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.
After Troubled Past, J.R. Smith Has A ‘Clean Slate’ With Knicks
NEW YORK —After all that he has been through across his troubled career, J.R. Smith now has chance for a fresh start with the Knicks.
After the driver’s license suspensions, the death of his friend Andre Bell in a 2007 car accident, the brawl with the Knicks, the former St. Benedict’s Prep star has landed in his dream spot and now has an opportunity to show everyone he can be a good citizen and can help take the Linsanity Knicks into a new era.
“It’s really a clean slate,” Smith said Sunday at Madison Square Garden after scoring 15 points off the bench in his Knicks’ debut, a 104-97 win over the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. “I’m not the same 18 year old kid that I was eight years ago. I‘m a grown man, 26 years old and ready to make big decisions for my life and make the best decisions for my teammates.”
The Knicks did their due diligence on Smith and signed him Friday for the $2.5 million mini mid-level exception based largely on the recommendation of Mark Warkentien, the Knicks executive and former Denver Nuggets GM who vouched for Smith’s character.
No one needs to vouch for Smith’s shooting ability — he’s a 37 percent career 3-point shooter — and the Knicks were shooting just 33 percent before Smith’s arrival.
Smith stayed up until at least 3 a.m. Sunday Tweeting about how excited he was to be joining the Knicks and wearing No. 8 (The former number of both Latrell Sprewell and Danilo Gallinari.)
When Smith arrived at Madison Square Garden for his first game with his hometown team, head coach Mike D’Antoni wasn’t even sure he would play Smith.
After all, he had spent the season in China and didn’t know any of the offense.
But when Iman Shumpert picked up two quick fouls, D’Antoni called Smith’s number and the J.R. Smith Era began.
“The first five minutes was really mind-blowing,” Smith said. “The whole time during warmups I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is crazy. I’m at the Garden. I’m wearing a Knick uniform. This is crazy. I never would’ve imagined this In a million years.’
“And to be out there for that first five minutes, the first thing I was thinking was, ‘Don’t airball your first shot. You never want to live that down in New York City, so once I made the first one it really got me going.”
Smith made 3 of 5 3-pointers in the first quarter when he scored nine of his 15 points.
“Not bad start, hitting three straight shots (actually 3 of 4),” D’Antoni said.
Smith said he considered offers from the Clippers and Lakers, but the opportunity to play in front of family and friends — and to play with former Nuggets teammate Carmelo Anthony –– swayed him toward the Knicks.
“Melo really sealed the deal for me,” he said. “Once I talked to Melo…he told me what kind of atmosphere it was and it sealed the deal 100 percent.”
That Anthony is saying good things about the Knicks is highly revealing.
While he has been out with a groin injury, Anthony has taken heat from fans, who think he might mess up Linsanity.
The Knicks, after all, are now 7-1 since Anthony left in the first quarter of the Utah game Feb. 6. He is expected back Monday against the Nets at MSG.
Of course, Linsanity has a way of altering traditional perceptions, and perhaps because Jeremy Lin appears to be the ultimate teammate, the ultimate winner, guys like Anthony and Smith seem to be more willing to buy in.
“I didn’t see a full game [while I was in China],” Smith said of Lin’s play. “I saw a lot of ‘YouTube’ highlights and stuff like that. Just watching him play was crazy. He really inspires a lot of people around here and around the world.He is a person that people can look up to. When you hear his story it gives you hope for anything.”
Even hope that Anthony, Smith, Baron Davis — yes, Baron Davis is expected back soon, too — and all the other Knicks can coexist peacefully.
It will now be D’Antoni’s job to make sure it all works.
“We should be really good; we just have to get there,” D’Antoni said. “It is our job as coaches and their job as players to maximize our potential. We have a lot of players; some might not play the end of the game; some might play 10 minutes while some might play 20 minutes, but we go with the feel.”
Right now, the feel around the Knicks is sky high.
And Smith has a clean slate to show he can help keep it that way.
**For Video, Notes & Quotes on the game, read my NBA.com Notebook here.
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.