The New York Knicks had their five-game win streak snapped by the Charlotte Bobcats last night, 108-98. However, the loss wasn’t the biggest topic in the locker room afterwards; instead, it was once again J.R. Smith, who spent the entire night at the end of the bench in his warm-ups.
For the second time in four games, Mike Woodson chose to bench Smith. Whereas the purpose was clear for the Miami Heat game exactly one week ago — Smith had $50,000 for trying to untie opponents’ shoe laces — this one was a mystery. After Smith’s infamous benching that night against Miami, he had played well in the following two games, wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns. Over his previous two games, Smith had shot 10-21 from the field for 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists.
After the game, Woodson remained mum on the subject, stating firmly that he didn’t want to talk about Smith. Smith wasn’t any more clear on the subject. He handled it fairly professionally (this is J.R. Smith we’re talking about here), but was understandably confused and frustrated over it.
After the game, Smith said on his benching and what to do about it: “Honestly, I don’t know…. Take it every day, day by day and figure out what I can do to help the team. If I’m not helping the team, there’s no point in me being here.”
Woodson was applauded for finally taking action on Smith last week and benching him, but the timing is puzzling this time around. The Knicks were on the second night of a back-to-back, coming off an overtime win over the Suns in which several players logged over 40 minutes. Smith, by all means, didn’t seem to be in trouble during that game — he had the game-winning shot attempt drawn up for him in regulation (he missed). In Charlotte, the Knicks clearly could have used a fresh pair of legs and some kind of spark.
The timing is especially intriguing, too, as today marks the first day Smith is eligible to be traded. Benching a player and keeping him around the team usually isn’t how a trade is handled. However, it is curious if the Knicks have something up their sleeves in regards to dealing Smith.
The whole event, though, is messy. The Knicks have won six of their last eight games, and have finally reached playoff contention. With an eight-game home stand coming up, the Knicks should be stronger than ever, more united in trying to turn around their miserable start to the season. Instead, drama hangs over the locker room, and now J.R. Smith is unhappy while Mike Woodson is cutting off communication.
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