J.R. Smith didn't play a minute on Tuesday night in Charlotte. Before that, he had played pretty well in 25-ish minutes per game in wins over the Suns and 76ers. Before that, he had been benched for the entire win over the Heat. Before that he had drawn the league's ire for untying people's shoes, drawn some unsavory attention on Twitter when his brother got (deservedly) cut, drawn some other unsavory attention on Twitter, failed some drug tests, got some knee surgery, got a new contract, and played very very badly at nearly every available opportunity in between. So, why the first thing?
Last night's post-game comments offered very little clue beyond confirming that things are pretty tense between J.R. and Mike Woodson. So we're left to guess:
1. Is it just because J.R. has been bad this season? With a different player and a different coach on a different team at a different time, that would make sense. Based on performance alone (and based on the fact that his knee appeared to be bothering him still), J.R. should have seen his minutes reduced weeks ago. He didn't. He wasn't treated significantly differently until right after the shoelace thing. Then he returned and played pretty well, and then he got benched again. So yes, J.R.'s performance warrants benching, but this is a weird time for Mike Woodson to have crossed that threshold alone. The timing doesn't make sense for that explanation.
2. Are the Knicks trying to trade J.R.? Based on whatever free agency rules dictate these things, today (January 15) is the first day on which J.R. can be traded. So did the Knicks bench him because they intend to trade him? That's not generally how things work. Usually you play a guy *more* in that case because you're trying to convince other teams he is worth trading for. Benching a guy for mysterious reasons does not accomplish that. I can't imagine a team willingly trading for J.R. anyway, but that wouldn't help. Maybe the Knicks...uh...already have a trade lined up and were saving him from injury!? Again: let's see that trade. Doesn't seem likely.
3. Is it because of bad behavior? The most recent thing J.R. did that we knew about was the shoelace stuff, and he got his game's benching after that, then came right back, albeit in a slightly diminished role. And played well. So have there been further transgressions? People have murmured (apparently Alan Hahn mentioned something in the post-game show, for one) about J.R. and Woodson having some words in Phoenix (a game in which Woodson called a potential game-winning play for J.R., mind you), so that might explain some. Perhaps it's just a season's worth of bad play and disagreeable conduct reaching a breaking point, whether that was in the eyes of Dolan or his superiors. But then, is this just another one-game punishment, or is J.R. benched indefinitely? And if it's the second thing, then what? Sit him until you can find someone willing to trade a bad contract or a second-rounder and an olive for him? Just, like, let him sit out the rest of his contract? Pretend he's injured? Blame him for the murder of his wife when it was, in fact, some dude with a prosthetic arm? Spray him with a potion that makes him irresistible to women to the point that it becomes oppressive and he is compelled to go into hiding? I dunno, man. This is weird. Not a huge deal, just weird.
1. From Marc Berman:
J.R. Smith was bellyaching on the bench to his Knicks teammates about not playing during Monday's overtime session against the Suns, according to an eyewitness.
2. From Ian Begley:
New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith was late to a team meeting on Tuesday, sources told ESPNNewYork.com, which may have led to his benching on Tuesday night against theCharlotte Bobcats.
Smith also had a run-in with Knicks coach Mike Woodson on Monday after he expressed frustration with his playing time in overtime of the Knicks' win over the Phoenix Suns, sources confirmed.
3. Check out this masterpiece of Woodsonspeak:
Woodson: "I'm not kicking JR to the curb here; he's a big part of what we do. But he's got to stay on the same page w/ his head coach."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 15, 2014