How Much Blame Do New York Knicks Deserve for JR Smith Situation?

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How Much Blame Do New York Knicks Deserve for JR Smith Situation?
USA Today

You can bury J.R. Smith—a wholly unsympathetic figure seemingly unable to grow up—for the way things have gone between him and the New York Knicks this year.

In fact, everybody's been doing exactly that. It feels good, even a little cathartic.

Smith is a guy who repeatedly leaped over the line of decent human behavior in his life while also carefully treading the one between "streaky scorer" and "offensive sinkhole" on the court. So, even if you lack the paternalistic tendencies so many of us fans and journalists share, you can still take a little pleasure in a guy who plays the wrong way getting his comeuppance.

Here's the thing, though: As relations between Smith and the Knicks continue to fall apart, it's important to remember that you can't bury Smith alone. You have to toss his team, its management and its coach right into that same self-righteous grave we're all digging.

They're the ones who have let things get this bad. Really, they're the ones who created this mess in the first place.

 

The Enabling Begins

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It's hard to know where to start when talking about Smith and the Knicks. The list of his gaffes and New York's mismanaged reactions is long.

To keep things current, perhaps it makes the most sense to just jump in during the most recent offseason. That's when the Knicks offered Smith a three-year deal that ushered in this latest string of misbehavior.

At the time, there was some logic to New York's decision. Smith was theoretically a more valuable player than anybody the Knicks could have gotten on the market. Remember, they were already capped out and could only spend serious money via the early Bird exception. Through that provision, they paid Smith $6 million per year—far more than they could have offered to a free agent on the open market.

But nobody cares about that now.

The point is that the Knicks gave financial security to a historically unreliable player. It was a bad move that sent a dangerous message to Smith, essentially letting him know he could act out all he wanted; the money was guaranteed no matter what.

New York did this with full knowledge of Smith's sordid past. Coming into the year, he'd already hit for the suspensions cycle. Bans related to drugs, fighting, legal transgressions and general goof-offery were all in his NBA dossier.

And when Smith wanted to delay knee surgery until after signing his deal, the Knicks were reportedly on board.

Per Ian Begley of ESPN, Smith said:

For one, I'm a father and I have two young children to look after. It made more sense for my family to get a deal done before [surgery]. ... Without a doubt, the best part about it was we had the support of the team. The team supported us, the [team doctor] supported us all on the decision. At the end of the day, it was more of a family decision than anything else.

That was a murky situation, and it's a little hard to believe the Knicks would have signed off on a deal knowing surgery was imminent. But when you consider what they did to appease and enable Smith in the coming months, it actually seems plausible.

 

How to Create a Disaster: Phase Two

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

When the Knicks rostered Chris Smith, J.R.'s brother, it was yet another sign that they were fully committed to placating the shooting guard. So, in addition to putting up with all of his prior nonsense, giving him financial security and having no problem with a delayed surgery, the Knicks somehow felt they needed to throw Smith another bone.

At this point, Smith's apparent belief that he can do no wrong starts to seem understandable.

Naturally, Smith has been extra mopey ever since the Knicks cut bait with his little brother at the end of December. Again, Smith's reaction since then has made sense in a backward, illogical way.

New York created a world in which Smith's every desire was met, and his every mistake minimized. Waiving Chris, who everyone agreed never belonged in the NBA in the first place, was the correct decision for the Knicks from a basketball perspective.

But it cut against all of the bizarre expectations the Knicks' pattern of behavior had created for Smith. So, when he fired off a not-so-subtle salvo at his team, nobody should have been surprised.

 

The Present Conundrum

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OK, so here we are. Smith and the Knicks are at odds over pretty much everything these days. He and Woodson are miles apart, Smith has been sporadically benched and nobody seems happy—least of all New York fans who've had to watch this mess over the past few months.

Ian O'Connor of ESPN provides an exhaustive rundown of how we got here:

On Twitter, Smith has told Knicks fans he doesn't care what they think, and that he might leave for another team. He's threatened an opposing player, tweeted an inappropriate picture of a girlfriend, and suggested the Knicks betrayed him by cutting his brother Chris, in whom the team invested a guaranteed $2.1 million (luxury taxes included) as a favor to—you guessed it—J.R. Smith.

Off Twitter, Smith has engaged in heated exchanges with his coach, partied too hard in the playoffs (according to Rihanna, of all partiers), untied opponents' sneakers, staged an in-game boycott by refusing to shoot, and followed a second benching by showing up late to a team meeting.

Smith is a petulant kid, acting out against his parental figures. He's testing his boundaries because, to this point, he hasn't really had any. That's some dime store psychology on my part, to be sure. But it feels like a pretty on-the-nose way to explain what's happening between Smith and his team.

The worst part is that there's not much available in the way of solutions. The Knicks can keep him around and watch as he poisons the team further, or they can undertake the impossible task of trying to trade an overpaid player nobody wants.

Ultimately, the Knicks might just be stuck with Smith as he continues to act up and act out. But they're the ones—top to bottom—who have allowed him to do exactly that for years.

In some ways, they deserve each other.

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