Oh, how the mighty have fallen! A year ago JR Smith was in the midst of a fantastic campaign in which he won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Now after a historically bad postseason, a 5-game suspension for non-performance enhancing drug use, and two shoe-untying incidents, the Knicks shooting guard finds himself at the very end of the Knicks bench, right next to an injured Metta World Peace. It has been reported that the Knicks front office is now exploring trade options for Smith after he received a $50,000 fine for the second of the shoe untying incidents.
Of course, for the Knicks to trade Smith, it would mean that other teams would need to have interest in him. At this point, it seems that no team in the association wants to be anywhere within a 100 mile radius of J.R. Smith. One rival GM jokingly told CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger “I hear Shanghai has a spot.” According to SNY’s Adam Zagoria, another executive wondered whether Knicks GM Steve Mills can “trade him to himself.” So at this point, the New York Knicks have themselves in a sticky situation. The question now becomes where do the Knicks go from here?
As the Knicks have already seen, it is going to be very challenging to find any suitors for J.R. Smith, and all the baggage he brings along with him. Smith is still owed almost all of the money on the 3-year, $18 million deal he signed this past offseason. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year is averaging just 11.3 PPG and shooting a career low 34.8% from the field this season. Compare that with the 18.1 PPG and a 42.2 shooting percentage he had last year, and there is a clear cause for concern.
The only realistic scenario in which a team would trade for Smith, would be if that team has a player with a long term contract that the team desperately want to get rid of as well. If New York’s front office came to the conclusion that they wouldn’t be able to resign Carmelo Anthony this offseason, then maybe they can throw Smith into a deal, but odds are Knicks owner James Dolan isn’t planning on throwing in the towel anytime soon.
So if the Knicks can’t move Smith, what should they do? Judging from head coach Mike Woodson’s comments in the team’s win over the Heat tonight, odds are J.R. Smith won’t be seeing the court anytime soon. That is a smart decision in my books, because fellow shooting guards Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. have shown signs of promise, but need to see the court more often in order to reach their potential. Take away Smith’s 32.3 minutes per game, and that becomes much easier for Woodson to do.
Ultimately, Smith will most likely either be cut, or have to agree to a buyout (getting most of that money right away might entice J.R.). It is clear that the Knicks don’t intend on playing him, and it is also evident that nobody else in the league wants him playing for them with Smith’s current price tag. Obviously teams don’t like having to pay players for them simply NOT to play, but Smith doesn’t make an outrageous amount of money. The most terrifying part about his contract is the thought of being stuck with a player with the lack of maturity that Smith has for the next 4 seasons.
Woodson has tried extremely hard to make it work with Smith. He has constantly come to the defense of Smith after many of his questionable decisions. This is no more evident than when he tried to deflect some of the blame from Smith after he took a very ill advised three pointer down the stretch in the team’s 102-100 loss against the Rockets last Friday. Still there is only so much a coach can do, when a player continues to drop the ball (both literally and figuratively).
The worst part about this whole debacle on the Knicks part is that this all could’ve been avoided over the offseason. After Smith shot a miserable 33% from the field during the 2013 playoffs (amidst rumors of him partying the night before games), the Knicks had an out. They could’ve either let him walk in free agency, or signed him to a short terms deal. Instead, they decided to take the gamble, and proceeded to sign Smith to that 3-year deal.
Many people may ask how could the Knicks have known that their shooting guard would have such a drop off this year. Well, the 28 year old has proven to be very inconsistent throughout his 10-year career. There are times when he looks like the best player on the court, and there are times when you just want to avoid passing him the ball altogether, because you know he’s going to chuck up a bad shot.
With so many question marks surrounding Smith, the Knicks took a gigantic risk in signing him over the offseason. As they now are finding out, the gamble does not seem to have paid off.