Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks

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


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.

Dan Patrick Show: Kenny Smith endorses going straight from playing to coaching

Timberwolves read mean tweets about themselves (video)

Flip Saunders, Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones
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The Timberwolves didn’t select the meanest tweets about these players, but credit Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine for being good sports.

LeBron James: I’m healthier than a year ago


LeBron James received an injection in his back before the season.

It’s working.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

LeBron James now says he feels better than he did even a year ago.

“I feel better in the mornings; I feel better throughout the games; I feel better throughout the day,” James said before a Cavs shootaround Wednesday in preparation for their game against the Toronto Raptors. “It was a rough start to the season for me last year and for our team. Obviously the way we’ve been playing, a lot is predicated on my health and being able to lead these guys out on the floor and not from the sidelines.”

LeBron certainly looks healthier than he did at this point last year. He’s moving much better and giving more effort.

But comparing November to November means very little for the Cavaliers, who hope to play deep into June.

The key question: Did LeBron properly time his injection? There’s a limit on the number he can have in a year, and it takes time to recover after one. Cleveland doesn’t want LeBron to peak to early.

It’s good for the Cavs that LeBron feels better now, but his health in the playoffs remains the priority.

Report: Suns signing Bryce Cotton

Bryce Cotton
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Eric Bledsoe missed the Suns’ loss to the Spurs on Monday with a knee injury.

So, Phoenix is bringing in a reinforcement – Bryce Cotton.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Jazz waived Cotton before the season despite Dante Exum‘s injury leaving them with just two other healthy point guards. That says something about Cotton – but also Utah’s depth.

Cotton – who went undrafted out of Providence last year – is quick, varies his speed well and can leap. There’s reason to believe in his potential at age 23. But his 6-foot-1 frame limits him defensively, and he’s not much of a distributor.

Phoenix will rely on Brandon Knight and Ronnie Price at point guard if Bledsoe is unavailable. The Suns can also use fewer two-point guard lineups – giving more minutes at shooting guard to Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin and Sunny Weems.

Cotton provides insurance while Bledsoe is banged-up with what seems to be a minor injury. But he might have to show something to keep drawing an NBA paycheck once Bledsoe gets healthy.

Jimmy Butler wants Mason Plumlee to pay fine after scuffle (video)


Jimmy Butler and Mason Plumlee got into an altercation in the Bulls’ win over the Trail Blazers last night.

Plumlee lowered his head and tried to barrel through Butler’s chest on a Butler screen. Butler fell and retaliated by putting Plumlee in a leg lock, causing Plumlee to fall.

You might remember a leg lock as what Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova did to Bulls forward Taj Gibson during last year’s playoffs. For all the talk then of Dellavedova being a dirty player, Butler seems particularly aggrieved after getting a technical foul, which comes with a $2,500 fine – the same penalty Dellavedova eventually received. (Plumlee got a flagrant foul.)

Butler, via Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

“He thought he was playing football for a second there,” Butler said. “Almost had to let the Fort Greene Projects out of me, Brooklyn, you know what I’m saying?”

It was said tongue in cheek considering Gibson was a few feet over and Butler wanted to draw some laughs. Gibson is a Brooklyn native and grew up in the Fort Greene Projects while Butler grew up in Tomball, Texas.

It was no laughing matter when he said he would find a way to approach Plumlee about the fine money, jokingly suggesting he would have his agent email him at “Mr. Dukie@yahoo.com or something” and made a joke about Mike Dunleavy applauding Plumlee’s act.

Plumlee and Dunleavy are products of Duke University.

“Yeah, he cost me 2,500,” Butler said. “I’m not happy about that. Gonna ask him to pay me back and I’m not playing.”

Is that MisterDukie@yahoo.com, MrDukie@yahoo.com or Mr.Dukie@yahoo.com. Or is it Dookie?

These are important questions – at least if you’re trying to turn the conversation away from your dirty play and toward your colorful quotes.