When the New York Knicks announced that swingman J.R. Smith would be undergoing a significant knee operation in mid-July, just days after signing Smith to a four-year, $25 million contract, the furrowed brows were expected and on point. How could the Knicks not have known about Smith’s condition, one that required work on lingering meniscus and patella tendon issues, while vetting out Smith’s prospects as a Knick between now and 2017? Why potentially put yourself out until mid-November with a July surgery, when New York’s season ended in mid-May?
It turns out that the Knicks were aware of Smith’s condition. Or, at least, they said as much to the press in order to keep up appearances. On Monday, as the Knicks rolled into training camp, Smith copped to the cause of the delay. It was his call to go under the knife two months after his potential last game as a Knick, as he wasn’t about to hurt his own free agent status by limping into the negotiating room. From ESPN New York:
"For one, I'm a father and I have two young children to look after," Smith said Monday. "It made more sense for my family to get a deal done before [surgery]."
The surgery, a patellar tendon repair and an arthroscopy for a tear in the lateral meniscus of his left knee, is expected to sideline him through training camp.
"Without a doubt, the best part about it was we had the support of the team," Smith said. "The team supported us, the [team doctor] supported us all on the decision. At the end of the day it was more of a family decision than anything else."
This … this is something we can get behind.
It was widely assumed, even after a disastrous playoff showing with the Knicks in their second round loss to Indiana, that Smith was going to re-up with a franchise that seems just about as bat-dung crazy as he is. Yes, Smith’s last 2012-13 game as a Knick wrapped up on May 18, and he was technically on the team’s payroll for another six weeks before the free agency period, but even if Smith was bound to field offers from other teams in a worst case scenario, you just don’t go under the knife without the assurances of what could be your last big free agent deal.
Especially when the sort of cleanup and exploratory operation Smith underwent could also lead to the NBA’s absolute worst case scenario – microfracture surgery. Dealing with patella and (especially) meniscus cleanup often lends to such an operation, and had that worst case scenario shown up, Smith would be without a free agent deal and likely on the sidelines until 2014-15. There have been rumors, dating back to before the NBA’s 2011 lockout, that Smith was not exactly saving each of his checks and per diems in a mattress tucked safely away somewhere, so this all makes a whole lot of sense.
What makes less sense is pulling out the “I'm a father and I have two young children to look after”-card when your first five games of the 2013-14 season will be delayed due to a drug-related suspension. Smith was cited for breaking the NBA’s drug policy over the summer, and the length of the suspension and what we know about the NBA’s drug testing procedure all whittles any guesswork down to one obvious cause: J.R. Smith tested positive for marijuana, repeatedly.
Smith, thankfully not mentioning those two young kids, apologized for as much on Monday:
"I more disappointed because I let my teammates and my coaches down more than anything. I let [Knicks owner and Madison Square Garden CEO James] Dolan down," Smith said. "And we're looking to move forward from it as soon as I'm able to play and have a good season."
Smith and the Knicks can’t sneak out of this one, either. The NBA has to approve Smith’s condition before he begins serving his suspension, so it isn’t as if J.R. can claim to be healthy while still recovering from surgery, and sit out games he was going to miss anyway. And if the most pessimistic time frame for Smith’s medical return is true, he could sit out until Nov. 25, some 12 games into New York’s season.
Just a dozen games out of 82 – and, again, that’s if Smith needs all of the four months allotted for recovery – won’t seem like a whole heck of a lot by the time May comes around. Still, the reasons for the absence could not be more disparate. One is completely understandable. The other is absolutely baffling.
That’s J.R. Smith for you, I reckon.