extinguisher incident was the only unprofessional thing that he has done while a Knick and that was a complete accident.  He was frustrated from losing and hit the wall but instead hit glass on the extinguisher.  Even then he came back for one game so we weren't swept by the Heat and played a great game with a bandage wrapped over his hand.

Blaze NYK
Blaze NYK

@knicktap3 But he needed the message sent to him.  Its not just shoe gate or his poor play.  We all know the knee has  affected his game.  But that shouldn't affect his decision making or his passing/being selfish or his effort.  IT shouldn't cause him to sulk when he's benched.  It shouldn't cause him to purposefully only take one shot in a game when Woodson (his biggest supporter) said he was shooting too much.  It shouldn't cause him to send negative tweets about the organization when his brother was cut from the team especially considering everyone in the league knew they knicks did that as a favor.  Basically giving the Smith family an extra half million on top of the contract JR signed, which was very good considering he was getting knee surgery and tanked in the playoffs and no other team was gonna give him that.  I think the message was a good one.  I wouldn't continue to bench him like Dantoni did with Nate.  But let him play and see how he responds and yank him the second he does something stupid or selfish.

brookdon
brookdon

Exactly. When under control JR can actually help us and has. Just needs to be kept on a shorter leash.

knicktap3
knicktap3

But regardless great win, there are a lot of things were doing better but I think by far the number one thing is the passion. It all starts with effort. Let's keep it going

MeloStat301
MeloStat301

I got shotgun...plenty of room for others in the back!!

Mr.Boots
Mr.Boots

@dogmanx23 If you are going to base your theory on ball ,movement, then JRs not playing does make a difference because when he is on the court, the all often stops at him. We've all watched him repeatedly bring it up, dribble for 10 seconds, and hoist up a low percentage shot. Iso-JR stops ball movement. This especially noticeable when he gets his usual heavy minutes in the 2nd half. As a result, other players don't get to touch the ball then lose contact with the flow. The difference was noticeable last night.

buddhabing
buddhabing

@dogmanx23 I believe that the defense has been the major culprit for their earlier failures. Too many close games where if they made a few stops down the stretch they could have won. Their offense has been a factor in the losing but not as much as the defense imo.

lindro88
lindro88

If you are going to base your theory on better movement, leading to better shots, more points inside etc, then JR is a major part of the problem. He represents the opposite of all of that. He's a volume shooter, who takes low percentage shots. JR is a big part of the reason they are 13-22.

knicktap3
knicktap3

Yeah I completely agree. It was a great message, and it worked out perfectly that we beat the Heat. JR could really see that if he doesn't get his stuff together, they can live without him.

Hopefully he plays well and stop acting out. If not for himself, for his teammates and for Woody who has always stood behind him.

I just get annoyed when fans and media take it over the top (especially the Woj article) basically saying jr has no chance to come back from this..on a huge personal level. It's like yeah JRs obviously cocky, but at least he has a reason to be. Who does Woj think he is?

denelor
denelor

@brookdon It's more than his "leash" though.  He has to play with the focus he had last year.  No leash and no amount of yelling can make him do that.  He has to do it.  In essence, he has to be a pro and not just some guy with huge talent and the ability to be very good when he feels like it.  


I worry that his focus last year was driven entirely by his contract.  If that's the case, then the JR we see this year may be the JR we're stuck with. 

lesdiggz
lesdiggz

@lindro88 agreed, maybe JRs isnt healthy o rover eager either way, if hes not attacking the paint hes pretty much a dead fish. his jimper is decent when hes hot, but he doesnt get hot because he hasnt been attacking, i like Smith 2012 version. dude just got too comfy in NY. a NJ dude should know better. This is what everybody was talking about when he first arrived to the apple

knicktap3
knicktap3

Yeah I agree. I think his focus and passion last year was a combination of team leadership and money. But you could tell it wasn't all about money. Whatever is going on with him, he has to either figure it out or not let it affect him when he's on the court.

Because as Woody keeps on mentioning, JR is really really important to what this team does. I believe well be able to make a run in the next couple weeks with the guys we have. But looking at the big picture realistically, to have a chance at making a playoff run this year, we need JR to get his stuff together down the stretch (Woodys move was a good start, and the team needs other players to also hold jr accountable like Kidd or Rasheed would)