HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — A sucker’s born every minute, or so they say. So maybe the Knicks can find one to dump their stupefying sixth man J.R. Smith upon. More likely, Knicks coach Mike Woodson is stuck with the shoelace bandit.
The NBA nailed Smith with a $50,000 fine Wednesday for “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct.” One day after the league warned Smith after he untied the shoelaces of Mavericks forward Shawn Marion as the two stood side by side awaiting a free throw, he tried it again in the very next game to Pistons forward Greg Monroe.
The New York Daily News reported that Smith has now been fined $105,000 since joining the Knicks in 2012, not to mention his one-game suspension in the playoffs for throwing an elbow at Boston’s Jason Terry, and his five-game suspension to start this season for violating the league’s drug policy. Meanwhile, the Knicks awarded Smith a three-year, $18 million contract during the summer.
A fed-up Woodson on Wednesday lit into his juvenile shooting guard on New York radio station 98.7 ESPN:
“I don’t condone things that I know you shouldn’t do. No, I’m not happy about this. Because again, he was warned, he comes back and he makes the same mistake, and it’s not right. I just got the information, I’m going to address it tomorrow when he comes in here for work, because it’s unacceptable. It really is.
“It’s unprofessional. That’s the only word I can use. Or two words. You just can’t do that. You just cannot do it.”
“There’s no question, he’s done a lot of things this year that has put him in a bad position and our team in a bad position. Somehow, we’ve got to clean that up. This is unacceptable…I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it’s got to stop.”
But really, what can a coach do when dealing with a volatile, hardheaded (but also a needed) player such as Smith? I was talking about this very topic recently with Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who has such a player on his roster in Matt Barnes and just released another in Stephen Jackson.
Barnes is more of a hot-tempered, playground bully/team-bodyguard type whereas Smith is more of a loose cannon and silly prankster. But both are emotional, off-the-cuff players who do inexplicable things at any given moment that can hurt their teams either by drawing a technical foul, an ejection and/or suspension.
Rivers’ answer to what a coach can do to reign in such behavior? Not a lot.
“I just let them explode and then move on,” Rivers said, laughing. “There’s not much you’ve got to do. I had Rasheed [Wallace]. He probably was the test market for any emotional player. Rasheed was a great teammate, he was a great guy, but when he lost it, he lost it, and listen, better coaches than me coached Rasheed. … I came to the conclusion if they couldn’t stop it I’m not going to try.”
Barnes has played in only 19 games this season due to various injuries, but has already been fined two times for $25,000 each for lingering on the court after being ejected. Last month, Barnes put a hard foul on Timberwolves forward Kevin Love in the third quarter, drawing a flagrant 1. The referees reviewed it on replay and upgraded it to a flagrant 2, resulting in automatic ejection. Barnes flipped. The upgrade proved to be more about Barnes’ reputation, a problem in itself. The league reviewed the foul and acknowledged it should have remained a flagrant 1.
“You never want to put your team in a position of vulnerability or giving away extra free throws or extra points, especially down the stretch of the season or if it’s the playoffs; everything has to be calculated,” Barnes told NBA.com last week. “It used to be a good, little game. Now it’s like a flag football-type game, so you really have to be smart about everything.”
His first ejection and subsequent fine came during a November game against the Thunder in which Barnes unnecessarily came to the defense of a teammate and got into an altercation with Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in the first half. Both players got tossed.
“My situation is I look at my teammates as my family, so it’s never really an altercation to me,” Barnes said. “It’s more if your teammates get into something, you get into something; that’s the way I was raised. I was raised to protect my brother and sister and my friends, so I look at my teammates as my family. I’m going to do whatever I can to help.”
How do you coach that?
“With Stephen and Matt, they are emotional and their emotions, for the most part, are in the right place; they want to help their team win,” Rivers said. “Yeah, you don’t want them to ever cross that line where it can hurt your team and when it does, it does, and you remind them of it and you just hope they get better. But that’s all you can do.
“I don’t know, it’s a tough one. I’d rather have it, I guess.”
Woodson and the Knicks aren’t so sure anymore in regard to Smith. The 10-year veteran had an excellent last season, earning Sixth Man of the Year honors, and many professed that he was a changed man, done with frivolous conduct and serious about taking care of business on the basketball court.
Going back to his playoff implosion and the multiple incidents since, that certainly does not appear to be the case. As Woodson said during his Wednesday radio appearance:
“If you look at what happened last year, everybody played a role on that team and J.R. was a big piece of the puzzle. Yeah, it can come from Carmelo [Anthony], it can come from his teammates, it can come from his coaching staff, it can come from me being there, it can come from the GM, the owner. At the end of the day, he’s got to grow up.”