J.R. Smith is always making headlines. Unfortunately, those headlines are rarely about his positive play on the court. Smith made headlines again this week in what Smith called, “a joke gone wrong.”
Smith was fined 50,000 dollars by the NBA for “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct.” Smith was warned by the NBA after he untied Shawn Marion’s shoelaces in last Sunday’s win against the Mavericks. He was subsequently fined after pretending to reach for Greg Monroe’s shoelaces during a free throw in Tuesday’s win against the Detroit Pistons.
Coach Mike Woodson — who called Smith’s latest faux pas “unacceptable” — benched Smith, without warning, in the New York Knicks victory over the defending champion Miami Heat on Thursday. Woodson refused to address the situation after the game.
It was a surprising move, because Woodson has been one of Smith’s largest advocates. Woodson took credit for helping Smith to mature during last season when Smith averaged 18.1 points per game and won the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Last season seems like eons ago.
Since returning from his five game suspension to start this season, Smith is averaging 11.3 points per game on 34.8 percent shooting. He is also shooting a career low 62.8 percent from the free throw line. Through his early season struggles, Smith was still averaging 32.3 minutes per game until Thursday’s benching.
It may be a sign Woodson is finally fed up with Smith’s antics. Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. have been playing better as of late. Both did a good job replacing Smith against Miami on Thursday. Shumpert is averaging 15.8 points in January and shooting 58.3 percent from the field.
It is unclear if Smith will play tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks are rumored to be shopping Smith, but due to his poor play and reputation there are no takers. Smith still has 3 years and 18 million dollars left on the deal he signed in the offseason.
Since the Knicks will not be able to trade Smith unless they include a valuable asset in a trade, it is imperative that they try to get Smith to produce. Right now Smith is a distraction for a team that cannot afford to be focused on anything but winning.
Smith’s comments in recent days are not encouraging. “I’ve been misunderstood my whole life. It’s not going to change now,” Smith said. The Knicks have been complicit in enabling Smith’s behavior, and now they must deal with the consequences.
Smith and the New York Knicks are stuck with each other. Smith has to take it upon himself to improve his play and limit distractions on and off the court.
However, if J.R. Smith’s history is any indication, no one should hold their breath. For the Knicks, that could end up being for the best.