The New York Knicks played one of their better games all season to beat the Atlanta Hawks, but the bigger story last night was J.R. Smith; or actually the absence of him.
Mike Woodson’s apparent benching of the slumping JR for most of the second and entire four quarter was something long overdue considering the impactful play of Tim Hardaway Jr. However, it still is a rather conspicuous move from a coach that has long been lambasted for his steadfast loyalty to the Knicks’ most frustrating players.
If a recent report about a riff between JR and Woodson is to be believed, it’s an instant reminder of another divisive player whose tribulations with management once filled sensational headlines around here: Stephon Marbury.
Just to recap JR’s unique saga, apparently when the Knicks played Chicago earlier this week, it was reported that Woodson finally reprimanded JR for poor shot selection during the game.
As JR walked to bench he mouthed out something that personally offended Woodson to the point of reminding JR all that he’s done for him during his tumultuous Knicks tenure. JR’s answer to that came in the very next game when he childishly refused to shoot, perhaps to serve as his own reminder to Woodson of just how anemic the Knicks’ offense is without him, though it should be noted JR said he was just trying to get others involved.
This culminated last night when though Woodson said he made it clear to JR that he wants him shooting, not orchestrating, and finally benched him for most of the game after continued poor shooting.
Say what you want about all this, but JR not shooting is something that seemingly rings more of insubordination than it does as some sudden form of late-career clarity. Of course stories like this only can come from unnamed sources, selective quotes, and yes, journalists with a personal vendetta against the Knicks, so this entire saga should be taken with a few barrels of salt. Still, as a fan who is still recovering from the Thomas’ “reign of error” it’s hard to say that an act of quasi-insubordination from a player hasn’t come from the Knicks before.
Marbury is remembered for a lot of bizarre things but one forgotten incident of insubordination came after he also got into a heated argument with then coach Thomas, who like Woodson, was fiercely loyal to a shoot-first player Knick fans were hyper critical of.
It was on a cold November night in 2007 and the incident happened 30,000 feet in the air on a flight to Phoenix. Thomas and Marbury, close allies on a fragmented team deflated from mounting losses, finally had a disagreement that resulted in Marbury ditching the team on a flight back home to New York.
The players grew tired of Marbury’s selfish acts and were angered by his self imposed protest, so they voted to have him benched during their next game against the Clippers. Thomas being Thomas ignored the team and still decided to play him for 33 minutes.
A year later when Coach Mike D’Antoni took over for the now fired Thomas, he didn’t even bother to include Marbury in his plans.
Marbury attempted to keep his cool with his new role as a sulking $20,000,000 bench warmer, but when the Knicks traded Crawford and had newly vacant minutes available, Marbury flatly refused to play. Eventually Marbury was bought out, but his history of being a self-fish and irascible personality reverberated throughout the league and resulted in ultimately being blacklisted from the NBA. And that’s before his late night dance and Vaseline eating sessions.
To be clear, in no way am I suggesting JR is anywhere near as worse a headache as Marbury was for both fans and management, but I would like to point out where their two careers can converge if things continue as they are.
Both players are polarizing figures for fans due to their gifted scoring abilities but lack of basketball IQ.
The off-court stories that surround both players are often comical but also headshaking, which actually can be enamoring for fans. And like Marbury, JR’s biggest supporter is from a mediocre coach on the hot seat. However, the minute stories of Marbury’s defiance to the team began to circulate, his support from fans, and certainly management, dissipated instantaneously.
JR’s supposed protest during the Boston game isn’t classified as noncompliance with team goals, but it still is a passive form of rebellion that his teammates are probably aware of. Maybe many of them don’t care since his benching resulted in a win and more minutes for other players deserving of them but it still is something that needs to be addressed immediately before it gets any worse.
Seeing JR mope on the bench after a hard win against a good team isn’t endearing for fans of a team thirsting for wins. It suggests he cares more about himself than the team and it also can serve as vindication to those who say his previous season was a fluke from gun for hire during a contract year. Now that JR has got his contract, and of course his brother a job, he owes a lot to the Knicks. The fact that this is coming from a 28 year old nine year veteran is pretty deplorable. It also highlights a collective lack of leadership on the Knicks, from players, management, and of course the coach.
JR should take time off to get his head right because if this continues, he can look to Marbury to see what happens to players that are too much of headache even for the most dysfunctional team in the league.