The words most commonly used in regards to Nuggets backup shooting guard J.R. Smith are "mercurial," "inconsistent," "poor work ethic," "childish," "bad attitude," "erratic" and "unfocused." I've got a new one to throw into the mix. How about "traded"?
I think I've used this analogy before, so pardon me if you're reading it again. Growing up, I had a friend named "Steve" (we'll give him the fictitious name of "Steve" for the purposes of this analogy) who was far and away considered the brightest and most universally talented kid among us in elementary school. Teachers, parents and fellow students branded "Steve" as having "unlimited potential" but just "couldn't put it together." "Steve" could get B's in his sleep, but would be an A+ student and on his way to Harvard had he just "applied himself." This was fine while we were in elementary school...maybe even into middle school and high school...but at some point "Steve", five colleges and an uncountable number of jobs later, became an adult. He never experienced any level of success whatsoever (monetarily or otherwise) and yet is still branded by my peers from that era as being "bright", "talented" and, you guessed it, having "lots of potential." Others cite his inability to live up that potential and brand him as a "loser" or a "failure." I've never felt that way. I instead take a different tack and wonder: maybe he wasn't that talented in the first place.
To me, you could replace "Steve" with "J.R. Smith" and tell the same story. Possessed with ungodly good raw basketball skills, I'm here to tell you that maybe J.R. Smith isn't that talented in the first place. You see, part of being talented isn't just how high you jump, how sweet your jumper looks or how thunderously you dunk, but it's how you think, behave and comport yourself as an adult, a teammate, a professional. Six years into his NBA career, I fear that not only isn't J.R. Smith a professional, but that he's heading down the same path that other "talented" non-professionals went down before him, such as Latrell Sprewell, Isaiah "J.R." Rider and Darius Miles.
Nuggets fans are abuzz today with the news - courtesy of the Post's Benjamin Hochman - that Smith may get suspended for behavior detrimental to the team. The latest incident being Smith's alleged "pouting" on the Nuggets bench as his teammates eeked out a tough home victory over the Hornets last night (the Hornets were on the second of a back-to-back and missing their second-best player, but a win is a win!), but according to HoopsWorld's Travis Heath, this has been "simmering" for a while.
I've been tough on Smith all season and deservedly so. In fact, I named Smith as our "First Half Stiff" based on his erratic and often poor play for the first 41 games of the season. Over the last 14 games alone, Smith has only shot north of 50% from the field once and worse than that, he hasn't even been close. And en route to six consecutive Nuggets wins and nine victories out of 11 games, Smith's "contribution" has been all over the map. Check out these ghastly shooting numbers from J.R. (FGs and three-pointers) during the Nuggets sudden hot streak: 7-19 (1-8), 4-12 (0-4), 8-20 (1-4), 3-10 (1-3), 8-21 (2-8), 5-12 (2-8), 6-9 (3-4), 4-12 (2-6), 6-15 (2-6), 1-7 (0-3), 1-5 (1-5...all three's).
I was one of the first to admonish Nuggets head coach George Karl for (wrongly) throwing Smith under the bus during the playoff loss to the Spurs in 2007 and compared Karl's treatment of Smith last season to how the United States has meaningless "low level" talks with North Korea on nuclear disarmament. But those episodes have faded into the distant past by now, and when I asked Karl about Smith back in November, Karl not only said they were "good" but that they recently had had a heart-to-heart conversation about Smith's time in jail over the summer. At the time, it seemed as though Karl and Smith were bonded as never before. Even now, Karl won't throw Smith under the bus, saying about the possible suspension: "We want J.R. to get back to playing at a consistent high level, which he's talented enough to do, so when that doesn't happen, I don't blame J.R. — I blame myself, I blame my staff. But in the same process, you've got to figure out how to win games."
And yet while Karl and Smith's teammates rack up wins for the Nuggets, Smith pouts, misses ill-advised shots and plays (and I'm being kind here) careless defense. I have to imagine if I asked Karl the same question today, I'd get a very different answer.
As cited by Nate in his recent FanShot, Heath does a great job breaking down the current J.R. situation from a macro perspective. According to Heath, the Nuggets organization is a house divided on what to do about the enigmatic shooting guard. But I have an even longer memory than Heath does in his latest column. I remember Smith allegedly ripping a girl's dress and spitting on her outside a Denver night club. I remember Smith "co-hosting" the 2007 New Year's Bash party that led to former Bronco Darrent Williams' death hours later. I remember Smith accidentally getting his best friend killed in that tragic car accident in New Jersey that landed Smith in jail this past summer. I remember Smith taking the bait from the Knicks' Nate Robinson that exacerbated the Madison Square Garden Melee. I remember Smith having to take down his Twitter account for allegedly posting gang-related language. I remember Smith posting a real-time web video (that mysteriously got yanked from the internet almost as fast as it went up!) while being in Eddy Curry's passenger seat during an "early morning" arrest. Need I go on?
So if the Nuggets are serious about winning a championship, perhaps it's time they rid themselves of any and all enigmas, regardless of how "talented" they may be.
Denver Stiffs readers have been tossing out Smith trade scenarios for over a month now, and I've stayed out of it hoping J.R. would turn things around. But it's clear that the Nuggets need to explore some deals. Most think the Nuggets should move J.R. and bring back a big man, but that would take away a chunk of offense out of a bench that's already depleted offensively. Therefore, I'm not sold on Smith being shipped out solely for a big man but instead, perhaps the Nuggets could package Smith for another shooter and score a big man at the same time. Here are some trade scenarios the Nuggets might want to consider, factoring in NBA trade salary requirements...
J.R. Smith to the Warriors for Anthony Morrow and Ronny Turiaf
I've looked into a number of ways for the Nuggets to pry Morrow out of Golden State, and given that Warriors head coach Don Nelson has never made a head case he doesn't like, Smith could be great in Oakland. Morrow is a head case, too, but not to the extent Smith is and he's been wrongly banished to Nellie's dog house. When given playing time, Morrow produces...and then some. Turiaf would be a throw-in for salary purposes but could give the Nuggets some big man insurance off the bench. I'd much rather see the Nuggets get Anthony Randolph or even Brandan Wright back, but I can't imagine Golden State parting with Randolph yet. And it should be noted that the Nuggets would be taking a big gamble here that Morrow would be as good, forget better, than Smith.
J.R. Smith and Renaldo Balkman to the Magic for J.J. Redick and Brandon Bass
Since Smith and Balkman are alleged to be good friends off the court (and both are in Karl's doghouse), why not trade them together? The Magic are clearly having buyer's remorse when it comes to Bass and Redick is expendable from Orlando's end. The Nuggets have never had a consistent three-point specialist who can spread the floor for Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Nene to work inside and Redick just might be the guy who could do that.
J.R. Smith, Malik Allen and trade exception money to the Wizards for Mike Miller
Wanting to rehab their severely damaged image in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas fiasco, I can't imagine the Wizards wanting to take on Smith. That said, Miller - even at the risk of him being an unrestricted free agent - would be a great fit for the Nuggets and could push them into the NBA Finals if he could stay healthy.
J.R. Smith and Renaldo Balkman to the Kings for Francisco Garcia and Spencer Hawes
I'd rather see Jason Thompson come back to the Nuggets in a deal for Smith, but there's no way the Kings will part with Tyreke Evans, Thompson or Omri Casspi. Everyone else is expendable. And with Kevin Martin being too rich for the Nuggets' - and every other NBA team's - blood, Garcia becomes the next obtainable player out of Sactown. The problem with this deal is that Garcia is out with a wrist injury and may not return this season.
I'm sure this site's readers have even more creative options for a possible Smith deal than I do. But as you can see, as hard as it is dealing with J.R. Smith on your team, it might be even harder to find a fair deal for him.
I hate to kick a man while he's down, but it might be time for J.R. to be kicked out of Denver. His nine lives are up.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos: David Zalubowski