Owners laughed at the idea of acquiring Smith, who was reportedly being shopped around by Knicks ownership. They had seemingly had it with J.R., benching him for a game against the Miami Heat without notifying him. The message clearly didn’t get through to Smith, who was quoted after as saying the message from the league “wasn’t one of those warnings when you’re like ‘oh, damn’.” His inefficient step-back jumpers out of isolation plays continued, but the Knicks managed to survive despite them.
Then came Jan. 15, when Smith reportedly arrived late to a team meeting a day after being given the ball at the end of regulation against the Phoenix Suns with a chance to win the game. While December 2013 Mike Woodson may have continued to put trust like this into his shooting guard despite his irresponsibility, this Woodson took a stand. Again, he benched J.R. Smith without notice against the Bobcats, leaving the 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year confused and upset. The Knicks lost that game in Charlotte 108-98. No J.R. Smith meant more time from players like Amare Stoudemire and Tim Hardaway Jr., two guys who are major negtives on the defensive end. Even worse, the Bobcats were a team directly ahead of the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Standings.
“Communication from my end, it’s over,” the disgruntled vet muttered after the game.
Something about that day flipped a switch for him, however. Since his benching, J.R. Smith has been an efficient 46 percent from the field, and 46 percent from three, averaging 17 points per contest.
He’s begun to catch the ball and make a decision, whereas during the period he struggled, he’d hold the ball and waste time on the shot clock, hindering the team’s ability to score. This is clearly a much different J.R. Smith than the one that left thousands at Madison Square Garden looking up to the heavens at times, wondering what was taking place on the court.
So, you can continue to disapprove of Mike Woodson if you’d like, but you have to give him this: he finally walked the walk after months of “accountability” talk, and has turned an unproductive and distracting J.R. Smith into a viable scoring option. Fans of the club can only hope Woodson continues to treat his players as he has Smith, for without a leader that locker room of egos could sink quickly.
— Kenny Ducey