Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It's getting hard to tell whether J.R. Smith is doing more harm to himself with his on-court performance, or with the ever-growing stream of nonsense that surrounds him outside of game action.
No matter the personal cause, Smith is near the top of the list for reasons in trying to explain why the New York Knicks, last season's Atlantic Division champions and the second seed in the Eastern Conference, have fallen flat in 2013-14.
On the court, Smith has been a disaster this season. He is averaging 11.3 points per game on 12.0 field-goal attempts, all the while hitting 35 percent from the floor.
Last season, when the Knicks were great and Smith was Sixth Man of the Year, those numbers were 18.1 ppg on 15.6 field-goal attempts and 42 percent shooting.
Never in his career could he stop a bath tub from going by him on the defensive end. But, at least the Knicks knew that in advance.
Why the decline? Could it be signing a three-year, $17-million contract turned Smith soft? That makes sense to me. It's also worth noting that maybe Smith's season a year ago was the anomaly.
Smith's best scoring campaign prior to last was 15.4 ppg. He's shot over 42 percent four times in his 10-year career. Jacking up shots has never been a problem for him.
The regression in Smith's game this season is the single biggest factor in the Knicks' decline. Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace were professional leaders on a team devoid of them. They've all moved on, so, that leaves it with Andrea Bargnani's arrival (he's been fine), Tyson Chandler's injury (definitely a factor in some losses), Ray Felton's decline (noticeable, but not as steep as Smith's), or Smith.
A team can live with a player having a down year. It's happened since the dawn of time. What becomes harder to live with is when the struggling player jeopardizes the team with his blazingly stupid behavior.
Smith was suspended to start the season for a failed drug test. That's not great, but it's not the end of the world.
"Shoelace-gate" (because where would we be in America without adding "gate" to the end of a brewing situation), is a whole other subject entirely.
On Sunday, Smith tried untying Dallas' Shawn Marion's shoelaces while standing waiting for a free throw. It's not clubbing him with a chair or anything, and most even laughed.
The NBA didn't. The NBA told him don't do it again.
He did in THE VERY NEXT GAME HE PLAYED!
"It was a joke but a joke gone wrong," Smith said. "It was one of those warnings where you really don't know the outcome of it."
Here's the outcome - the league fined him $50,000 for "recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct."
It was a silly thing to do the first time and he's warned. Who does Smith think he is that the NBA was only joking, or half-serious about the warning? To go out and do the exact same thing again, not expecting consequences, is either beyond stupid, or past arrogant.
Either is unacceptable.
Smith's coach, Mike Woodson seems done.
After the drug suspension, Woodson said, "he's got to grow up and do the right things."
After the shoelace incident, Woodson inched closer to wit's end.
"I'm not happy about this because he was warned, he comes back, and he makes the same mistake, and it's not right," Woodson said on ESPN New York's 98.7 FM radio. "It's just got to stop. I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it's got to stop."
Woodson retaliated in the only way he could - he benched Smith.
Smith didn't play a minute against the Miami Heat on Thursday night. He was healthy, he was dressed, he was ready and he sat. All 48 minutes, Smith was essentially Katie Holmes, just in Knicks sweatpants.
Woodson drew his line, although some, more closely connected with the team, believe the order came from higher up. Some have speculated that owner James Dolan mandated the benching.
No matter who decided it, Smith sat. He distanced himself from the team during huddles. This might be the only way to get through to him. A healthy DNP-CD is a major source of humiliation for a player of Smith's caliber.
For it to come on a TNT nationally-televised Thursday night game, that clears up the message. For it to come against the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat, that blatantly displays the message that if you continue to humiliate our organization with your crap, we can too.
Oh, and the best part - Woodson never told him he was sitting.
"I didn't know anything about it," Smith said. "I expected to do the same thing I always do. I think that's the most misleading part of it."
Love it. What has Smith done for the Knicks to deserve any favorable treatment? Nothing, that's what, so he can deal with a little embarrassment. Seems fair considering the embarrassment he's caused.
And what does Woodson, if he was the one to pull the trigger on this, owe Smith? All Woodson did was utilize Smith in his best season as a professional, then, when Woodson is fighting for his professional life, Smith valued getting a laugh over everything else.
We haven't even touched on Smith's displeasure that his brother Chris was cut from the team recently. It was widely assumed Chris was a Knick as a show of faith in J.R., but once brother was cut, J.R. took to social media and talked of betrayal.
That's a big word, but Smith clearly has no clue. He's someone who does whatever he wants, however he wants to do it, with no concern of the consequences of his actions.
That's the worst attribute you can have in a team. Smith is an individual who does what makes him happy. Does Smith want to win? Sure, who doesn't? But for a player struggling so badly on the floor, maybe he could do the Knicks a favor and not constantly present himself in a bad light. He can't work on his game 24/7, but maybe when he's on the floor, be professional.
The worst part about this whole thing for the Knicks is they're stuck. They can discuss trading him all they want, and maybe they get a partner in a "crap-in, crap-out" kind of trade, but it's not that likely.
The Knicks may be saddled with Smith for two more years. Hard to have sympathy when they outbid themselves for his services at almost $6 million per, but Smith needs to shape up immediately.
He's not a kid. Smith is a 28-year-old, 10-year veteran of the NBA who has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and suspended more times than almost anyone in the league.
Thursday's benching needs to be an alarm. It's hard to have faith in Smith to get the message.
- Dennis Rodman won't be discussed.
- Kevin Love spouted off about some of his teammates not being engaged enough at the end of games when sitting on the bench. Public airing of grievances should be left for Festivus, but Love is the leader and everyone should take heed. The Wolves have to be a frustrated group. There's a lot of talent on that roster to flounder for yet another season.
- Eric Bledsoe's knee injury may cost him the season and the Phoenix Suns a legitimate chance at the postseason. He and Goran Dragic combined for one of the best backcourts in the league. The Suns could endure. That group, led by first-time head coach Jeff Hornacek, is all about team first. There's magic in what they're doing, but losing the best player is a lot for a young, inexperienced team to overcome.
- Jrue Holiday's leg injury, coupled with Ryan Anderson's herniated disc, doesn't just cripple the New Orleans Pelicans' almost non-existent playoff chances, it helps the Philadelphia 76ers, who own New Orleans' first-round choice in the upcoming draft. It's top-five protected, but the Pelicans shouldn't fall that far into an abyss without those two. There are plenty of bad teams in the NBA.
- Movie moment - The name of the "Dumb and Dumber" sequel is "Dumb and Dumber To." That is already in the discussion for most brilliant movie title of all time.
- TV moment - Finally started watching "Breaking Bad." While catching up on old shows, hearing good things about "The Honeymooners."