J.R. Smith doesn’t want to come off the bench anymore

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J.R. Smith started a majority of his games as a rookie, but ever since – with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks – he’s been pigeonholed as an off-the-bench scorer. The role has suited him well. He won Sixth Man of the Year in 2012-13, and he’s received a vote for the award in seven seasons.

The only problem: Smith wants to start – and has for a while.

Before the 2012-13 season, Smith explained his frustrations with being labeled a bench player. That year, Mike Woodson started 15 (!) players but brought Smith off the bench in all 80 of his games.

Again before the 2013-14 season, Smith reiterated his desire to start. Woodson acquiesced a bit and started Smith 37 games of his 74 games, including a very effective stretch. But that’s still 37 games off the bench, probably more than Smith would have preferred

With Woodson out, Smith sees his opening.

The problem is Smith’s production really dipped most of this season. If Smith continues to regress at anywhere near that same rate, it won’t be a choice about balancing the rotation. He’ll no longer be worthy of starting on an average team.

The good news for Smith? The Knicks are not an average team.

They have just four guards with guaranteed contracts for next season: Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Felton is facing felony gun charges, and Phil Jackson might trade him. Either factor could lead to Prigioni playing more point guard rather than as a secondary ball-handler – if the 37-year-old can handle it. If Carmelo Anthony leaves, Shumpert would probably play more small forward. Hardaway is promising and might soon be better than Smith if he isn’t already, but it would be easy to build a case Smith remains the better player. (And if Hardaway is better, maybe Smith will start for the same reason he came off the bench all those years – so the rotation is balanced.)

All things considered, the path to Smith starting at shooting guard is pretty clear.

If he can stay out of his own way.

Smith got away with quite a bit under Woodson, and new Knicks coach Derek Fisher might not be so forgiving.

Fisher’s top assignment is selling Melo on the Knicks’ future, but handling a locker room full of veterans – many of whom, including Smith, are highly paid – will be another challenge. Maybe Smith begrudgingly accepts a bench role, as he did for Woodson. Maybe Smith makes Fisher’s life a little more difficult than that. With Smith, it really could go either way.

Welcome to New York, Fish. The players are already testing you.

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Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.

DeMarcus Cousins on Confederate statues: ‘Take all them motherf—ers down’

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DeMarcus Cousins grew up in Alabama, played collegiately at Kentucky and now plays in New Orleans.

So, yeah, the Pelicans star has an opinion on Confederate statues.

Cousins, via TMZ:

“Take all them motherf*ckers down,” Cousins said … “Take ’em all down.”

These statues glorify people because they fought a war against the United States in the name of preserving the racist institution of slavery.

Not whom I want to honor, either.

Kevin Durant: Kyrie Irving-LeBron James situation ‘just a regular NBA problem’

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Kevin Durant knows something about star teammates not always getting along.

So, the Warriors forward is not freaking out about the disconnect between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James and Irving’s subsequent trade request.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“It’s just a regular NBA problem, right? A lot of teams have gone through this before,” Durant told ESPN. “They’ll figure it out. That’s a great organization, a championship organization. They’ll figure it out.”

“It’s not the end of the world,” Durant said. “Both of those guys won a championship together. They love each other. If Kyrie wants to do something else, that’s on him. I’m sure whatever happens, it’ll work out for the best for both of them. But it’s just a normal NBA problem. It’s just two big stars that it’s happening to.”

Durant is definitely right in the larger sense. Teammates spat and requests trades more often than we realize. Remember, both Irving and the Cavaliers probably prefer this never became public.

But I’m not sure Cleveland will figure this out with the ease Durant suggests. David Griffin, who had proven so adept at putting out these fires, is gone. LeBron’s free agency looms. This could be extremely destructive to the Cavs.

The fact that this “regular NBA problem” became public only intensifies it – and raises it something greater.

Report: Heat signing Jordan Mickey

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Jordan Mickey – the No. 33 pick by the Celtics in 2015 – became the first second-round pick in memory to sign the year he was drafted and receive a higher initial salary than first-round picks.

He’s keeping the checks coming.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Mickey will be the Heat’s 16th player with a standard contract, though Matt Williams (unguaranteed) will likely be waived to meet the regular-season roster limit.

I’m not sure where Mickey fits on this team, which already has several bigs. Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk will likely play ahead of him. Miami also has A.J. Hammons (who might be just dead salary) and Udonis Haslem (who might provide nothing more than veteran leadership).

The Heat could just see Mickey as someone they can develop. At that point, how he fits into the current roster doesn’t really matter.

Mickey – 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan – is a mobile defender with nice timing for blocking shots inside. He even possesses a work-in-progress 3-pointer in his arsenal. There’s plenty for Miami to help mold.