November 18, 2010
Sometimes, the NBA reminds you that the world is built on a cycle of renewal. Stars leave, new stars emerge. Coaches get fired, then get new jobs. J.R. Smith(notes) and George Karl resolve their differences, only to get in a new argument several months later.
Yes, it's true. Every time Smith looks like he's turning a corner, he and Karl find a new problem. This time, it involves Smith's lack of effort, as usual. From Chris Dempsey at The Denver Post:
Smith has played just one minute, five seconds in the past two games. Monday night at Phoenix, Karl benched Smith because he was late to a shootaround. His one minute Tuesday in the Nuggets' victory against the Knicks smacked of further punishment, but was due more to rookie Gary Forbes(notes) playing well.
"I think J.R. knows exactly where we're at," Karl said Wednesday. "I think right now, it's J.R. and me, and I think J.R. should understand what's going on. I've got a kid playing better than he is playing. And I don't have minutes to share."
Smith has always been an odd case. Blessed with more natural talent than all but a few shooting guards in the world, he nonetheless has failed to become a consistent performer during his seven-season career, either because of his own mistakes (see: his insistence on playing professional basketball like NBA Jam) or issues with coaches (see: Byron Scott's refusal to play him regularly in New Orleans). For the past two seasons, he's been one of the best sixth men in the league, but he's still more erratic than you'd like to see from a veteran.
His problems with Karl are now an annual occurrence. While things usually clear up and it's tempting to say the same thing will happen this year, there's also probably a problem if the same two people get in media-covered arguments every season. You know, because typically players aren't supposed to argue with their coaches.
Perhaps Smith is better-suited to being a career mercenary than a franchise mainstay. At this point in his career, it's likely that Smith is just the kind of player who sometimes gets in arguments with his boss. Again, there are few players with this much God-given ability -- he can help plenty of NBA teams. It just seems to be the case that his relationship with the Nuggets is too complicated to be as successful as it can be.