Today, roughly 3 months and 10,000 jokes too late, the Knicks waived Chris Smith. Then, this happened:
The hardest part about writing this post is knowing where to start so forgive me if these aren’t in order of importance but here’s what I’ve got:
1) First, there’s nothing fun (for me) about being a gossip columnist and I don’t like speculating about what is in the heads of other people (least of all people like JR Smith whose thought process tends at times to be, shall we say, unconventional) but I’d appreciate if we can all just assume away the possibility that someone or something else “betrayed” our man Earl today and presume that this Instagram post is about what it appears to be about on face. If it isn’t then obviously all of the following is moot (although there would probably still be a point to make about his sense of timing but, I digress).
2) So, wow. If J.R. had any concern about the perception that the Knicks’ otherwise inexplicable rostering of Chris Smith was a sort of quid pro quo directly relating to J.R.’s own extension this summer, he seems to have set these concerns aside in favor of a futile social media swipe at his bosses. Although some have suggested that deals like this are par for the course in the NBA, the fraternal relationship between the two Smiths — and the younger Smith’s utter lack of NBA-level talent — had drawn a big, bold underline under this one from the start and today’s developments make the possibility of impropriety almost impossible to ignore. It will be interesting to see if the NBA cares enough to make a stink about it or if they decide to join everyone else and just laugh at the fact that even when the Knicks play dirty they can’t seem to help themselves.
3) I doubt there will be any type of formal response from Knicks management here but I’m primarily curious about whether the Prodigal-Son-Returns-ish nature of Smith’s relationship with his coach and the team’s PR staff will survive this one. Few Knicks in recent memory have invited as much criticism as Smith has through sound bites, social media, and other off-the-court activities but his minutes and role in the team’s rotation have rarely suffered, even at times when his play left much to be desired. Now, with Carmelo Anthony still battling injuries and after a run of play that suggests Smith may be rounding back into the kind of form we haven’t seen since the early part of last spring, J.R. is as critical as ever to the team’s success. My guess is that gets him out of this one with pretty mild consequences, even though the Knicks have been known to lash out at their on-court talent for lesser transgressions.
4) Beyond all of that though, how weird is this? The Knicks essentially handed away a roster spot as a favor to a player they were already overpaying, covered up the fact that this same player had knee surgery in the offseason, shrugged off a 5-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, put up with an almost impossibly bad run of play that stretched from the middle of the Celtics’ series until about a week ago, and refused to allow any of the other headaches that Smith has generated affect either his role on the court or the way he is marketed by the team. The loyalty would almost be admirable if it wasn’t so misplaced. And now, shorthanded beyond belief, they made the move that was always coming, that had to come, that essentially adds an extra spot to an active roster that has been ravaged by injuries and age-related minute limitations. This, in J.R. Smith’s mind, represents betrayal.
5) The most interesting thing, to me, is how closely J.R.’s handling of this situation mirrors his on-court persona. The frustration fouls, the relentless attempts to shoot his way out of slumps, the mocking indifference to people who doubt his game, the bouts of petulance and selfishness and conviction that no matter how much he’s been given, he deserves more: it’s all right here on display, as surely as if he was getting whistled for a technical at the tail end of a 3-for-14 shooting night. I don’t know what happened in any meetings between the Knicks and either Smith brother this summer. I don’t know what was requested, what was promised, what was signed, whose hands were shaken. I’m almost certain that I’ll never know. What I do know is this: there are a lot of people that have a right to complain about the lack of respect the Knicks have shown for them and their investment in the franchise. I’m talking about players, coaches, front office guys, even fans. I’m not talking about J.R. Smith, who has received superstar treatment for uneven play and who may never learn — on the court or off — how to cut his losses or how to quit when he’s ahead.