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.
NEW YORK — Mark Warkentien personally vouched for J.R. Smith and was the key executive in bringing him to the Knicks.
Warkentien is the Knicks Director of Pro Personnel and previously served as the vice president of basketball operations with the Denver Nuggets, where Smith played from 2006-11.
“Mark Warkentien obviously was the general manager in Denver with J.R. and he was instrumental in getting this done and he obviously was very supportive and obviously the key guy to get this done,” Knicks interim GM Glen Grunwald said Friday when the Knicks officially announced the acquisition of Smith, 25, a former teammate of Carmelo Anthony.
The Knicks still had their two-year exception, worth about $2.5 million a year, to offer. The second year of the deal is at Smith’s option.
“Hopefully, it works out for us that he’s part of our future,” Grunwald said.
Smith, who starred at St. Benedict’s prep under former coach Dan Hurley, won’t practice Saturday and likely won’t play Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks.
That would leave open a possible debut Monday against the Nets at the Garden, or Wednesday against Atlanta.
Smith comes with a bit of a checkered past, including his involvement in the Knicks-Nuggets brawl at Madison Square Garden in 2006.
Yet Grunwald said the team is confident in his character.
“We talked to a lot of people and we’re comfortable with the decision we made and we’re hoping it’s all going to work out for the best,” Grunwald said.
The 6-6 Smith comes to the Knicks after playing for Zhejiang of the Chinese Basketball Association where he scored 60 points in a recent game, going 14-for-18 from downtown.
He averaged 12.5 points on 43 percent shooting and 37 percent from 3-point range over seven NBA seasons with New Orleans/Oklahoma City and Denver.
“J.R. had a good season over in China,” Grunwald said. “He shot close to 50 percent form 3-points and that’s one of those things that we look to improve here. I think right now we’re 26th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage and that’s something that we needed to address.”
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said Smith would come off the bench behind starting shooting guard Landry Fields at least to begin with.
“His strengths fit our system perfectly,” D’Antoni said. “Great 3-point shooter, can put the ball on the floor, can run the pick and roll…If all the parties are willing there shouldn’t be any reason why he doesn’t add a lot to our team.”
In addition to arrival of Smith, the Knicks expect his former Nuggets teammate Carmelo Anthony back from a groin injury, possibly Sunday.
Josh Harrellson (fractured wrist) and Baron Davis (herniated disc) are also on the mend. Harrellson is due back after the All-Star break and Davis played 3-on-3 today and is expected to be reevaluated next week.
All of that will intensify competition for playing time and could make D’Antoni’s job that much more difficult.
“It’s nothing that I don’t think we can overcome,” Grunwald said. “We’ve got a great group of guys. The spirit is great and as long as they’re committed to winning and taking whatever role is necessary for each player to contribute to winning I think we’re going to be fine and I’m very optimistic that that’s going to happen.”
How good the Knicks will be remains to be seen, but Grunwald hopes the team can eventually challenge Miami and Chicago atop the East.
“We have a very good coach,” he said. “We have a team that seems to be coming together so we’re gonna do all we can and we’ll find out how good we are in the next couple months.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.