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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Should the Knicks Consider Trading Carmelo Anthony to the Lakers?

Yeah, this one’s not gonna go over too well with some fans. Don’t worry though, the chances of James Dolan signing off on dealing his top-billed ticket-seller are slimmer than those of New York actually winning a title under his catastrophic rule. Though if the Knicks continue to struggle so mightily, the front office should absolutely gauge the trade market for Carmelo Anthony.

It’s not an indictment of Anthony, but rather the opposite. Carmelo’s been one of the only positives for New York this season, averaging an insane 26.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest. But, with the team looking every bit the disaster we dreaded—or overlooked—all summer, maybe it’s time to at least consider getting some sort of return.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like an easy task. Of teams contending for a 2014 title, none seem to be desperate enough to sacrifice a package of young players and/or draft picks in exchange for a half-season of ‘Melo.

But… wait one second. That word up there. Desperate. Hmm. Maybe there’s one team that would be willing to make a move to land one of the league’s biggest names.

Maybe the Los Angeles Lakers, with space left for one max-level player in 2014 after re-signing Kobe Bryant for nearly $50 million this week, would be the buyer.

And before you say to yourself, “Well, that doesn’t seem to make much sense. Carmelo could just sign with the Lakers over the summer. Why would the Lakers trade for him?,” remember that the difference between offering Anthony $130 million and $96 million lies in his Bird rights. Anthony has never left money on the table: Not in 2006, nor in 2011.

There’s little evidence that’d lead you to believe he’d pass up $35 million.  ‘Melo’s probably re-signing with the team that has him at the end of the year. That’s all the leverage the Knicks need in trade negotiations.

Now, peering up and down the Lakers assets, there’s little they have to offer in terms of players or picks. They can’t trade a first-round pick until 2019, and their current roster is comprised almost solely of one-year, bottom-of-the-barrel stopgaps.

However, there’s still one way Los Angeles could make this deal worthwhile for the Knicks. It could bring back Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract along with Anthony.

Clearing New York’s books of Stoudemire’s two-year, $45 million commitment—and not dumping an even more massive albatross on the Knicks—is perhaps the biggest favor any team could offer. In doing so, Los Angeles would land its star, who’d all but be forced to re-sign in Hollywood for more money than any other team could offer; and New York would have successfully dealt away one of the biggest financial handicaps in the history of the league.

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 2.47.00 AM

With a re-signed Carmelo, a re-signed Kobe, Nick Young and Robert Sacre, L.A.’s salary figure would be at $48.1 million. The 2014 cap is estimated to come in at $62.1 million, so STAT would impede the Lakers’ 2014 spending by about $12 million. He comes off the books after that season.

L.A. wouldn’t be able to care less about the players outgoing in the deal. All but Steve Nash’s are set to expire after this year, and would be renounced by the Lakers to create cap room—room they plan on using to sign Anthony anyway.

The Knicks would be taking on Nash’s contract, which, while not as obtrusive as Amar’e’s, is still a handicap in its own right. But the other four players New York would receive would open a whopping $28,337,850 in space, once they expire after the season.

This would slide New York under the salary cap for the summer of 2014—with roughly $11 million in space—with a core of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler still in tact. Finding a way to deal Smith or Andrea Bargnani could open up room for a near-max or max-level deal, which might be cool to have during the summer that LeBron’s a free agent. Just in case.

So, is this a deal that New York would have to consider, should it be brought to them? Sure. But it’ll only exist in a make-believe universe, on the internet, in this little blog post. Would James Dolan ever consider trading his superstar to a rival market, no matter how beneficial it’d be for the team’s future? Not a chance.

Anthony will likely end the year with the Knicks after a best-case-scenario early-round exit. He’ll re-up with the team for the maximum $130 million over the next five years, and he’ll take up the majority of the team’s salary cap until he’s 35, in pursuit of the first championship that’s eluded him for a decade.

And to Jim Dolan, it’s all business as usual.

A version of this post can be found here.

The Knicks Bringing on Metta World Peace would be Hilariously Brilliant

Metta World Peace in a Knicks hat hugging watermelons

Metta World Peace in a Knicks hat hugging watermelons

This summer was set to be a crucial factor in determining the New York Knicks’ fate for 2014. Despite re-signing two of their own impact free agents in J.R. Smith and Pablo Prigioni, Mike Woodson’s roster is still riddled with holes throughout, and devoid of a key two-way player—that is, one that thrives on both offense and defense.

New York also desperately needs a third point guard—enabling Woodson to run out starting lineups consisting of two point men, which were extremely successful last season—and a starting small forward that complements Carmelo Anthony’s skillset at the 4.

The latter, prototypically a “3&D wing,” seemed to be a high priority for Glen Grunwald at the onset of free agency. But as the days passed, and negotiations ceased, the exception-strapped Knicks—they only have $1.75 million of their midlevel exception and veteran’s minimum contracts at their disposal—watched helplessly as their wing targets signed elsewhere.

Francisco Garcia re-upped with the Houston Rockets. Dorrell Wright inked a new deal with the Portland Trailblazers. Matt Barnes was offered $11.5 million from the Los Angeles Clippers, which the Knicks didn’t have a prayer of matching. Carlos Delfino joined the Milwaukee Bucks on a three-year deal, and just like that, the Knicks were out of options. (All links here.)

That was until Sunday evening at 5 p.m. ET, when it was announced that the NBA’s newest free agent would be hitting the market immediately—somebody who’s no stranger to the Big Apple.

Forty-eight hours after being amnestied by the Los Angeles Lakers, forward Metta World Peace cleared waivers and is now an unrestricted free agent. The Knicks are reportedly “strong frontrunners” to sign the former Ron Artest, according to Yahoo! Sports.

World Peace will still receive the $7,727,280 he’s due from the Lakers this season, which means that New York’s lack of financial resources hardly comes into play. The Knicks could offer a minimum salary (roughly $1.4 million for World Peace), or the $1.75 million left of the MLE.

At 34, World Peace will hardly be in his prime by the middle of next season. The former Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Defensive first teamer will not be expected to play like it’s 2004, but will still heal a sore spot for the Knicks from last season.

The 2012-13 Knicks lacked a long, talented defender that could check wings from the three-point line and in—World Peace, even at his advanced age, brings that to the table.

In the table below, via 82games.com, you’ll see that New York struggled to keep opposing small forwards at bay all year long. Aside from rival point guards, which the Knicks were consistently torched by in 2013, small forwards were the next largest issue.

Opponent Production by Position

Position FGA eFG% FTA iFG Reb Ast T/O Blk PF Pts PER*
PG 18.5 .513 4.4 25% 5.1 7.5 3.7 0.2 3.1 22.6 17.5
SG 16.5 .491 4.1 19% 5.4 3.8 2.6 0.3 3.2 19.5 13.1
SF 14.8   .549   4.0   24%  7.2   2.9   2.4   0.6   3.6   19.3   15.8  
PF 14.9 .484 4.8 38% 10.4 2.8 2.6 1.1 4.1 17.9 14.9
C 12.9 .505 4.9 53% 13.5 2.2 3.3 1.8 5.2 16.4 15.5

With this in mind, take a look at the performance of World Peace’s opponents at the small forward position last year in LA—again via 82games. A vast improvement over the Knicks’ 3s from a season ago.

Opponent Counterpart 48-Minute Production

Position FGA eFG% FTA iFG Reb Ast T/O Blk PF Pts PER*
SF 14.8 .478   2.5 27% 6.8   3.1 2.0 .7 3.6 16.0   11.8 

The Mike D’Antoni-led Lakers’ struggles on the defensive end were well-documented last season, but LA allowed approximately two points per 100 possessions less when World Peace was on the court.

The 2013 Knicks were an incomprehensible disappointment on the defensive end, and another failed season in that regard will more than likely lead to an accelerated rebuild. Last year’s team finished 17th in defensive efficiency according to HoopData—the bottom half of the league.

As depicted below, New York’s lofty championship expectations for 2013 really couldn’t have been more delusional. The defense wasn’t ever close to championship-caliber—in 2013, or any year in recent history.

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The Knicks need as much help as financially possibly on defense, and adding the St. John’s alum would be a couple of steps in the right direction.

On the offensive end, Metta doesn’t have a whole lot to offer these days, but nevertheless could slide seamlessly into the Knicks’ offense. At its best and its worst, the New York attack is funneled primarily through Carmelo Anthony, via isolations and post-ups.

As the team found out in playoff matchups against the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers, Anthony is unable to create much offense at all without space to work with. That space is created by shooters that open the floor, dragging defenders from the paint to the perimeter.

Without it, Carmelo Anthony—i.e. the Knicks’ offense—looks like this:

World Peace has shot a mediocre .328 from three-point range over the last two seasons with Los Angeles, which is bad. But what’s good is that Ron Ron (does that still work?) shot over 37 percent on corner threes last year, which is about the clip at which New York stroked it from there in 2013.

This is especially important since Woodson tends to stick his wing players in either corner, where they await open three chances. Just ask Iman Shumpert, who heaved more than one more three-pointer per 36 minutes last year compared to his rookie campaign. His 43 percent success rate from the corners played a gigantic role in the team’s late-regular-season resurgence, and displayed what the prototypical offensive accessory accomplishes in Woodson’s offense.

The Queensbridge native would further benefit from Woodson’s veteran-favoring coaching schemes, solely based off his 13 years in the league. The Knicks practically define “win-now,” and tossing World Peace into the fold for 2014—at the very least—wouldn’t do anything to hurt their chances in the short term.

Make no mistake: The roster is still messy. Amar’e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani may be in the starting lineup on a consistent basis. The way to avoid that terrifying scenario is to run both defensively challenged forwards out in the same second unit, which would be even more hilarious for opposing teams. Catch 22—or 77, maybe.

The team still needs one last point guard, even though Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Shumpert are already set to battle for minutes in the backcourt.

Fixing the Knicks for 2014 won’t be easy, and adding World Peace wouldn’t boost the Knicks into contention with the Miami Heat in and of itself. It does, however, patch a very important hole on the roster, while adding another battle-tested body that’s tasted the champagne before.

The signing could like set up a starting five of Felton, Shumpert, World Peace, Anthony, and Chandler. Smith would remain the team’s sixth man, and we can only hope that Woodson trusts Prigioni with at least a ~18 MPG role. With Smith, Shumpert, Metta, and occasionally Anthony all likely splitting time at the 3 spot, and the team’s backcourt already crowded, this could leave Hardaway Jr. primarily on the bench to open his career—not necessarily the worst thing in the world, in my opinion.

The Knicks still need a backup center to defend and rebound down low, but in the meantime, Stoudemire and Bargnani are both going to have to play. The way that shakes out will likely be a nightmare, but interesting nonetheless.

I should probably mention that MWP’s current jersey number, 15, is up in the MSG rafters twice. With Bargnani already rocking a strange No. 77, a World Peace signing could put the Knicks atop the weirdo jersey number preseason rankings.

And, c’mon. @TheRealJRSmith and @MettaWorldPeace in the same damn locker room? This, times, like 3245873df23f34333000. Do it for QB, Ron. Run with us.

In short, if we can squeeze one more of these pressers out of Metta, then we’re all winners.

Follow John Dorn on Twitter at @JSDorn6.

Stats from HoopData, Hoopsworld, 82games, NBA.com/Stats and Basketball-Reference.

Making Sense of the Senseless Jeremy Lin Situation

Well, if you turn to any national media source, you would be led to believe that Jeremy Lin has already bought a nice Houston home, and is looking forward to beginning training camp with the Rockets alongside, well, nobody. Although the Knicks have made a move to acquire point guard Ray Felton, Lin’s one-way ticket out of New York has not been punched yet, and if you try to use any ounce of common sense you have left after this NBA offseason, you’d realize that letting Lin walk wouldn’t make any sense at all.

Come to think of it, no part of this whole situation has made much sense from the very start. Ever since Coach Mike Woodson’s first days at the helm of the team, he’s been lukewarm-at-best on Lin. Peep this quote from May 10th:

“Will he start? Only time will tell. He’s had some success in our league where he’s played at a high level, and he’s done a lot of nice things for our ballclub.”

Not overly embracing words from Woodson. Fast forward to the acquisition of Jason Kidd, however, and Woodson seemed to have pulled a 180.

“Jeremy was our starter before he got hurt. Unfortunately he went down with the injury and he’s not going to be punished for that. He has a lot to do this summer. But when he comes back to veterans, he’ll have the first nod. He’ll be our starter, and Jason will back him up in terms of helping him develop and developing this young man into a great point guard.”

An interesting change of heart. But was it? Or was this simply a charade put on by the Knicks organization?

Jeremy Lin was gifted to the Knicks for practically nothing. Re-gifting, especially in this situation, is very bad.

After giving up significant pieces to acquire Felton, the latter seems more and more like reality. But why give these false endorsements? Why act as if the Knicks’ long-term option at point guard will be Jeremy Lin, when he’s already packing his bags?

On the other side of things, if Woodson’s words were sincere, why in the world would Raymond Felton agree to return to the Knicks as a 3rd point guard? Felton is coming off a rather miserable season, but he would presumably garner some interest as a first guard off the bench from some team. Was his desire to return to the Garden stronger than his desire to play meaningful NBA minutes?

Would the Knicks lie to Felton’s camp, and give the impression that Lin is a goner, only to match Houston’s offer? That seems a little shady to be NBA business. What also seems a little on the suspicious side, is hiding from Rockets officials who were sent to physically deliver Lin’s offer sheet, to buy themselves time to decide on whether to match or not. (League rules require the offer sheet to be physically delivered. The receiving team has three days upon receipt to reach a decision.)

Aside from the murkiness of the act, why would the Knicks need to buy themselves time if they’ve already decided not to match. They know the numbers. Do they really need the 3+ days to go over language? Presumably no.

As has been widely publicized, Houston’s offer to Lin is a “poison pill” deal. Under the Gilbert Arenas Rule, teams may only offer the league average salary ($5M) in contract year one, to players with less than two years of service time. They are due for a small raise in year two. Year three, though, bears no restrictions on salary. This is why the structure of Lin’s deal is:

Year 1: $5 million

Year 2: $5.25 million

Year 3: $14.8 million

The key for the Knicks here, and the reason Houston structured the offer this way, is that in the third year of the deal, the Knicks would have Amar’e Stoudemire ($23,410,988), Carmelo Anthony ($23,530,000), Tyson Chandler ($14,596,888), and Lin ($14,800,000) on their books for a combined $76 million. Teams start paying the luxury tax once they exceed $70 million. After considering all luxury tax penalties that will be in effect by 2014, Jeremy Lin’s $25 million contract would end up costing $43 million out of James Dolan’s pockets.

This is supposed to be the factor that steers the Knicks away.

The Knicks, who shelled out $60 million each to Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford, $30 million to Jared Jeffries and Jerome James, and paid a 30-year-old Steve Francis over $20 million for a season and a half, are supposed to be scared out of a deal because of paying a luxury tax.

But there’s always the basketball argument. That is, that the Knicks truly think that Felton at $4.5million/year is of better value than Lin’s new deal. This argument would only lead you to believe that Isiah Thomas is still calling the shots behind the disguise of Glen Grunwald.

Raymond Felton has been a mediocre-at-best player since his arrival in the NBA in 2005, aside from a 54 game stretch under Mike D’Antoni two seasons ago. What’s not funny, but infuriating about the whole thing, is that the argument from a group of decided NBA fans is that it would be silly to hand Lin reigns to the team after 35 games, when the Knicks would essentially be paying Felton off his 54 games as a good point guard in New York.

Felton showed he could be a good point guard during his prime years during his stint in New York. He showed scoring and defending ability, however was incredibly inept at executing a simple pick-and roll.

Lin showed that he could be a good point guard at 23 years of age, in essentially his rookie year. His pick-and-rolls were up to par with the best in the game, considering he had the offensive wizards, Jared Jeffries and Tyson Chandler, as his partners. His shooting caught everyone by surprise; he was among the league leaders in pull-up jump shot percentage. His defense was active, but not stellar. Take into account that he was carrying all of New York City on his shoulders, and Felton’s Knick tenure is more or less irrelevant.

Take away Lin’s half-season in New York and you have nothing. Take away Felton’s half-season in New York and you have six-and-a-half years of mediocrity. Neither would be offered more than a minimum salary if it wasn’t for their New York body of work. So to those of you who detest paying Lin off his body of work, you must consider the same for Felton.

The addition of Felton does not necessarily mean the demise of Linsanity, as several news sources are guilty of assuming. The Knicks have a need at shooting guard while Iman Shumpert recovers from a torn ACL. Instead of taking a chance on the so-so guards left on the free agent market, Woodson could run out lineups with Lin and Felton sharing time at point guard, with Jason Kidd at the other guard– a position he found himself in often last season in Dallas. Lin’s scoring ability leaves him as an option to play at the wing as well, and let Felton, Kidd, or even Pablo Prigioni run the point. The addition of Felton actually compliments the Knicks guard needs pretty well, as long as Lin is still in blue and orange laundry.

There are so many questions that are up in the air right now, but if when it’s all said and done, James Dolan passes on a 23-year-old point guard who carried a team of scrubs on a season-changing winning streak (in Stoudemire and Anthony’s absence), in favor of pinching his wallet shut for the first time in his excruciating incumbency as owner, then it may finally be time to put this monster to rest.