Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
MONROE TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Since the Knicks signed former Louisville standout and New Jersey native Chris Smith to a non-guaranteed contract on Aug. 1, people have been screaming that the only reason Smith is here is because his brother is Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith.
Chris Smith may have performed well with the Knicks’ summer league in Las Vegas in July to help gain the contract and a shot in training camp next month, but no, it does not hurt that his brother is who he is and has the ear of key team executives, including Madison Square Garden Executive Chairman James Dolan.
Yes, J.R. Smith has helped his brother get to this point, but no one is denying that Chris Smith is going to have to take it from here. If he is to make an impression when training camp opens in Greenburgh, N.Y. on Oct. 2, it’s going to be because of his play, not because of who he knows.
“The relationship helps, but at the end of the day, the Knicks weren’t going to sign Chris unless they saw something in Chris that could help the team,” Smith’s agent, Nick DiPillo ,told SNY.tv on Saturday morning at the Monroe Sports Center where the Smith brothers held a basketball clinic.
“How we get our opportunity in life is a lot of who you know. At the end of the day, if you’re competent and you’re good enough at your job, you’re going to get the position you want. With that said, he still has to make the team. It’s one thing to get your foot in the door, but at this point, it doesn’t matter who he knows.”
With kids intently paying attention to his and his brother’s every movement on Saturday morning, Chris Smith painted a picture of being ready to go in his first NBA training camp from a mental standpoint simply because he’s watched his brother do it for nearly a decade now. In that respect, Chris Smith is ahead of the curve compared to other rookies.
From an actual basketball standpoint, Smith appears to be in an advantageous position. Presumed starting shooting guard Iman Shumpert is out until at least December with a torn left ACL and lateral meniscus, while newly-signed shooting guard Ronnie Brewer will miss approximately six weeks coming off knee surgery.
With that, the opportunity is there for Smith to showcase his skills and possibly make the roster. A worst case scenario could potentially see the Knicks sending Smith to their D-League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks, for some more seasoning and playing time that he might not see in New York. A stint in Erie would not be ideal in Smith’s mind, but it would certainly keep his foot in the NBA door.
“He (J.R.) has just told me to go in there mentally prepared and to stay level-headed,” Chris Smith said. “This whole thing has just been a life changing experience. Going into the NBA, you have to be a world-class athlete. It’s just been real different so far. Life has definitely changed a lot.”
Capable of defending either guard position and even small forwards in some cases, Smith figures to be the fourth shooting guard on the roster behind his brother, Shumpert and Brewer once everyone is healthy.
The Knicks open the preseason against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 11 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve been working hard trying to get ready for the season and it’s going to be interesting (to see what happens),” J.R. Smith said of Chris. “With the roster we have now, we have great people and great talent that could teach him the game as well. Even if he doesn’t make the team and has to go play somewhere else, he’ll still have a jump start on the education of the game. We have so many great basketball minds on the roster, it will be impossible for him not to learn.”
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