The New York Knicks were in the midst of a horrible start to the 2013-14 season. And despite it all they had a chance to save their season with a back to back series with the first place Toronto Raptors. 2 loses later, they were staring a dreaded trip to Texas dubbed the “Texas Triangle”. It is 3 games in Texas against San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas. No one expected this team to win any of these game, no less be competitive. But winning 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
However, this should have been a clean sweep in this road trip. What caused them to lose? It was a few factors, but one could arguably be attributed to JR Smith. His choice to jack up a 3 point shot with 21 seconds left in the game is just a microcosm of this season for Smith. It was just plain stupid.
Smith had come off his finest season as a pro in 2012-13. He averaged a career high 18 points coming off the bench for the #2 seed New York Knicks. He was named 6th Man of the Year for his success and it was well deserved. He scored, he defended, and he did all the things that could make him a top player in the NBA. But after the ‘Elbow Heard around Boston’, when he intentionally elbowed Jason Terry in Game 3 of the NY/BOS series, it was all downhill. He went into a horrific shooting slump that lingered the rest of the playoffs until the Knicks were ousted by the Indiana Pacers in 6 games.
Smith then negotiated a new 4 year/$24MM contract with the Knicks in the off season. But he had a torn meniscus at the time. Smith basically tricked the Knicks into giving him this guaranteed contract (most NBA contracts are guaranteed) first, then opting to have surgery because, “It was best for his family’. Then he is busted for violating the league’s drug policy and ordered to serve a 5 game suspension. The Knicks signed his younger brother Chris Smith to the team, and this drew the ire of fans and players alike who felt the younger Smith only made the team because of his brother. The kind of Little League All-star team favoritism you only remember too well. One out-spoken player was Detroit’s Brandon Jennings, and JR took to Twitter to combat him.
Then there is the on-going feud with Coach Mike Woodson. Woodson, the man who last stuck up for Smith when no one else would have, gave Smith his chance to shine. He lived with the bad shots selection Smith is famous for and got the most out of him in route to the 6th Man Award. So how does Smith repay him? He cries about wanting to be a starter, he decides to not shoot in games when he is told he takes bad shots, and embarrasses the organization by saying they ‘betrayed him’ when his brother Chris was cut. The final straw was the ‘Shoelace Incident’, where Smith has consistently untied opponent’s shoelaces at the free throw line as a joke, but to the untrained eye to get an advantage. He was told by his coach and the league to stop, and still did it. So Woody did the one thing has hasn’t done since he became coach, he benched Smith in an important game. He did not play him in a national televised game against the defending champion Miami Heat. A game the Knicks needed in a bad way, needed all hands on deck, and Woody benched his major-minutes player. It took guts and the team responded with their best game of the season. And how did Smith react; he sat at the end of the bench, looked disinterested at times, chatted with the ball boy, and only came back to life as the team was beginning to win the game. It was a message to the SG that this team doesn’t need you, so either get in line or be gone. Then to make matters worse, after the game he was seen at a nightclub and tweeted a picture of him pretending to untie someone’s shoe. Clearly Smith doesn’t get the message and thinks because he plays basketball he lives by a different set of rules.
The New York Knicks have tried to trade him for the last 2 weeks apparently. But no one wants him. Now it looks the Knicks don’t either. Woody did the right thing, but as Saturday’s game approaches, will Woody have the guts to do the right thing again? Will he bench him again? I hope to God he does, and this is an issue that will not be solved with one benching. He will come back, say he’s sorry and do the right thing for a while and be back at it. Woodson needs to put his foot down and say enough is enough. When Smith does re-enter the lineup, he should be competing for minutes. He needs to know that playing time is a privilege that he hasn’t earned this year. At this point, the only thing he’s earned is a spot at the end of the bench and possibly off this team. And that could be the end of JR Smith as we know it.