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J.R. Smith out 3 to 4 months after having knee surgery 4 days after re-signing with Knicks

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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J.R. Smith after going under the knife. (Photo via teamswish on Instagram)

Just four hours after reports Metta World Peace will come home excited many New York Knicks fans, an awful lot of the positive feelings went away with the announcement reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith will miss the next 12 to 16 weeks after undergoing a pair of procedures on his left knee — patella tendon surgery and arthroscopy for a tear in the lateral meniscus — on Monday. The Knicks' timetable would peg Smith's return to action somewhere between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15. (Smith shared the above photo on Instagram on Tuesday morning.)

News that Smith needed surgery to address what the Knicks called "chronic" knee problems that "gradually worsened" throughout the season came just 11 days after the team agreed to pay the 27-year-old shooting guard nearly $25 million over the next four years to be its top bench scorer. And, if we're getting technical, just four days after Smith signed his contract to return as an integral part of a rotation that owner James Dolan, general manager Glen Grunwald and coach Mike Woodson hope will carry New York past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling and Ian Begley reported that the Knicks were aware of the degrading condition of Smith's knee during the season (which Smith ended pretty brilliantly) and postseason (in which he famously stunk) and that they perform physical examinations on all players before finalizing contracts. Marc Berman of the New York Post followed by reporting that other teams asking about Smith in free agency "were made aware of his impending surgery," that New York "had no major qualms" about offering four years despite the knee injuries because they viewed it as a fair price for Smith's services, and that the post-signing timing of the surgery was "most convenient for the Knicks’ medical and training staffs."

The spin, then, is: We're not worried, J.R. will be fine, nothing to see here, move along. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, unsurprisingly, isn't buying it. Some choice comments from the longtime Knicks beat reporter and Madison Square Garden persona non grata:

All pretty valid questions, no? I wouldn't advise holding your breath while waiting for answers from MSG, though.

In the long view, as Seth Rosenthal noted at Knicks blog Posting and Toasting, this might not wind up mattering much — a rehab stint that takes Smith out of the mix into training camp and even for the very start of the regular season "shouldn't wreck the Knicks too much." And the hope would be that the procedures prevent the "chronic" issues from worsening further, increasing the likelihood that Smith reaches the end of his freshly inked four-year deal before his wheels fall off.

Still, the injury, surgery, and shelving create issues for the Knicks. As Isola noted Tuesday, the more pertinent question isn't when Smith will return to the court, but when he'll fully return to the form that led the Knicks to pay him more than $6 million per year. Given how heavily the Knicks have relied on Smith's scoring, ball-handling and defense (no, seriously), the answer figures to matter a great deal. Losing Smith would also only seem to intensify the Knicks' need for another ball-handler as free agency continues. This isn't the end of the world — they were likely already looking for one anyway — but it's not great to having glaring needs with only minimum salary slots available as the summer drags on.

Plus, removing Smith from the early-season rotation would make the Knicks even more frontcourt-heavy than they already were, perhaps making it more likely that Woodson would go with bigger lineups, sliding Iman Shumpert from small forward to shooting guard and bumping Pablo Prigioni to the bench while slotting one of World Peace, recently acquired Andrea Bargnani or overshadowed $100 million man Amar'e Stoudemire alongside Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler up front. Given the way the Knicks' roster is constructed (and the way its finances stack up), you could understand such a decision, but that would also move away from the two-point-guard lineups featuring Anthony at the four that propelled the Knicks to 54 wins last season.

That wouldn't be ideal. Then again, not much about losing one of your top six guys for three to four months qualifies as "ideal." If nothing else, though, paying someone $25 million only to have them go under the knife less than one week later, thus creating a controversy over who-knew-what-and-when ... well, it might not be "ideal," but it's certainly very "Knicks." Way to hold onto that identity, y'all.


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