Phil Jackson speaks with a purpose and for effect. He doesn’t say things that will be published without having some motive.
Which is why what he told his old friend Charlie Rosen about the big mid-season trade in New York — which sent J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland for non-guaranteed contracts — was so interesting. Jackson tries to make himself look better, like the adult cleaning up the mess at the children’s table.
It’s about as direct and blunt as you will ever hear someone if a front office speak about a player on the record.
Jackson didn’t hold back talking about Smith and Shumpert in the piece posted on ESPN.
“J.R. had been exhibiting some delinquent behavior and had gotten into the habit of coming late to team meetings, or missing them altogether,” Jackson says. “Also, Shump and Tim [Hardaway Jr.] were regressing, so I decided to meet with them separately and try to find out what, if anything, was bothering them.”
Smith was first on the list. “We talked about his statement to the press that our shooting guard depth was going to be the team’s asset, but so far it hadn’t worked out that way,” Jackson says. “He was supposed to carry the scoring load for the second unit and he wasn’t doing the job. I also said that because of his unacceptable behavior, he had two strikes against him with this team. He didn’t really respond. He’s a very sensitive guy, with his big doe eyes. He looked like he was going to tear up. But he finally responded that he was going through some issues with his gal.”
Shumpert was next in line. “After he suffered a hip injury in Dallas, his game went rapidly downhill. Did he have any other issues to explain his decline? He said, ‘No. I don’t know what has gone wrong with my game.’ As with J. R., nothing got resolved.”
Jackson goes on to say coach Derek Fisher thought Smith walked around like there was a dark cloud over his head, and that Shumpert’s ego was a problem in the locker room.
Whether you want to say it was the negative impacts on their game in New York — Smith was known to enjoy the New York nightlife — or the positive ones of LeBron James in Cleveland, both Shumpert and Smith played a lot better after the move.
Smith saw more minutes, and his true shooting percentage jumped from a below average 48.7 percent to and above average 56.6 percent (boosted by him shooting 39 percent from three in Cleveland). Smith’s PER jumped from 11.5 to 14.5 (which is still slightly below the league average).
Smith also had some delinquent behavior on the court during the playoffs, which led to him being suspended for the first two games of the NBA Finals. Smith opted out of his contract and is still hanging out there as a free agent, likely about to take a pay cut, although the Cavaliers seem the most likely to retain him.
Shumpert played fewer minutes and took fewer shots in Cleveland, but he saw his true shooting percentage jump up to 50.8 percent. More importantly, his defense was a key part of the grit and grind style the Cavaliers had to evolve towards during the playoffs due to injuries.
The Cavaliers re-signed Shumpert to a four-year, $40 million deal and he is likely the starting two guard for the Cavaliers when next season tips off.