COMMENTARY | J.R. Smith is having a rotten year in two different senses.
First, his scoring and efficiency have plummeted from last season's Sixth Man of the Year campaign. He has averaged 11.3 points per game on a dreadful 34.8-percent shooting through 29 games, down from 18.1 points on 42.2 percent last season. Second, since 2014 started, nothing has gone right for Smith. He's proven to be a petulant fool, and the New York Knicks should have expected this.
They re-signed him after he had already played 131 games with the team between the regular season and playoffs, and the front office -- meaning owner James Dolan, former general manager Glen Grunwald and newly appointed GM Steve Mills as of Sept. 26 -- bears full responsibility for the current situation. They had ample opportunity to do their due diligence, or they could have just examined Smith's litany of misbehavior.
Though the Knicks finished 2013 with a 9-21 record, they have won four of the first five games since New Year's Day. Already in 2014, Smith has done the following in chronological order: fallen down untouched in transition defense against the San Antonio Spurs, chucked up a three-pointer with a nearly full shot clock and 21 seconds remaining in a tie game (New York lost by two points to the Houston Rockets), untied Shawn Marion's shoelace during a free-throw attempt, and then defied the league and his coach by trying to untie Greg Monroe's shoe in the very next game. Smith's foot fetish got him benched during the Knicks' Jan. 9 win over the Miami Heat, and it earned him a $50,000 fine from the league for "recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct."
Now the team is exploring the trade market for Smith, but one opposing league executive termed him "untradeable," per Fred Kerber of the New York Post.
Don't blame J.R. Ultimately, this is all the Knicks' own fault. They knew what they were getting into by re-signing J.R. Smith with a three-year deal worth $18 million in July 2013. Laden as they are by the mega-contracts of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, the Knicks were happy to retain Smith's sometimes-scintillating, often vacillating scoring touch. After all, Jarrett Jack -- who finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting after his strong season with the Golden State Warriors - -tested free agency and received $25 million over four years from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Smith came relatively cheap. There was even talk of a conspiracy once they signed his brother, Chris Smith, who has since been released along with his $491,000 guaranteed contract. This led to an ominous headline on Mitch Abramson's Dec. 31 column in the New York Daily News: "Mike Woodson unconcerned about J.R. Smith acting out over Knicks cutting brother Chris." So much for that.
Shortly after Smith inked his new deal in the summer, it emerged that he required surgery on the patella tendon and meniscus in his left knee and would miss the start of the season. ESPN's Ian Begley reported on Sept. 30 that Smith intentionally delayed having the surgery until after he signed a multi-year contract because it "made more sense" for his family.
Earlier in September, the NBA announced it would suspend Smith five games for violating the league's substance abuse policy (read: cannabis consumption). The current benching and trade talk is just the latest crisis surrounding J.R. Smith. He received a 90-day jail sentence in 2009 for causing a 2007 car accident that killed his friend who was a passenger in Smith's car. His ensuing seven-game suspension from the league was his third ban, in addition to a 10-game suspension for involvement in an on-court brawl in 2006 and three games in 2007 for an incident in a nightclub.
His quirks and peculiarities are equally renowned. Smith played in China during the 2011 lockout and his team, Zhejiang Chouzhou, fined him over $1 million for a variety of infractions. Smith also owned a pet panda that he named Brad Garrett. On Jan. 10, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports dubbed Smith the "clown prince of basketball" and reported that shortly after joining his team in China, Smith ordered $3,000 worth of room service. This was not done to feed a large party of people in his hotel room, but rather "just to see if they would keep bringing it," according to a source.
There is also the matter of his late-night Twitter use, which earned him a $25,000 fine from the league for posting a picture of a nearly naked woman in a Milwaukee hotel room the morning before a 2012 game. Worse still, the woman, Tahiry Jose, is a model who had dated renowned rapper Joe Budden for several years, leading to even more social-media drama.
Despite all this, the Knicks still re-signed him. And his brother. And on Nov. 15 this season, Smith received a $25,000 fine for "directing hostile and inappropriate language" on Twitter toward Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings (stating he would "call some ... homies") following a critical remark on Jennings' account regarding Chris Smith. For reference, Chris Smith played 1:57 in two games and recorded no statistics before his release.
When eccentric outfielder Manny Ramirez played for the Boston Red Sox, a phrase developed to describe some of his behavior: "That's just Manny being Manny." Mike Hume of ESPN The Magazine engaged in some archaeology and attributed the phrase to a 1995 utterance by Mike Hargrove, then the Cleveland Indians manager. The Knicks have not resorted to the 2005 c'est-la-vie attitude captured by "Manny being Manny." Instead, like the 2008 Red Sox, they wish their problematic player would be a problem for another team.
However, the Knicks have gotten themselves stuck with yet another undesirable contract for a player who clearly thinks he is far better than he actually is. Perhaps his production will improve as his knee does, but he's already become persona non grata at Madison Square Garden. It would be nice if Smith suddenly displayed some maturity and restraint, but if and when he does not, the Knicks' front office can look in the nearest mirror to lay the blame.
After the frog welcomes the scorpion onto his back, he should not be surprised when it stings; it's the scorpion's nature.
Sean Hojnacki covers live basketball and breaking news for Bleacher Report. He also writes football and baseball features for Time Warner Cable. His work has appeared on The Classical, Salon and briefly on Twitter. He lives in Jersey City, NJ with his wife and a cat named after Melky Cabrera.
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