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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John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.