What is a true Knick?
I hear the phrase bandied about all the time. Surely every team has a standard for what makes a player a true so-and-so, but I honestly believe that the standard of true Knickdom is unique among NBA teams. Fans of other teams tend to gravitate toward homegrown players, long-tenured players, and neither of those things have been true-Knick standards in my lifetime.
True Knicks are the lights that burn twice as bright for half as long. They are the second-chancers, the bridge-burners. They are rarely angels - on court or off. They often blow their money on gaudy trinkets like closets full of Jordans, cocaine, or yachts named "Milwaukee's Best." You'll always find a few true Knicks on the technical foul leader-board and the IRS Most Wanted list. True Knicks are loathed in every Eastern Conference city from Boston to Chicago. A true Knick will be booed, then cheered by the Garden faithful, often within the span of a few minutes.
Which brings me to J.R. Smith. This dude was a true Knick from the moment he set foot on the Garden floor. During the recent NBA 6th Man of the Year Presentation, he was described by GM Glen Grunwald as the prodigal son, the Jersey boy who came back to city and made it big. With all due respect to Mr. Grunwald, I disagree. J.R. would have been a true Knick even if he come from Saskatchewan. I don't mean this in a positive or a negative way - he just is.
Though he has been a Knick a little more than a year, Earl III has entertained New York fans like few Knicks in the modern era - through Twitter, dirty Deadspin stories, inspiring the greatest song of all-time, but most importantly through his play on the court. Seven games into the postseason, however, Earl is at an impasse, more so than the Knicks team as a whole, in my opinion. The Knicks' 0-1 deficit can be overcome by winning Games 2 and 3, but J.R.'s recent behavior has him at risk of undoing much of the progress of this year, personally and professionally.
Please remember that these playoffs didn't start out as a train-wreck for J.R.:
He struggled a bit with his shot in Game 1, but Games 2 and 3 were representative Good J.R. performances...at least until that freakin' elbow. I dismissed it at the time, even in the wake of the suspension - clearly it was a stupid move. But if you check the overhead shot, it seems pretty obvious that Terry sold it. The national press jumped all over the incident as evidence that J.R. hadn't changed, but that was to be expected. The Knicks lost Game 4, J.R. said publicly that they would have won if not for the suspension, dissed Terry and joined in on the Knicks funeral procession. Then he went out and shot 3-for-14 (.214 FG%); suddenly the Knicks' detractors were out in full force with snide comments about the same old dumb-ass, thug-ass Knicks. J.R. "recovered" in Game 6 with a 5-for-13 (.385 FG%) performance in the Knicks' wild close-out win in Boston, but yesterday's 4-for-15 shooting debacle in the Game 1 loss marked the second time in three games since the suspension that he has shot below 30% from the field.
It probably won't surprise you to learn that Earl has more games of 10-or-more field goal attempts while shooting less than 30% than any other Knick this season, and it isn't particularly close:
- J.R.: 14 times (Knicks record: 6-8)
- Carmelo Anthony: 6 times (Knicks record: 1-5)
- Raymond Felton: 6 times (Knicks record: 4-2)
- Rasheed Wallace: 2 times LOLZ (Knicks record: 1-1)
A 6-8 record isn't ideal,. but it isn't exactly a death sentence, either. Included in those six wins are two wins against Miami and one win apiece against Boston and Denver. The Knicks can win (occasionally) with Earl going the full "Bad J.R." from the field. What worried me more, however, was his performance on the other end of the court - just lazy, disengaged play which led to a bushel of open Pacer jumpers. J.R. has never been a shut-down defender, but he's made some strides in that area. Yesterday's game, however, seemed a clear-cut case of a struggling shooter moping his way through his defensive assignments. At this time of the year, that is simply unacceptable. What's worse, his arch-enemy Lance Stephenson (for no true Knick would be complete without an arch-enemy or two) made him look truly pathetic with spirited play on both ends of the court. Maybe he could get away with that kind of play against the reanimated corpses manning the Celtic perimeter, but the Pacers are too athletic for that nonsense.
As for the off-court gossip of the past few days - I'm sure you've all heard it. I don't want to mention it here, except to say that it is now in the back of my mind every time J.R. bricks a shot or blows an assignment on defense. I wish it wasn't; hell, I wish he would just stop bricking shots and blowing assignments on defense.
I don't want to alarm you, Knicks fans, but it is now possible that Tuesday night's game will be the last time we see J.R. Smith in a Knicks uniform at Madison Square Garden. His impending free-agency always threatened to loom over the postseason. As scared as I was to lose Earl next year, I was looking forward to a contract push for the ages. I doubt any of us were expecting this. No matter how poorly he plays, there's still a chance some GM hands him a fat contract in the off-season - the day I can successfully predict the spending whims of an NBA GM is the day somebody hands me the Nobel Prize.
One last thing to remember about true Knicks: their time in New York rarely ends on a positive note. It is one of the saddest truths of Knicks fandom. The prospect of J.R. leaving is terrifying enough, but the thought that the final season of this true Knick could be defined forever by an elbow to Jason freakin' Terry is practically unbearable. You're better than that, Earl. We know you are.