By John Schmeelk
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It’s never easy with the Knicks, is it? After doing the right thing by benching J.R. Smith against the Heat last week, the Knicks went on and won two straight games and appeared poised to make a run up the Eastern Conference standings. As bad as Tuesday night’s no-show performance against the Bobcats was, the annoying re-emergence of the Smith controversy was even worse.
It really comes down to one thing: communication. It’s something the Knicks’ franchise has struggled with since James Dolan became owner of the franchise. If Woodson simply would have told the truth regarding Smith’s benching, it wouldn’t be half the story it is on Wednesday. If Smith did something stupid or disruptive off the court, no one would have argued with Woodson’s decision. If, as Daily News reporter Frank Isola is reporting, he mouthed off about not playing in overtime on Monday, Woodson had every right to sit him down. Smith would have had nothing to say after the game.
If Smith’s benching had more to do with his poor play and a good first half by Tim Hardaway, Jr., that would have been fine, too. Herb Williams said as much at halftime. Hardaway scored 11 points in the first half, and Smith has shot poorly all season. Smith getting benched for his poor play is something that should have happened much earlier this year. The timing would have surely been strange considering the team’s winning streak, but it would have been understandable to a certain extent. But Woodson didn’t say that, either. Instead, he said nothing. He also said nothing to Smith, who was understandably annoyed for being left in the dark.
So now instead of having a footnote in the morning papers about Smith not playing, there is a full-blown mystery and controversy over why Smith was benched. Only the Knicks can turn something so simple into something so complicated. It’s a classic example of the Knicks creating a mess of their own doing.
It would be easy to blame Woodson for this, but there is an excellent chance that this decision came from way above his head. It is quite possible that somewhere deep in the labyrinth known as the Cablevision corporate offices, Dolan is stroking his goatee and taking glee over punishing Smith.
Of course, he doesn’t fathom that all this does is distract the team from trying to win basketball games. It’s something they’ve really struggled doing this year, and really don’t need anything else to worry about than that. The team had won five straight and six of seven, and now all the questions they are answering are about Smith and something they have no control over. Very constructive. It is the same type of secretive nonsense this team has engaged in over the past decade, with surgeries being unreported and other things being hidden from the fan base. It hurts the franchise’s credibility and creates messes like this. It all starts at the top.
If the Knicks are looking to move Smith, this also does absolutely nothing to enhance his trade value. Getting sat on the bench for unknown transgressions minimizes his trade value even more, if that’s even possible at this point. This whole episode is simply another perfect example of how chaotic and disorganized the Knicks’ management structure is. Nothing is ever handled the right way.
Meanwhile, the Knicks have to play the Pacers on Thursday night on the road. And the only thing anyone will want to talk about will be Smith.
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The Knicks looks absolutely gassed on Tuesday night, and what had been an improved defense turned into an absolute no-show effort on that end of the floor. Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson both shot out of their minds, and destroyed the Knicks from inside and out. I hope the performance was simply a matter of fatigue, and not the team thinking that they don’t have to give maximum effort anymore. It’s something this often overconfident team has pulled in the past, but you have to think their record and position in the standings would make them think twice before taking that stance this year.
Their next game in Indiana with Tyson Chandler still not 100 percent will be a huge challenge, and if the team plays with the same energy it did on Tuesday it will be a 20-point blowout. The team’s recently improved ball movement will be tested against a superior defense, as will Amar’e Stoudemire’s ability to score against some upper-echelon interior defenders.
If the Knicks can find a way to split their next two games, it would be a huge victory. Including the Clippers game, the Knicks play eight straight at home, and could get close to .500 by the All-Star break. If they can get there, home-court in the first round of the playoffs will not be out of the realm of possibility.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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