New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith endured a tumultuous 2013-14 season with the team. Now, he could find himself leaving the Big Apple in a trade.
Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com reported the news Sunday, citing a source with knowledge of the situation
"They’re working on trying to make a move in the backcourt," said the source.
The report emphasizes that both Iman Shumpert and Shane Larkin are being considered as alternative trade options. A source also told Begley that Tim Hardaway Jr. is all but out of the question as a trade chip among the plethora of shooting guards the Knicks have.
New head coach Derek Fisher is the past president of the NBA players union, so it would be interesting to know whether or not he'd have the patience to deal with such a traditionally temperamental player in Smith. After winning the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2012-13, Smith's scoring average dropped from 18.1 to 14.5 points per contest last season.
Knicks president Phil Jackson is attempting to build a quick contender, hoping to deliver on what he promised superstar Carmelo Anthony to keep the perennial All-Star in New York.
The New York Daily News' Frank Isola mentioned Smith in his recent analysis of Jackson's decision to try his hand in the Knicks' front office:
I'm sure it was was a difficult choice; mentor theology students or teach J.R. Smith the triangle for $12 million per.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) July 18, 2014
Even Smith himself admitted in a recent interview that he wouldn't have faulted Jackson for trading him before, per Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:
No, absolutely not. The way I was playing, I was playing like a person who didn’t want to be there, not looking as focused as a person should be in the situation we were in. I wouldn’t blame him at all.
[...] For one, it’s unacceptable, the whole year. I’m not going to make any excuses for myself, but coming after knee surgery is a tough thing to come back from. I didn’t expect to be at that top tier where I was. . . . Early on, I put so much pressure on myself to come back — first after the suspension, and after being hurt — to be back to where I was the year before, winning the Sixth Man. I put so much pressure on myself, us not starting off well, expecting us to do a lot better than we were doing, to try to take some of the pressure off, just have fun with the game, and that’s where the shoe incident came into play. I just tried to ease the tension a little bit and it wasn’t working. . . . Unfortunately, it just so happened to be the worst year I believe I’ve had in the NBA, including my rookie year. I’m just looking to bounce back.
Smith was suspended five games for violating the league's drug policy in September 2013, and was also fined $50,000 for untying opponents' shoelaces. That didn't exactly put Smith in former coach Mike Woodson's good graces, adding to a turbulent, disappointing season that saw the Knicks miss the playoffs.
Since the Eastern Conference was so weak and featured an Atlanta Hawks squad six games below .500 qualify for the postseason, it was all the more frustrating for New York. The dawn of a new era under Jackson is underway—one that Smith may not be fortunate enough to be a part of.
Should the Knicks trade J.R. Smith?
New York's massive media market has been a double-edged sword of sorts for Smith. Although he plays with a fearless style and is unafraid of any shot—an attitude that has seen him thrive in this climate in the past—Smith is also prone to becoming too volatile. It is often to the detriment of the team.
There is no doubting Smith's talent, though it could be better suited elsewhere. Smith is an explosive scorer off the bench who brings an instant offensive spark and has for years in the NBA. Despite his tendency to get too heated, there should be significant interest from a more stable organization who can take Smith in and stabilize him in a steady, prominent role.
If he does go to a contender, Smith would also likely net the Knicks what they need in return: young assets. Whether it's draft picks or developmental players, any compensation New York can get will help its bid to pursue marquee free agents next offseason.