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

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin expresses interest in buying Rockets

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We’ve seen the flashy names – Beyonce and Hakeem Olajuwon – interested in buying the Rockets.

But what about someone who can actually afford a majority stake?

Mark Berman of Fox 26:

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin, owner and CEO of Gulf States Toyota and the president and CEO of the Friedkin Group, acknowledged in a statement released to FOX 26 Sports that he is interested in buying the Houston Rockets franchise.

“I’ve expressed interest in exploring the purchase of the Houston Rockets,” Friedkin said in a statement released by his company.

Forbes pegs Friedkin’s net worth worth at $3.1 billion and the Rockets’ value $1.65 billion. So, while he might be able to buy the team outright, it’d likely be a stretch of his assets.

More likely, if Friedkin is serious about purchasing the team, he’ll do so as part of a group. Whether he’d spend enough to be the controlling owner is an open question.

Memphis coach David Fizdale calls confederate monuments in city “unacceptable”

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Confederate President Jefferson Davis has a statue in Memphis. So does Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who went on to be one of the early members of — and reportedly the first grand wizard of — the Ku Klux Klan (he would later deny to Congress any involvement with the group). Both men lived in Memphis.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to remove those statues — part of a growing trend nationally to remove Confederate monuments — but it was stopped because the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which denied the request. The city is still fighting that legal battle.

The removal issue has been divisive is Memphis, but in the wake of violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists and Nazis — ostensibly about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city, but really about much more than that — Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out on the issue. He was interviewed as part of the MLK50: Justice through Journalism program, with the translation courtesy The Commercial Appeal‘s Geoff Calkins.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK and label as equal as people who are fighting for love and fighting hate and bigotry and all of those things. We’ve got to listen to Dr. King. There’s no way, with me being the head coach in the city of Memphis, that I will sit on the sidelines and disgrace his legacy, my grandfather’s legacy, and let somebody destroy something that we built in America that I think can be exemplary.”

“I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable. It will no longer stand. I think you’re seeing it all over America people are not standing for it anymore. It’s a black eye on our history.”

David Fizdale is not known for holding back his feelings — “take that for data!” — and he is spot on here on a far more important issue. Good on him for using his platform and voice to speak out.

These are statues dedicated to men who fought to uphold slavery as an institution, and as a nation that something we fought a war over. The north and the Union Army won the military campaign more than 150 years ago, but we are still fighting the Civil War in this nation in terms of ideals. Fizdale understands that. Removal of those statues is a step in the right direction, away from glorifying an ugly past built on the notion that one man was not equal to another, that one man could own another.

Don’t expect Fizdale to be quiet on this issue. Nor should he be.

US men’s basketball enters a new world – without its stars

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The jerseys say USA, though that’s about all that will be recognizable.

When the U.S. men’s basketball team returns to action later this month, fans might be left wondering, “the red, white and who?”

The Americans are cautiously entering a whole new basketball world, one in which not only are the best U.S. players not available, but neither are any in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the stars might show up in a few years for the Basketball World Cup and Olympics, but only if a group of minor leaguers can get them there.

It’s all part of FIBA’s new qualifying format and the road starts at the AmeriCup 2017. It’s a tournament the Americans don’t need to win – and aren’t sure they can – but one they have to play to make themselves eligible for the events that will matter.

“It’s going to be really interesting,” USA Basketball men’s national team director Sean Ford said. “We don’t know. We’re flying blind a little bit.”

Even the Americans’ best-known commodity is a bit of an unknown now.

Jeff Van Gundy coached in the NBA Finals and is analyst for them every year on ABC, but he’s leading the U.S. team as an international basketball rookie. He is busy brushing up on the nuances of a game that can be played and officiated completely differently than in the U.S.

He begins Thursday in Houston for training camp, where he will seek the 12 players who will travel to Uruguay and possibly Argentina for the AmeriCup and the potentially better-prepared opponents who wait.

“What we have to do is match and exceed their passion, how hard we play, how together we are as a group,” Van Gundy said, “because when the U.S. has not succeeded in international competitions, it’s because there wasn’t as much maybe sacrifice as you need, or maybe you were deficient in one skill that was important.”

It’s the Americans’ first appearance in the former FIBA Americas tournament since 2007. Their starting lineup in that romp to gold – James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Dwight Howard – was one of the strongest the U.S. has ever assembled.

The 17 players in camp with Van Gundy include Kendall Marshall, Reggie Williams, Darius Morris and Marshall Plumlee, players good enough to play in the NBA but not stick.

The Americans haven’t needed to play in their zone championship since because they’ve won every Olympic and world title, exempting them from qualifying. But FIBA has revamped its qualification system to look more like soccer’s, where national teams will play home-and-away games against teams in their pool.

But some of the windows are during the NBA season – the opening games are scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend – and players under NBA contract won’t be permitted to play. So the Americans plan to primarily use players from the NBA G League, with perhaps some who have been playing overseas.

“Look, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. But we know that this is different and we’re going to have to figure out how to be successful in a different model,” Ford said. “There’s always unknowns, but there’s probably more unknowns because No. 1, we don’t know how good we need to be. We don’t know how good we can be.”

Ford considers the prospective players a notch below the NBA, calling them “survivors, grinders, competitors.” That’s far from the level that suited up for Mike Krzyzewski for a decade or would play for Gregg Popovich in 2019 and 2020, but Van Gundy is eager to work with them in his first coaching assignment – not counting his daughter’s youth league – since he was fired by the Rockets in 2007.

“There’s very few LeBron James of the world – obviously one – or great players who have it easy. These guys’ careers have not been easy and so I really admire their persistence, their grit and their determination,” Van Gundy said. “To get to work with them and coach them, that was part of the pull for me.”

With limited time and options, the Americans know the AmeriCup could be a challenge. Ford said they hope to reach the semifinals in Argentina and see what happens from there.

They will need to start winning come November, when they open their first-round pool that includes Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba.

The U.S. has to finish in the top three there, playing their other windows of games in February and June-July, to advance to another pool that will include three teams among Argentina, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, from Sept. 2018 to Feb. 2019.

Another top-three finish then would clinch their spot in China in 2019.

They will have a deeper field of candidates later who will be in shape from playing with their G League teams. But, they also could lose a player they like if he plays well enough for them in August to get a contract in the NBA or overseas.

There are many uncertainties, though Ford said there is one constant.

“From a USA Basketball standpoint,” he said, “if we’re going to put a team together, we’re going to try to put the best team together that we can and go out and try to win.”

Former Lakers forward Tommy Hawkins dies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tommy Hawkins, the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame and who played for the Los Angeles Lakers during a 10-year NBA career, has died. He was 80.

Hawkins died Wednesday in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he once worked as director of communications.

He graduated from Notre Dame in 1959. Hawkins was inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor and his 1,318 career rebounds remain the oldest record on the books in Fighting Irish basketball history.

Hawkins was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers in the first round of the 1959 NBA draft. He played for them as well as the Cincinnati Royals, and notched 6,672 career points and 4,607 rebounds.