Why NY Knicks Should Actually Keep J.R. Smith

Thomas DuffyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks reacts during a game against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 16, 2013.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Clanged shots, poor shooting percentages and untied shoelaces. That just about sums up J.R. Smith’s season thus far.

ESPN.com’s Ian Begley and Marc Stein reported on January 8 that the New York Knicks were gauging interest around the league for Smith’s services, but Ken Berger of CBS Sports was informed that James Dolan and Co. have been testing the trade waters for as long as two weeks.

But despite Smith’s poor performance as the halfway point of the season approaches, it’d be a bad move for the Knicks to send him packing.

 

Potential for Eruption

Nov 20, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) controls the ball against the Indiana Pacers during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. The Pacers defeated the Knicks 103-96 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penne
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, Smith didn’t forget how to play basketball.

Last season, he was absolutely fantastic. The nine-year veteran dropped more than 18 points and five boards a game en route to being crowned with a much-deserved Sixth Man of the Year award. But one year and one knee surgery later, Smith has struggled.

Through the first 29 games of Smith’s 2014 campaign, he’s mustered just over 11 points and four boards a night, while dipping his shooting percentage from about 42 percent in 2013 to 35 percent this season.

Oh, and he’s also been outplayed by Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. at shooting guard.

But what everyone in the world seems to forget is that Smith is either awesome or terrible. Always has been, always will be.

He’s red-hot or freezing cold, drilling clutch jumpers or heaving up ill-advised three-pointers with the shot clock off at the end of a tie ballgame.

When Smith is feeling it, he’s unbelievable. But at his worst, it’s painful to watch him play.

However, an equal part of the problem is not so much Smith's production, but Mike Woodson's handling of Smith's minutes.

The Knicks are the NBA’s 25th-ranked team when it comes to scoring, tallying under 95 points a game. While it doesn’t change the fact that he’s wildly overpaid, an in-rhythm Smith can still serve as a valuable sparkplug off the bench.

And if he’s throwing up bricks, all Woodson needs to do is plop his beloved, tattooed guard on the bench. It’s that simple.

 

Poor Trade Market

OK, let’s say that the Knicks have their hearts set on ridding themselves of this shoestring-pulling bandit. Are they really going to come away with a fair deal?

Not a chance.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 25:  J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks reacts during the first half against the Charlotte Bobcats at Madison Square Garden on October 25, 2013 in New York City. The Bobcats defeated the Knicks 85-83.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Smith hasn’t lost his ability to play, but to say that he’s struggled lately is an understatement. He hasn’t reached double figures since December 28, shooting just a smidgen over 31 percent from the field in that span of four games.

It’s understood that New York is notorious for poor business decisions, but come on—buy low/sell high, anyone?

Trading a floundering Smith right now wouldn’t net anything noteworthy in return. But keeping him can't hurt.

Smith has the capability to blow up at any time, and if he’s heaving up terrible shots, Woodson needs to sit him. But letting a potentially valuable player go for nothing, which is essentially what the Knicks will get, would be a mistake.

 

The Melo Factor

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on against the Detroit Pistons during their game at  Madison Square Garden on January 7, 2014 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
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While trading Carmelo Anthony, blowing up the team and starting anew is probably best for the future of the franchise, keep in mind who we’re dealing with here.

This is the Knicks, an organization notorious for poor front-office decisions. By the same token, an offseason general manager change left new GM Steve Mills with a hefty task, as per B/R’s Howard Beck:

On the day he was installed as the Knicks’ new general manager last fall, Steve Mills was charged with a singular mission: Keep Carmelo Anthony happy. More to the point: Keep Carmelo Anthony, period.

Mills confirmed as much in his first press conference when he declared, without prompting, “We are fortunate to have a player like Carmelo Anthony on our roster.” He pledged his intent to keep Anthony in a Knicks uniform “for a long time to come.”

May 7, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) and shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) celebrate against the Indiana Pacers during the second half in game two of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Madison Square Gard
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

So, it would appear that Anthony will remain a Knick—for now. And that means that New York plans on trying to convince the reigning scoring champ to return to the Big Apple once he hits free agency this summer.

Well, if the overarching goal is to keep Melo, perhaps trading one of his best friends wouldn’t be a great idea.

Anthony, the godfather of one of Smith’s two daughters, has played with the former St. Benedict’s (NJ) star for nearly his entire career. The two have inevitably grown very close, both on and off the court.

New York has gone to great lengths this season to satisfy Anthony as free agency looms ominously in the dark, distant skies of July. If keeping Melo is the ultimate goal, why throw all of that effort away now?

 

How to Deal with J.R.

Would trading Smith for nothing be worth jeopardizing the team’s chances with Anthony this summer?

Nope.

Mar 26, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson speaks with shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) during the second half of a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Dealing with Smith off the court is one matter, but handling his on-court performance is really quite simple.

There is no reason that Woodson needs to play Smith down the stretch of close games.

There is also no reason to play him if he’s running the “J.R. offense” and playing "J.R. defense," which of course includes forcing up the most ridiculous, mind-boggling shots imaginable and playing disinterested defense.

And untying opponent’s shoes at the free-throw line.

He hasn’t been the star he was last season, but based on his track record, Smith will turn this mess around and eventually help the Knicks.

And as the team flirts with the bottom of the Atlantic Division, New York needs all of the help it can get.

All stats used in this article are accurate as of January 8, 2014 via Basketball Reference.