With a record 5-32, the season is unofficially over for the New York Knicks. The Knicks have a injured superstar player in small forward Carmelo Anthony and they know have the worst record in the NBA this season. Even if Anthony were healthy and in the lineup, the Knicks are a team that cannot grasp the triangle offense of their head coach Derek Fisher. When Phil Jackson took over last year as the Knicks team president, he knew that he had his work cut out for him in order to build a championship contender in the Big Apple. And with several bad contracts set to come off of the books this summer for the Knicks led by the one belonging to power forward Amar’e Stoudemire, Jackson is simply trying to navigate through some difficult waters. Recently the Knicks were involved in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Knicks sent shooting guard J.R. Smith and swingman Iman Shumpert to the Cavs while receiving forward Lou Amundson and center Alex Kirk for Cleveland and forward Lance Thomas from the Thunder. The move by the Knicks sheds salary and it also bids farewell to a head case’s head case in Smith.
Smith was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the 2004 NBA Draft straight out of high school. After two seasons with the Hornets, Smith was traded to the Chicago Bulls. Smith never suited up for the Bulls as he was traded two weeks later to the Denver Nuggets. in five seasons with the Nuggets, Smith averaged 13.7 points per game, but in 2011, Denver wasn’t exactly going out of their way to re-sign him. After a brief stint playing basketball in China during the 2011 NBA Lockout, Smith returned to the United States where he signed with the Knicks in early 2012. For Smith it was a reunion and a homecoming all at the same time when he joined the Knicks. Smith and Anthony were teammates with the Nuggets while he grew up in New Jersey in the shadows of New York City and Madison Square Garden.
In his second season with the Knicks, Smith averaged a career-high in points at 18.1 per game and he was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. In the process Smith became the first Knicks player since John Starks in 1997 to win the award.
That season Smith was in the zone as he was a pending free agent and he was looking to get paid. That summer saw the Knicks take the bait and oblige Smith with a three-year deal nearly worth $18 million.
But for Smith, his time with the Knicks mirrored his time with the Hornets and Nuggets as he was a wild and selfish player that could not consistently play within the realm of the offense as team basketball was not always on his mind. There were too many instances when as soon as the basketball got into Smith’s hands he was start throwing up shots. Smith would take shots when he was a good 10-feet behind the three-point line with plenty of time on the shot clock. Smith’s erratic shot selection was reminiscent of Starks who in his day never met a shot that he didn’t like. Aside from sporting a low basketball IQ at times, Smith was always a lightning rod for controversy during his time with the Knicks.
In the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, the Knicks found themselves with a 3-0 series lead over the Boston Celtics. The Knicks were cruising until late in the fourth quarter of Game 3 when Smith hit Celtics guard Jason Terry with a flagrant elbow that resulted in him being suspended for Game 4. The Celtics gained momentum and from it the Knicks had to grind out a series win in six games instead of a quick sweep. This hurt the Knicks as they were a tired bunch when they met the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals as they weren’t as fresh as they could have been and thus they lost in six games. Smith has also been no stranger to being suspended by the NBA for drug use as well issues in operating a vehicle. Jackson wants to change the culture with the Knicks and you win with character guys and team players which are two flaws of Smith.
The Knicks had absolutely nothing to lose in shipping Smith out of town even if it meant that they didn’t get coveted draft picks coming back to New York. The Knicks could lose as many games without Smith as they could if he was attempting 40-foot, three-point shots at the Garden which would draw a chorus of boos. Now Smith is the Cavs problem and for a team that themselves is having problems in developing a winning chemistry, they just accepted a healthy dose of poison that could help them to self destruct. The Knicks may not win too many more games this NBA season, but Jackson did some early spring cleaning and by the looks of things he still has a broom and dustpan in his hands at the World’s Most Famous Arena.