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.
Chris Smith Makes NBA Debut, Hopes for Bigger Role
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Chris Smith made his long-awaited NBA debut on Christmas Day, but it was hardly the stuff of fairytales.
The 6-foot-2 Smith played the final 1 minute, 21 seconds of a 123-94 blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and did not touch the ball.
“Nobody wants a 30-point game to be your first appearance really, but it was a great experience just to actually touch the Garden floor for the first time you’re playing an NBA minute,” Smith said Thursday at practice.
“It was definitely a dream come true but we lost so it doesn’t really help the fact that I played, you know what I’m saying? If it was on the other side of the table it would be great, but it’s humbling just for everything I’ve been through.”
His older brother, Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith, said Chris can learn from the experience.
“He was excited,” J.R. said of Chris. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t the situation we wanted because we were getting blown out. But it’s a learning experience. Whether it’s a minute, 20 seconds or 30 minutes, he’s gotta learn every day and get better.”
The target of a good deal of criticism by fans and fellow players alike, Chris was recently recalled from the D-League Erie Bay Bayhawks after the Knicks’ top two point guards — Raymond Felton (groin) and Pablo Prigioni (toe) — went down with injuries.
In six games in Erie, Smith, who played college ball at Louisville and Manhattan, averaged 11.3 points and 2.7 assists.
“It’s a night and day difference between Erie and here,” Smith said. “In Erie, it snowed every day and I’m by myself. No family. It’s different situations, hotel-wise, driving and flying. It’s a lot different. It’s a humbling experience and it’s great for me mentally to come back and be prepared for whatever’s ahead and get away for a little while.”
Still, Chris’ role figures to be extremely limited even without Felton and Prigioni, who hopes to return in a week or so. Beno Udrih, initially the third-string point guard, is now the starter, and Toure’ Murry serves as the backup. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert also see time at the point.
“I know defensively I can help the team,” Smith said. “Whatever the coaches and the staff, what they want me to do really is what I’ll do for a player and the best thing I can do right now is be a great teammate.”
Some have questioned why Smith is even a Knick to begin with.
Knicks’ coach Mike Woodson admitted during training camp that J.R.’s presence on the roster was a factor in whether or not Chris would get cut.
“Sure, it does,” Woodson said in October. “I look at [Chris] just like I look at J.R., though J.R. is the guy who played in a uniform and has been very productive for us. I have a great deal of respect for that family. That’s his brother. I respect that.’’
Chris ultimately made the opening-night roster with a guaranteed salary of $491,000 — the league minimum — and the New York Post later reported that the NBA held internal discussions about whether the Knicks were circumventing the salary cap by keeping Chris on the roster. The report said the league ultimately decided nothing improper was done because Chris was considered a legitimate NBA prospect.
Still, Chris was targeted on Twitter by Brandon Jennings of the Detroit Pistons, who mocked the fact that Chris was in the NBA.
J.R. Smith then appeared to threaten Jennings via Twitter when he said he would send his “street homies” to Detroit, implying they would deal with Jennings.
J.R. was fined $25,000 by the NBA as a result.
“I don’t care about that stuff,” Chris Smith said Thursday. “It just puts fuel to my fire, but at the same time I don’t care, you know. I’m here, I’m blessed, I’m happy. One day I want to be able to help the team out and that’s all that really matters.”
Asked if he felt any jealousy from his teammates in Erie, Chris said:
“It’s a lot of jealousy everywhere. It’s not just there. It’s just the way our society is set up, really. At the same time for me, it’s not about paying attention to that, it’s being the best player and person that I can be.”
Photo: NY Post
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.