"The New York Knicks have traded J.R. Smith to..." has a nice ring to it.
One of those near-impossible, ideal-but-virtually-hopeless rings to it.
Tension between the drama-attracted shooting guard and Knicks organization has reached a breaking point, spurring trade rumors that have been a long time coming.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein and Ian Begley, New York began gauging Smith's trade value shortly after his latest fine, something Frank Isola of the New York Daily News says the team is still dedicated to doing.
Interest in Smith, however, isn't high, nor does it even exist, and it's not difficult to understand why.
Smith was benched against the Miami Heat following multiple shoelace incidents, only to receive a second "DNP" after what what Begley said was a contentious confrontation with Knicks coach Mike Woodson:
Smith also had a run-in with coach Mike Woodson on Monday after he complained about his playing time in overtime of the Knicks' win over the Phoenix Suns, sources confirmed.
Sources say Smith expressed his frustration with Woodson during the game and the two had a brief, heated discussion over Smith's displeasure shortly after the game. Smith's tardiness Tuesday and frustration with playing just 45 seconds in overtime likely led to Woodson benching Smith on Tuesday against Charlotte.
Shoelaces and closed-door disagreements, coupled with open displeasure that the Knicks cut his younger brother, Chris, has left Smith on the outskirts of everything—despite what Woodson says.
"I need J.R. every game, every game I need J.R.," Woodson told reporters of Smith's availability for New York's game against the Indiana Pacers, via the New York Post's Marc Berman. "And J.R. will be back in uniform today and we'll go from there."
Numerous benchings could be the end of all this. Maybe Smith has (finally) got the message and is prepared to act like a professional, leaving the silly theatrics to Barnum & Bailey.
Or maybe this is the beginning of the end, the mark of a souring relationship torn apart by immaturity, indecision and sudden distrust.
Smith's Actual Value
From what we can tell, New York hasn't found any significant suitors for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, to which I say "Surprise, surprise—though not really."
Smith is averaging 11.4 points on 35.7 percent shooting, numbers that pale in comparison to last season's performance.
|J.R. Smith vs. J.R. Smith|
|Season||MPG||PTS||FG%||3P%||REBS||AST||Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.||PER|
Teams aren't going to line up for a player whose production has declined this much in less than a year—especially one who comes with as much off-court baggage as Smith.
See, while Smith's contract—which will pay him more than $12 million over the next two seasons—isn't completely unreasonable, his defective, potentially cancerous personality makes it seem immovable. Doesn't help that the league knows the Knicks are desperate, either.
"If I can't help the team, no point in me being here," Smith said after his second benching, via Berman.
There's that, too.
We live in a world policed by the NBA's restrictive collective bargaining agreement.
This side of the 2011 lockout, teams based outside New York aren't cavalier with their investments. Draft picks aren't relinquished so readily, and cumbersome contracts aren't absorbed as frequently.
For the Knicks, that's a problem, but not an unsolvable problem.
Smith isn't immovable—close to it maybe, but not completely immovable.
The Atlanta Hawks found a home for Joe Johnson in 2012, and, per Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, the Knicks could find a taker for Amar'e Stoudemire if they wanted. And they can find one for Smith, too, provided they seek out and engage the ideal destination.
Singling out teams with shallow-to-incapable second units is the place the start.
Per HoopsStats.com, seven of the league's bottom-10 scoring benches are playoff hopefuls. There would technically be eight, if the Chicago Bulls front office wasn't blatantly trying to tank the season away.
Knowing Smith isn't far removed from averaging 18.1 points per game through 2012-13, and also knowing his contract could come off the books after next season if he doesn't exercise his player option, contenders looking for that extra push might not be opposed to bringing in the unhappy chucker.
Dream Small, Not Big
"They should start looking at players with Chris Smith levels of talent and work their way down as teams reject their offers," B/R's Adam Fromal said when I asked him about who the Knicks should pursue in any Smith trade.
Sadly, he's right.
Forget valuable draft picks or even netting anything valuable for Smith alone in return. That's not going to happen.
Instead, the Knicks would have to target/be willing to take on other headaches. Think insignificant players who have overstayed their welcome wherever they are now.
Think someone like Kendrick Perkins of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This isn't necessarily a player the Knicks should actually pursue, but someone similar most definitely is.
A guy like Perkins (6.1 PER), who's even more far gone than Smith, allows the Knicks to build a proposal around their troubled shooting guard without being laughed at. The key is finding someone—like Perkins—whose contract doesn't run beyond next season.
Any benefit of trading Smith will be purely financial. He has that player option for 2015-16, so flipping him for another player, however terrible, whose contract expires after this season or next ensures their books are wiped as clean as possible for summer 2015.
Does such a deal exist? That remains uncertain, but as the Feb. 20 trade deadline nears and contenders become desperate for additional depth, it's a scenario worth exploring.
The Other Option
If the Knicks want any Smith trade to be more than a salary dump or essential wash, there's another way to go: attach him to someone with actual value.
Someone like Tyson Chandler.
Stein says Chandler is generating plenty of interest around the league, overtures the Knicks have resisted thus far—and rightfully so.
The oft-injured center is New York's defensive linchpin, so it's unlikely the Knicks decide to trade him unless they give up on this season—which they won't.
But it's a possibility worth mentioning, just in case New York's season reaches the point of implosion or Smith cannot be moved on his own.
Trading Smith isn't an easy endeavor, something the Knicks understand. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski even says the trade rumors are merely a threat the Knicks hope resonates with Smith, because they know he cannot be moved. Makes sense since he's playing so bad and holds next-to-no individual value.
Just for kicks, though, here's a potential deal the Knicks could consider pursuing:
- New York Receives: C Kendrick Perkins (two years, $18.1 million)
- Oklahoma City Receives: SG J.R. Smith (three years, $18 million*) and SF Metta World Peace (two years, $3.2 million**)
(*Smith has player option for 2015-16; **World Peace has player option for 2014-15.)
If you're the Knicks, you consider this deal because it guarantees you save money for 2015-16 when Smith could return by way of a player option. Perkins, while largely ineffective, is also a nice spare big man to have around, since the Knicks always seem to be short up front.
Oklahoma City entertains this trade because 1) Perkins is finally gone, 2) it allows the team to play smaller more often, 3) World Peace, when healthy, is a valuable perimeter defender and 4) Smith could be a nice rotation player off the bench if his head is right.
Russell Westbrook's continued absence leaves the Thunder with a gaping offensive hole as well. Smith at least gives them another scoring option in the interim, helping Kevin Durant and friends tread water until Westbrook returns.
Truth be told, this scenario may even be a little ambitious for the Knicks. That's how much Smith has damaged his market value. We're also at the point where New York could balk at this opportunity too, refusing to admit it made a grave mistake with Smith by latching onto another one in Perkins.
All of this is exactly why Smith will likely go nowhere.
"He's going to have to be with it if he wants to be a part of it," Woodson said of Smith, per Berman.
Even if Smith doesn't want to be a part of it, his future may remain tied to New York. Both the Knicks and himself may not have any other choice.