Can NY Knicks Regain Their Mojo Simply by Removing J.R. Smith?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2014

Jan 9, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) watches the final seconds of the game from the bench during the fourth quarter of a game against the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden. Smith didn't play in the game. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

On a night when volatile scorer J.R. Smith sat in coach Mike Woodson's doghouse, the New York Knicks scored their biggest win of the season.

That wasn't just a coincidence.

During their 102-92 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday, the Knicks (13-22) looked more like last season's 54-win unit than the group that has sputtered out of the gate this season.

The ball moved crisply. Shots came within the flow of the offense. The accountability that Woodson always preaches seemed to be finally put into practice.

Smith isn't New York's only problem. But this team only lowers its ceiling the longer this problem child is involved.

Writing on the Wall

There are no boundaries with Smith. He seems to live the same way he shootswithout a conscience.

He picked up a $50,000 fine earlier in the week for what the league called "recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct," via Ian Begley of There's probably a Smith biography in the works somewhere with the same title. If there isn't, there should be.

This violation involved twice attempting to untie the shoelaces of an opponent after receiving a stern warning following the first try.

"I'm not happy about this because he was warned, he comes back, and he makes the same mistake, and it's not right," Woodson said on ESPN Radio New York on Wednesday, via Ohm Youngmisuk of "I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it's got to stop."

Apr 26, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson talks with New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) after a foul call during the first half. The New York Knicks defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 104-84 at Time Warner Cable Arena
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It hasn't stopped.

He's back on the social media circuit poking fun at the problem, h/t Deadspin's Tom Ley:

This wasn't an isolated incident.

Smith has already been fined for a Twitter beef with Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings and suspended for violating the league's anti-drug policy. He lost time for elbowing Jason Terry and lost more money for another misstep on Twitter last season.

"He's 28 years old, and he's learned little in his life except how to use basketball to get over on everyone again and again," Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports wrote.

Not all of these blunders can be pinned solely on Smith. Not with the Knicks refusing to put their foot down before Thursday night, even while he was pushing their leg to the floor.

May 16, 2013; New York, NY, USA;   New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) during the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers in game 5 of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffsat Madison Square Garden. Knicks won 85-75.  Mandatory Credit: Anth
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

But Smith's a grown-up. He needs to own his actions. He needs to understand what he has now and what he's set himself up to lose.

"He's going to wake up some day and he's going to realize that he's thrown away some great opportunities and great years because of this mockery that he brings to the game," said ESPN analyst George Karl, who spent five years coaching Smith with the Denver Nuggets (via Begley).

Whether he wakes up in a Knicks uniform remains uncertain. Swirling trade winds and Thursday's DNP have cast dark clouds on his future:

Whether a trade market exists for the low-volume scorer is even less certain. There's only so much a team is willing to put up with from a player averaging more field-goal attempts (12.0) than points (11.3).

But New York cannot afford to leave any stone unturned. Whatever chances the Knicks have to salvage this season will grow exponentially with Smith out of the picture.

Power in Numbers

The Knicks have one of the league's premier scorers in Carmelo Anthony.

One season removed from the first scoring title of his career, 'Melo is pumping in 26.3 points a night. Only Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant is averaging more (29.5).

Despite Anthony's scoring lift, though, the Knicks have struggled at the offensive end. They're putting up 102.0 points per 100 possessions, 18th most in the NBA.

Obviously, finding a primary option isn't their problem. Their issues have come from their inability to identify consistent secondary scorers.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks and his teammates J.R. Smith #8 and Amar'e Stoudemire #1 walk into the locker room at half time against the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden on November 10, 2013 in New York
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Smith shoots like that's his role, but the stat sheet says otherwise.

With his water faucet stroke out of the lineup on Thursday, New York's supporting cast opened the floodgates on the league's No. 9 defense (101.7 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Anthony still led the charge with 29 points, but he was just one of five Knicks in double figures.

Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire combined for 33 points on 16-of-25 shooting. Raymond Felton added 13 points, and Iman Shumpert chipped in with a dozen.

The offense was high-powered, efficient and always controlled. Basically, the anti-J.R. Smith attack.

New York shot 53.7 percent from the field, more than 10 points higher than its season average (43.6). The Knicks racked up 25 assists, including a game-high 14 from Felton. They average just 20.5 on the season, tied for 18th overall.

They have the personnel to keep offensive waves flooding their opponents all season. But Smith is a ball-stopper, dominating touches but not dominating anything else.

Well, other than bad press. And the Knicks don't need any help in that department.

They don't need Smith's help in any capacity.

What's Next? 

That's hard to say.

The Knicks have reasons, and apparently interest, to move on from Smith, but their hands are tied. No one wants to share in New York's nightmare.

Thursday was a good indication of just how high this team's ceiling still sits. Even after a few disastrous months to open the season, the Knicks are only one game out of a playoff spot and 5.5 games back of the Atlanta Hawks, the No. 3 seed.

Any sort of winning streak can dramatically shift the playoff landscape out East. New York has more than enough talent to embark on an upward climb.

But something has to be done with Smith.

Ideally, a courtside seat for a nationally televised game sent the message that Smith needed to hear. The Knicks aren't interested in being his enablers any longer.

If Smith cannot get with the program, the program cannot wait for him to come around.

The choice is all his. For the first time in a long time, it doesn't seem like his decision will make or break these Knicks.

They're living, breathing and most importantly winning just fine without him.

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of and


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