New York Knicks Must Solve Their Massive JR Smith Problem

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2014

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 5:  J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks dribbles the ball against the Dallas Mavericks on January 5, 2014 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. 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 2014 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
Glenn James/Getty Images

Enough natural uncertainty exists within Madison Square Garden that there's no need for the New York Knicks to synthesize more of their own by keeping J.R. Smith in constant limbo.

Smith's future has become a serious problem for New York, more severe than usual after registering his second "DNP" in four games against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Many of the issues now taking center stage are on him and his shoelace-obsessed, fine-worthy behavior. But that's Smith. The Knicks knew what kind of person they were keeping last summer.

Fresh off a Sixth Man of the Year campaign, Smith has always been a, shall we say, wild card. Repeated transgressions should come as no surprise. What's shocking is how poorly the Knicks have handled the situation (even for them), playing him then benching him, only to play him then bench him again.

Drama and rumors (and injuries) find the Knicks just fine. Problems arise like they do everywhere, but it's worse in New York where the media is persistent and fearless, and the Knicks indecisive and less-than-forthcoming.

And it needs to stop.


Admit What the Hell Is Going On

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Head Coach Mike Woodson draws up a play for J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks against the Chicago Bulls during the game on December 11, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly a
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Silence is sometimes golden, but not here.

It's brown, smelling vaguely of carious sour cream and diets consisting of too much fiber.

When Smith was first benched in the Knicks' win over the Miami Heat, it was clear why—coach Mike Woodson wasn't amused by Shoelace-gate:

Woodson wasn't answering any questions about Smith, but we knew. 

We knew that Smith had crossed the line too many times. That Woodson, one of his biggest supporters, was at his wit's end.

That he was done.

"At at the end of the day, he has got to grow up," Woodson said on ESPN New York 98.7 FM following Smith's shoelace incident, per Hoopsworld's Tommy Beer.

Woodson hasn't revealed much, or said anything worth noting, about Smith since then. Stubborn silence reached new levels of absurd after New York's loss at Charlotte, when Woodson flat-out refused to divulge anything pertaining to Smith, via the New York Daily News' Peter Botte:

Some, like Bleacher Report's Jim Cavan, point out there's nothing Woodson can say to make this better: 

Others will argue saying nothing is better than saying the wrong thing. But is that really true?

Leaving questions unanswered paves way for further speculation, something the Knicks, who dress themselves in question marks daily, don't need. Not when they're attempting to rebound from an unsightly 9-21 start.

What is it that Smith did this time? Spearheaded more contrived wardrobe malfunctions? Decapitated Woodson's favorite stuffed animal? Danced naked in the locker room to a song entitled "I Heart the Heat" he recorded himself?

Or maybe:

Exaggerated conjecture—i.e. everything I just penned—can be dismissed, but legitimate theories can't. And the only one who tried to safeguard New York against rampant speculation, however mordant, is assistant coach Herb Williams:

End of story, right? 


If that was actually the case, why couldn't Woodson just say so? What's the big deal? Tell us. Tell Smith. Admit what's going on, whatever it is.

A little clarity goes a long way.


Pick One

Jan 11, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) takes a shot during the 2nd quarter of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Transparency is good; sensible decision-making is even better.

Smith's status has been in flux since he was benched for the first time. Prevailing wisdom suggested his absence would become a familiar sight.

Then, against the Philadelphia 76ers, he played. Then he played again, against the Phoenix Suns. And not only did Smith play, he was handed the ball with an opportunity to win the game in regulation.

While Smith didn't set the world on fire in either contest, he played well, combining for 24 points and eight assists on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor (52.6 percent). Just like that, the narrative changed. Maybe Smith wouldn't consistently be given 30-plus minutes, but he would play.

Then he didn't. Again.

Afterward, he was just as miffed as the rest of us, per the New York Times' Scott Cacciola:

Lack of insight prompted him to take drastic action. Or rather, inaction:

Truth be told, this isn't so much about Smith's attitude. Justified or not, he needs answers. The Knicks need answers.

They need to make a decision.

Picking a course of action removes much of the unnecessary speculation. Outlandish theories won't die until Woodson and the Knicks remain consistent. Until they solve this Smith problem by figuring out where his future lies.

To be sure, it lies in New York.

Smith is stuck in New York, for better or worse.
Smith is stuck in New York, for better or worse.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

ESPN's Ian Begley and Marc Stein previously reported that the Knicks were exploring trade possibilities, further evidence of their mounting frustration. Smith isn't going anywhere, though. Not when he's owed more than $12 million over the next two seasons and shooting 35.7 percent from the field.

Not when he's still a lightning rod for off- and on-court theatrics.

What's his role in New York? That's the question. The one the Knicks must answer soon. Like now.

Milking the hot hand business is utter malarkey. Smith isn't some injury-prone, aging veteran you sit every third game. He's either a part of your rotation, or he isn't. 

If Woodson wants to bench Smith indefinitely, then go ahead. It's certainly not an unreasonable decision. Not only have Smith's latest antics shed further darkness over his character, the Knicks have actually fared better with him off the court this season.

Knicks With and Without Smith
WhenOff. Rtg. WithOff. Rtg. WithoutDef. Rtg. WithDef. Rtg. Without
First 30 games102.0100.1107.6103.6
Last 798.7111.9101.7103.0

Or play him. They're paying him roughly $5.6 million this season. Most will understand a desire to try getting their money's worth. 

But pick something in general. Put an end to the self-imposed ambivalence that has Smith and fans confused, and the Knicks entombed in even more superfluous stagecraft than usual.

"If I can’t help the team, no point in me being here," Smith said after his second benching, via the New York Post's Marc Berman.

Unable to move him, Smith is a problem the Knicks will only solve once they finally inject traces of certainty into this unraveling fray of distrust and disorder.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and (subscription required), and salary information via ShamSports, unless otherwise noted.


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