Chris Smith is a legitimate NBA prospect. Supposedly.
The New York Knicks caused quite a stir when they elected to keep the younger brother of J.R. Smith on their 15-man roster, prompting the NBA to investigate the legitimacy of their decision, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman:
When the undrafted Chris Smith changed agents to J.R.’s rep, Leon Rose, last spring, some in the league saw it as a “package deal.’’
But, according to a league official, the league decided Chris Smith was enough of a bona fide NBA prospect to justify the club keeping him.
“Chris has enough talent,’’ the official told The Post. “He could become an NBA player one day. Some teams do keep projects instead of players who can help right away, and Chris is one of those projects.”
One anonymous general manager sang a different tune to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, calling Smith "maybe the worst player in the history of the [NBA] summer league."
Smith is already on his second guaranteed contract with the Knicks. Though he was on a non-guaranteed deal over the summer, a provision in his pact forced the team to pay every cent of his $490,180 salary if he made the opening-night roster.
To call the Knicks' decision vexing, then, is kind. And inexact. Suspicious is more like it.
In what turned out to be an accurate forerunner of what was to come, head coach Mike Woodson admitted Smith had a better chance at making the roster because of his family ties.
"Sure, it does,” Woodson said at the time," per Berman. "I look at [Chris] just like I look at J.R., though J.R. is the guy who played in a uniform and has been very productive for us. I have a great deal of respect for that family. That’s his brother. I respect that."
The rest of us shouldn't respect that.
Familial connections should help you get free tickets, gear or seats to James Dolan's one-man circus, not a roster spot. As I've said before, the Knicks of all teams should understand the value of a 15th man. Or did I just imagine the emergences of Chris Copeland and Jeremy Lin over the last two years?
Depleted at the center position, they needed a big man to help plug the middle. That's become even more apparent in Tyson Chandler's absence. Instead, they signed Smith, remain vulnerable up front and, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, are currently dangling Iman Shumpert to anyone who will listen, since they're so deep in the backcourt and all.
Furtive rulings mean nothing in this case. Who cares what the NBA thinks at this point? New York didn't need Smith, and per Woj, most of the Knicks' coaching staff doesn't see him as an Association-level player. That's what should matter most, yet, somehow, it doesn't.
Dolan has always done things his way, which incidentally, is almost never the right way. So while the league may not have found evidence of illegal dealings, something smells fishy in New York.
Truthfully, though, that's more likely the stench of the Knicks' suspect existence in general than anything else.