This Whole “JR Smith” Thing Has Run Its Course

JR Smith really is a lost cause, man.

Friday night against Boston, the entire Knick fan base, despite another loss, was in awe over the apparent constraint shown by Smith. The two-guard put up just one shot in 27 minutes. To some (including the MSG broadcast team), this was a blatant issue in the Knicks offense. To others, it was an unusual display of distribution and level-headedness.

If only. As Frank Isola of the Daily News reported late Saturday night, that performance was anything but. Per the beat writer, Smith and coach Mike Woodson exchanged heated words following a win against the Bulls, discussing the guard’s morbid shot selection. In his predictably childish ways, JR took it upon himself to prove his worth to the coach the next night out.

His one-shot output at Boston wasn’t any sudden spark of basketball IQ, but rather an outburst to spite his head coach, the one person who’s stuck a neck out for him over the last two years. As if to say “You don’t want me to shoot as much? Fine, I won’t shoot at all. Watch what happens.” It also explains Woodson’s uneasiness when answering why Smith was so passive that night. The coach was uncharacteristically fidgety, constantly tapping his fingers around the microphone while at an apparent loss for words. When asked if it was in the gameplan, he responded “No,” with an awkward grin and a few finger taps.

The twisted part is that it was the best, most consistent JR had looked all year, only to revert back to his usual ways the next night (He shot 1-for-8 and finished with two points against Atlanta on Saturday in 24 minutes). While looking on as a spectator during the closing minutes, something he’s rarely been asked to do since signing on in early 2012, Smith was caught burying his face into his arms as the Knicks clinched a hard-to-come-by victory on their home floor. Because he’s the best, Pablo Prigioni was there by his side, doing his best to provide guidance to Smith, patting him down and talking him up. It’s not in Pablo’s character to give up on anyone. He’s even been caught on MSG film providing guidance to a sulking Smith before (also at home against Atlanta, if memory serves.) But by now, it’s clear that JR Smith will change for nobody, regardless the circumstances. He’s simply not worth the time of anyone willing to lend a word of advice. It’ll slide in one ear, out the other, and be completely forgotten by the time the next blunt is lit.

The guy is beyond coaching. He isn’t a sufficient second offensive option, and his best role is catch-and-shoot specialist—a role he’d never contently fill. A glorified Steve Novak.

Thinking of Smith reminds me of a Nas lyric you may find familiar from the best diss record published in my lifetime. It goes: “And that’s the guy y’all chose to name your company after?”

With or without context, the bar bears basically no resemblance to the Knicks organization, except for a few quick points.

The Knicks aren’t “naming” themselves after Smith, but it damn sure isn’t far off from it. Remember, this is the guy whom James Dolan thought so highly of that bringing on his non-talent brother was an absolute must, two seasons in a row. Only since his job has been on the line has Woodson resorted to benching Smith in pursuit of a win. Also, 23-year-old Iman Shumpert is a living, breathing trade rumor, despite being the more promising player between the two, and showing every bit of what a winning basketball player needs to possess during last year’s postseason. (It’s easy to forget, but those Knicks may well have gotten swept by Indiana if it wasn’t for Shumpert’s hustle and clutch shooting. Maybe I’m a bit of a Shump homer, and maybe that’s some hyperbole, but that’s how I saw it.)

Regardless, JR is the guy New York is riding with. Don’t expect Dolan, the acting general manager these days, to ship away the player he’s gone out of his way to accommodate over parts of three seasons. I find it hard to believe that a coach would invest trust, for so long, in a player that’s done almost nothing to deserve it. This smells to me (somebody who knows absolutely nothing about the organization) like JR’s minutes being demanded from the bearded fellow sitting bemused on the baseline, while probably critiquing the team’s dance routine.

Or maybe that’s just me clinging on the the thread of hope that my team’s head coach has some common sense deep down, somewhere under that beautifully bald scalp.

Anyway, Woodson will probably get canned for another extension of Dolan soon, and Shumpert will almost definitely be traded (the only reason he hasn’t been traded this week was because it would’ve upset another Dolan grudge, with Masai Urjiri). All while Smith will probably receive his typical 35 minutes of burn nightly, and probably be marketed as one of the team’s lead faces over the course of his four-year deal.

For Dolan? Business as usual.

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