The Extra Pass: J.R. Smith’s ‘joke gone wrong’ has him questioning his Knicks future

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NEW YORK — J.R Smith hasn’t played well enough this season to deserve either the minutes he’s been given, or the simple benefit of the doubt. And on Thursday night before a nationally televised game against the defending champion Miami Heat, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson finally did something about it.

Speaking to reporters more than 90 minutes before tip-off, Woodson shut down any talk of Smith, or his silly shoe-untying antics that went on for two straight games before the league office intervened with a $50,000 fine. As the questions came, Woodson refused to allow Smith to continue to become a focal point, and repeatedly deflected the queries as quickly as possible.

Then, the real magic happened.

When it was time for substitutions to occur in the first quarter, Smith didn’t get up and head to the scorer’s table. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Toure Murry were the first two in off the bench, and Smith sat at the end of it, both literally and figuratively, while choosing not to engage in his team’s sideline huddles.

Woodson had done it: Smith had been benched for this game, and possibly more. He received the dreaded DNP-CD, on a night his teammates more than picked up the slack in getting a 10-point victory over the Heat that was New York’s fourth in its last five games.

The one loss came by two points in Houston, on a night where Smith launched an ill-advised three-pointer late that potentially cost his team the win. His numbers are down substantially from those of last season, and that, along with the nonsense that has little to do with basketball warranted an internal, informal suspension lasting at least 48 minutes.

While Woodson wouldn’t comment at all about his player’s status, Smith was the first one available to media when the Knicks locker room opened post-game. And as it turned out, he had no idea he wouldn’t play on Thursday, and said he was uncertain about his future with the Knicks franchise.

“There hasn’t been any,” Smith said, when asked whether or not he had a discussion with his head coach since the fine was levied. “I think that’s the most misleading part of it. I could see if I was told, but there was no conversation about it.”

Smith also seemed confused about the warning he reportedly received from the league after he untied the shoes of Shawn Marion while playing the Mavericks.

“It was one of those warnings, you really don’t know the outcome of it,” Smith said. “You don’t even know if it was a warning or what it was. But at the end of the day it is what it is, I can’t change anything now.”

When asked if the punishment exceeded the crime, considering it has now affected his playing time as well as his pocketbook, Smith still didn’t seem to understand what all the fuss was about.

“It’s funny because the first time it was done, everybody thought it was hilarious,” he said. “And the second time it was done, it wasn’t even done. But at the end of the day it is what it is. I’m not going to fight it. We play hard, we win, I’m happy. If we play hard and lose, I’d have something to say. As long as we keep winning, I’m fine.”

Smith was signed to a three-year, $18 million contract in free agency by the Knicks last summer, a fragile deal in terms of J.R.’s past transgressions, but one that was in line with last season’s Sixth Man of the Year performance.

He’s followed that up with irresponsible behavior and below average basketball, however, so it’s no wonder he was questioning whether or not he has a future with the franchise.

“Honestly, I don’t even know at this point,” he said. “At one point I was for sure, and now it’s rocking the boat. But it is what it is, it’s the nature of the business.”

It doesn’t have to be, for most players. But Smith is unique, and always has been. He could greatly help the Knicks if he becomes focused on the game once again, instead of worrying about creating on-court foolishness during breaks in the action.

“It was a joke, but a joke gone wrong,” he said.

At this point, that is quite the understatement.

—Brett Pollakoff

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https://twitter.com/KDTrey5/status/421540931280461824

This came after a photo of Kevin Durant smoking what he said was a hookah was tweeted out then deleted. There’s no reason not to believe him. — Kurt Helin

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Knicks 102, Heat 92: What is it with the Knicks having the Heat’s number? The Knicks won the season series last season and on Thursday night put together a run at the end of the third, start of the fourth that gave them the game. Brett Pollakoff was at the game and wrote about it in more detail. — KH

Nuggets 101, Thunder 88: Denver looked pretty good in this one, with Ty Lawson using his quickness to break down the Thunder defense, Randy Foye shooting over the top of it (6-of-9 from three) and Evan Fournier coming in off the bench to drop 19 and look solid. We broke this game down in more detail here. — KH

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.