The journey of New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith has reached a new, dysfunctional milestone. Less than a week after being benched against the Miami Heat on January 9 following weeks of poor play and several incidents of attempting to untie opponents' shoes during free throws, Smith was benched again for Tuesday night's road game against the Charlotte Bobcats, a 108-98 loss. This time, though, it's anyone's guess as to how he incurred the wrath of head coach Mike Woodson and/or Knicks brass.
Smith, for one, was not exactly pleased with his benching. As quoted on Twitter by Scott Cacciola of The New York Times, the enigmatic shooter claimed that he's now done communicating.
JR: "Communication from my end is over." <annnd scene>
— Scott Cacciola (@ScottCacciola) January 15, 2014
It's unclear what that means — if Smith won't talk to his coaches, or doesn't want to explain himself to media, or maybe has decided to embrace some sort of vow of silence in regards to all basketball-related activities. Smith also wouldn't say why he was benched, if he knows at all. Steve Popper of The Bergen Record quoted him as having no idea if the Knicks' decision related to the shoe-untying comedy routines:
JR - is it the laces? "I don’t even know. It could. It could not. For that to be the trigger point for all of this to happen is ridiculous." — Steve Popper (@StevePopper) January 15, 2014
But Smith also expressed a desire to help the Knicks in any way he can:
J.R. on what's going on: Honestly I don’t know. Take it every day, day by day and figure out what I can do to help the team. ...
— Steve Popper (@StevePopper) January 15, 2014
J.R. continued: If I’m not helping the team, there’s no point in me being here. — Steve Popper (@StevePopper) January 15, 2014
Woodson didn't help matters either, because he's once again refusing to comment on the Smith situation in public. From Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:
Woodson redux: "I'm not even commenting on JR. I just didn't play him tonight."
— Peter Botte (@PeterBotte) January 15, 2014
We can assume that it does not relate to Smith's recent play on the court. In the two games between his two benchings (wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns), Smith played a combined 52 minutes and totaled 24 points (10-of-19 shooting), eight assists, five rebounds, and one turnover. Those aren't amazing numbers, but they're pretty good for a season in which Smith has rarely shown the form that won him the Sixth Man of the Year trophy in 2012-13. Tim Hardaway Jr. played 27 minutes on Tuesday, but it's not as if he was so good that leaving Smith in warmups could be seen as a purely basketball-inspired decision.
It was bizarre enough, though, that the crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena chanted Smith's name during the game:
With no reports as to what Smith did to earn his benching vs. the Bobcats, speculation has run rampant. While most comments have erred towards humor, Popper went so far as to guess that the decision may have come from front-office executives rather than Woodson. Perhaps it has something to do with the recent release of Chris Smith, J.R.'s brother, a player most analysts think never belonged on an NBA roster to begin with. It's all a little confounding, especially when it's so easy to speculate about a player who has never been a model employee in his career.
Then again, the Knicks seem to court bad PR as a general rule, to the point where we should expect half-truths and no-comments in the face of any seeming controversy. An explanation could come eventually — there's really no way to know for sure. Our best course of action may just be to wait for the next thing to go wrong. With the Knicks, there's usually something right around the corner.
(Video via GIFD Sports)
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