Amar'e Stoudemire hates it when J.R. Smith tells the truth.
This wasn't the first time he ripped into the Knicks' will. On the heels of a 126-103 beatdown handed out by the Golden State Warriors, Smith didn't hesitate to lay into New York's absence of heart.
"It's not a mental thing, it's a heart thing," he said, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley.
Stoudemire disagrees. Sort of.
"You have to look at yourself in the mirror before we make statements," Stoudemire explained when asked about Smith's comments, via the New York Post's Marc Berman. "We got to make sure you’re playing hard first. You take care of yourself and then everyone else will follow suit. Until you do it yourself, then you can lead by example."
To be fair, Smith didn't exclude himself from any of the pointed criticism he offered. To be even more fair, the Knicks are playing like he's right.
New York has lost six straight, the last three of which have come by an average of 22 points. At 18 games under .500, with the league's second-highest payroll, they're a laughingstock. Given the team's inability to make adjustments, it's difficult to see how Smith is wrong.
Deep down, Stoudemire has to know Smith is partially right. The problem, as MSG Networks' Alan Hahn says, is that Smith isn't the right person to speak out (via Sulia.com):
What Smith said isn't necessarily wrong. The Knicks look like a team that had it's heart -- and any shred of optimism -- ripped out of them after that crazy Dirk Nowitzki bounce beat them last Monday. That came after the Knicks blew chances to win in Memphis and in Orlando and then surrendered an 18-point second half lead to lose in Atlanta.
Since the loss to Dirk and the Mavs, the Knicks have looked demoralized. And the only emotion you see from them now is towards each other; frustration about mistakes made on defense and players being in the wrong spot in the offense.
Smith delivered the right message, but he has to know that he's the wrong person to deliver it.
Two people within New York's locker room are equipped with the credentials and leadership responsibilities to say what Smith did—Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler.
One could make the case for head coach Mike Woodson, but he's considered a lame duck at this point, destined to lose his job this summer. Coming from him, someone who seems to have no hold on the situation, it wouldn't mean much.
That leaves Anthony and Chandler, the unquestioned leaders of this team. But unlike Smith, neither of them seems prepared to light a fire within their teammates. The closest either of them has really come to calling out these listless Knicks came Sunday after losing to Chicago, when Anthony said they aren't playing with dignity, per Berman:
Someone needs to take ownership of this Knicks team, and they need to do it fast.
Accepting responsibility for losses or miscues doesn't qualify. One of the figureheads needs to call his teammates out. Someone needs to rekindle the flame of desire that's flickering on and off the court.
That person, like Stoudemire implies, isn't Smith. But it isn't Stoudemire, either.
"I’ve been saying it for years" Stoudemire said, via Berman. "But it seems when I say it, it’s not the problem. Defense is the problem. It’s a double-edged sword."
Defense is only part of the problem. Most of New York's issues stem from a glaring lack of leadership that has Smith parroting things in need of being said—even though he's the wrong person to say them.