Loyalty in the NBA may be an increasingly rare quality in the era of luxury taxes and billion-dollar TV contracts, but it never hurts to have some allies. With each subsequent step in J.R. Smith's career, the number of people on his side seems to dwindle.
On Wednesday, the latest hit to Smith's wilting career came via a report that the New York Knicks are looking to trade the mercurial shooting guard following his latest series of issues both on and off the court. Except, unsurprisingly, nobody wants the guy who's never spent much time endearing himself to anybody.
As one executive told CBS Sports' Ken Berger of another team actually wanting Smith: "Good luck with that."
The 2013 Sixth Man of the Year is hitting rock bottom as a professional basketball player not long after peaking. Teams should be lining up to acquire a 27-year-old wing with his size and shooting ability; instead, they're running away in fear that he'll hijack their offense and wreck their chemistry. If you can imagine why teams wouldn't want Rudy Gay, multiply that by 100 with Smith.
And then we get to the locker room stuff. Always a frustrating character away from the court, it's become increasingly easy to focus on what Smith is doing beyond missing shots and playing lazy defense. On Wednesday, that culminated with the NBA fining Smith $50,000 for "recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct" in the past two games. The guy untied the shoes of Dallas' Shawn Marion, then tried it again with Detroit's Greg Monroe the next night. As in, an adult leaned into another adult and tried to untie the laces on his sneakers in front of thousands of people. Twice.
May I remind you Smith is being paid nearly $6 million this year before offering up these:
JR Smith's suspensions in career: 5 games for drugs, 1 for elbow, 7 for reckless driving, 10 for fighting, 3 for conduct detrimental— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) January 8, 2014
J.R. Smith has been fined for: Twitter comments, twitter photos, yelling at Mark Cuban, flagrant fouls, flopping and, now, untying shoes.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) January 8, 2014
And as Windhorst also added, Smith had his fair share of off-court issues while playing in China, too. This is well-tread ground.
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At his age, Smith should be peaking as a useful two-way player given his athleticism and scoring acumen. Instead, he's quickly become one of the biggest headaches in the league, a high-volume shooter who doesn't score efficiently or play defense, and frequently lets his body language reflect his frustration. Or, well, he's always been that, but without making shots (11.3 points per game on 35 percent shooting), it's all under the microscope now.
Entering the 2005 NBA Draft, Smith's ESPN profile said, "It was tough to find a scout or GM who doesn't like him," during workouts, but added, "He has a cocky attitude." A few years later, his Nuggets scouting report on Draft Express said, "Doesn’t bring ideal intangibles to the table, seems to have poor body language, and has developed a reputation for being a bit of a bad apple."
Over the years, he's been coached by some well-respected people -- George Karl, Mike Woodson, Byron Scott (briefly) -- and we're still talking about the same issues that have always plagued him. Only recently has it become a question of actual performance with Smith, which is what's made the entire situation ugly. Before, J.R. was at least making big shots and turning heads with monster dunks.
Since we last saw that J.R. Smith, he's undergone knee surgery that may or may not have involved miscommunication with the team, gotten into a "heated exchange" with his head coach and had his latest round of issues. All the while, he's been playing some pretty terrible basketball without any end in sight.
If there's anything we've learned from the volatile Smith, he'll bounce back from this and start draining three-pointers the moment he gets comfortable somewhere else. But someone will need to give him a chance, and after burning an awful lot of bridges over the years, that may be the hardest part.