Smith will be back again, and the Knicks will be at his mercy. After Smith was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year last season, he found a sparse free-agent market over the summer. And now, with a three-year, $18 million contract, knee surgery and a suspension to start the season, the Knicks couldn't even start a trade conversation on Smith without attaching a good, young player or a first-round draft pick to him.
This is a different NBA financial climate, where teams are stingier than ever on awarding long-term, guaranteed money to those as combustible and unreliable as Smith. Smith's exodus is a non-starter and the Knicks know it.
If Smith didn't have such an inflated opinion of himself, he'd probably know it, too. Everyone understands how this will go now: Smith will tell everyone that he needs to grow up, that's he's let down his coach and teammates and fans. The Knicks will start to play him again, and it's just a matter of time until Smith's self-destructive act will resurface
. Once again, he'll be ignorant to the score in the final seconds of a game like the loss he cost the Knicks in Houston or he'll get into trouble off the floor. Or probably both.
After his release from prison four years ago, Smith sat inside a New Jersey country club, and told me how the death of his close friend, caused by Smith's recklessness behind the wheel, had changed his life. From the guilt over the death, to a summer in a prison cell, to wanting his young daughter to never have to keep reading about his misdeeds, Smith vowed to be a changed man.
I think I was a follower to an extent, Smith told me. If someone would ask me to do something that was on the borderline, more than likely Id say, OK, lets go. Now, I think I see the bigger picture finally.
I think I need to mature and understand what I say before I say it, and what I do before I do it."
He can make it sound so sincere, but the con never ends. J.R. Smith was raised in a suburban, middle-class home with two good parents and access to an excellent education. He had a tremendous high school coaching mentor Dan Hurley at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J. and he has long been taught the difference of right and wrong. Smith's always loved to play the part of a tough city kid, but truth be told, he's a soft, spoiled suburban jump shooter.
And when Smith's benching ends with these Knicks, there will be no epiphanies. No revelations. Everyone knows how this story ends with him, how the money will dry up and how he'll wish he had done everything so differently in his career. It is sad and predictable and on a collision course with cliche.
Someday, Smith will make that call to room service insisting upon more of everything and there will be no one to answer. J.R. Smith is 28 years old, and it is too late to threaten and punish a spoiled, suburban kid. No trade, no epiphanies, no changes. The Knicks deserve J.R. Smith, and he'll belong to them until the bitter end.