When Smith is in the news, it usually has to do with his most recent episode of outlandish behavior. From the questionable decisions (tweeting a NSFW picture of his girlfriend, for example) to the downright offensive ones (using the hashtag #nosandusky), his conduct is the stuff of nightmares for a public relations worker.
The name J.R. Smith can make even the most innocuous headline seem controversial. When ZagsBlog runs a story titled "J.R. Smith on Money, Lin and the New Season," you can't help but consider the endless possibilities.
Is he complaining about being underpaid? Is he going to slam Lin now that he's out of town? Is he going to go so far as to guarantee a Knicks championship in September? With Smith, these are all valid questions, but how inflammatory are the answers?
Not very, it turns out. Though Smith spoke as candidly as usual to reporters at a basketball clinic he was running, his comments were refreshingly measured. In fact, for a guy many consider to be a selfish head case, Smith sounded like he was in team-first mindset.
Let's take a look at Smith's quotes and what they say about the upcoming Knicks season.
On Money (But Not Really)
“I think anything is a bargain with me, whether I’m playing for a dollar or $20 million it’s a bargain because I’m going to play hard no matter what,” Smith told SNY.tv. “No matter how much I get paid, it will never affect how hard I play and I think that should be thought about when people see me next year.”
If you look too quickly at this quote, it might sound like Smith is claiming to be worth $20 million to an NBA team. The title prompts you to focus on the money, but Smith directly states that his effort will never be contingent on his salary.
This is good news for Knicks fans for two reasons.
First and foremost, it's a sign that Smith is buying into an unselfish mentality under coach Mike Woodson. Whereas Smith has been known to settle for lazy jumpers on offense and disappear on defense, he seemed to invest himself more at both ends when Woodson took the helm.
In a recent interview with Grantland's Jonathan Abrams, Smith sung Woodson's praises. "He's such a level-headed person and he wants to see his players do well," Smith said. "He puts his personal agenda and goals aside to see his players do well."
From a chemistry standpoint, an NBA team is as strong as its weakest link. If Woodson can earn Smith's trust, it will be an important step to convincing guys like Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire to buy into the new regime.
Secondly, this is actually the closest Smith came to making a contentious comment. The rest of the soundbites raise little concern.
On Jeremy Lin
“I was on the outside looking in waiting for my deal to get done during that whole thing and just see what pieces we would pick up instead of Jeremy Lin,” Smith said. “We got some good pieces. Jeremy is a good player, he was good to me and I have nothing bad to say about him. I wish him the best of luck, but we’re gonna kick their ass next year.”
Smith says all the right things here. He does not pick at New York's scab by passing judgement on the decision not to match the offer sheet for Jeremy Lin. Rather, he finds a way to support both sides, endorsing the Knicks' other signings while complimenting Lin as a player and as a teammate.
It's nice to see this level of media-savviness from J.R. Smith. Not only didn't he get trapped by the Lin question, but he also turned the tables and used Lin's departure to express confidence in the Knicks. Smith said what every Knick should be thinking: forget why Lin is gone, just go out and win games. That's exactly the mentality New York needs in the locker room.
On the New Season
“Me and Melo have been on the same team for the last six years and ever since we’ve been together, I feel like we’ve had a championship-caliber team,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter going out there, passing the ball, playing defense and playing team basketball.”
This one falls along the same lines as when Eli Manning claimed to be an elite quarterback before the 2011 NFL season. Maybe he didn't have the pedigree to support that claim at the time, but what do you want him to say? He's a franchise quarterback; he wouldn't have gotten to that level without a substantial amount of self-confidence.
Here's what J.R. Smith sees in New York: Three All-Stars in the Knicks lineup; a bench that is now deeper, more talented and more experienced; and a coach he respects overseeing it all.
Smith isn't claiming the 2013 title for the Knicks now; he's saying it's in their sights. He also seems to know what New York needs to get it, once again championing hard-nosed, unselfish basketball.
He gave three quotes, and he put his team first in all of them. Let's just hope J.R. Smith's mentality carries over when the Knicks take the court.