When Game 6 of this past season’s Knicks-Pacers Eastern Conference Semifinal series was winding down and thus marking a bitter end to what had once been a promising season for New York, the same thought continued to repeat itself in my head: J.R. needs to go. J.R. needs to go. J.R. needs to go. J.R. needs to go.
I was, of course, thinking about J.R. Smith, the Knicks shooting guard and the NBA’s winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award for the 2012-13 season. I was thinking the organization needed to do everything in its power to make sure he never wore the Orange and Blue again.
As I painfully watched the Pacers ice the series with free throws in the final minute of that Game 6, everything Smith had done during the postseason was being replayed in my mind, from his elbowing of Jason Terry in Game 3 of the Celtics series and ensuing Game 4 suspension to his egregious 33 percent shooting from the field over the 11 total games that he played in.
It was like the final two months of the regular season never happened. For most of March and during the regular season portion of April, Smith played his most efficient basketball of the season. He was driving to the basket, getting to the free throw line and rarely settling for poorly-selected jumpers.
Then in the playoffs, it was back to the same old J.R. He took ill-advised shot after ill-advised shot, and with an average of 13.5 points per game on 15 shots per game and 29 percent shooting, he was easily the worst player on either team during the Indiana series.
Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of Smith. He has as much athletic ability as just about anyone, but he often makes the wrong play and takes the worst shots imaginable at the worst times imaginable. He looks good, has plenty of game, and will put up convincing numbers, but his poor shot selection and overall decision-making has been impossible for a team to overcome in the long run. Sure, the Knicks won 54 games with Smith being an integral part of their system, but he was badly exposed during the playoffs, and it probably cost them a chance at meeting the Miami Heat in the conference finals.
At times, Smith gets in trouble off the court as well. Whether he’s posting inappropriate pictures on Twitter, beefing with Rihanna on Instagram, partying at night clubs on nights prior to games, or even engaging in an inappropriate conversation with a female fan on Twitter, Smith sometimes says or does something to shine a negative light on himself and his team.
Considering all of that, it wasn’t really surprising when he recently guaranteed the Knicks will win the championship in 2014. Smith told a group of kid golfers that he is “100 percent sure” the Knicks will win the NBA Finals this upcoming season.
The Knicks? Championship? Yeah, right after LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Deron Williams, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker and Dwight Howard all simultaneously tear ACLs and miss the entirety of the season. That’s probably the best hope the Knicks have at winning a title.
It’s almost as if Smith had a bet that he could make a worse guarantee than Brandon Jennings’ proclamation that his Milwaukee Bucks would defeat the eventual champion Miami Heat in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs. The Bucks were swept in four games.
As a fan, I obviously hope his outrageous prediction somehow comes true, but in reality, the Knicks would be lucky to even get out of the first round this season.
The way I see it, they are going to finish no better than fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers and the Heat were both already better in 2013 and have only improved since the conclusion of last season. The Bulls will be getting 2011 league MVP Derrick Rose back, and the Nets acquired both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Celtics, two former champions who have all the motivation in the world to beat New York.
New York’s sad attempt at improvement in the offseason? Well, they did invest in Smith (who, by the way, will be coming off major knee surgery) for at least two more years, but they lost Chris Copeland to the Pacers and traded what felt like their last three draft picks until 2075 for Andrea Bargnani, whose ability to stretch the floor on offense will be cancelled out on the defensive side of the ball, where he is a complete liability.
New York’s one bright moment of the summer came when they signed Metta World Peace to a very reasonable contract. Metta will make the Knicks much tougher and a little better, but even he won’t exactly be a difference maker.