By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks never make it easy, even when they are coming off a 54-win season. On a day where the organization should have been celebrating getting a good player like Ron Artest on a contract barely above the veteran’s minimum, they were once again the laughingstock of the NBA. Just days after J.R. Smith signed a reported (more on that in a second) four-year deal with the Knicks (player option after three), he underwent knee surgery that will put him out three to four months and put his availability for the start of the regular season in serious danger.
From Monday to Tuesday, the reason that Smith waited until now to have the surgery changed. On day one, the Knicks said he waited until now so the Knicks’ trainers would be back from Vegas to provide uninterrupted treatment. I’ve never, ever heard of anything so ridiculous. This implies that unsigned summer-league players have priority over Smith. The entire Knicks’ training staff wasn’t in Vegas, either. Glen Grunwald gave a much more feasible explanation on Tuesday, saying that Smith wanted to see if the knee healed naturally without surgery, and when it didn’t he decided to go under the knife. The Giants did something similar with Jason Pierre-Paul’s back. I invite fans, however, to note that Smith waited until after he negotiated a contract to have the surgery. You can infer what you want from the timing there. Can you say negotiating leverage?
Adding more mystery to the drama is the fact that Smith’s contract is now mysteriously only three years long rather than four, with a player option after two years. According to Frank Isola of the Daily News, both sides leaked the information that the contract was for four years, so what changed? Was the deal adjusted as some kind of peace offering because Smith was actually hiding his injury from the Knicks and they felt betrayed? Or were the reports from EVERY SINGLE media outlet all wrong about the original terms of the deal?
What exactly happened here?
Scenario A: The Knicks knew about Smith’s injury from the beginning and signed him anyway. They gave him two years with a player option for a third despite the fact that he was going to have fairly serious knee surgery and no other team would likely make a similar investment in him. The contract was always for two years with a player option and the Knicks were all over this from the beginning. This is what the Knicks would have you believe.
Scenario B: The Knicks knew Smith had a bad knee but had no idea how serious it was. They signed him to the contract and then were either told or found out that his knee did in fact require surgery. The contract was re-negotiated down to three years rather than four, but the Knicks were still stuck with a player that is in many ways damaged goods.
I’m honestly not sure which of these scenarios is worse. Neither one indicates a competent or well-run organization or front office. Not to mention the fact that the Knicks didn’t announce Smith’s surgery until after their front-office contingent was safely wheels up from Las Vegas on Monday to avoid face-to-face questions from the media.
Grunwald, to his credit, did address the media on a conference call on Tuesday. It seems like even the simplest of transactions come with strange circumstances and a constant atmosphere of mismanagement, incompetence, bad public relations, misinformation and completely unnecessary drama. The amazing thing is that the Knicks just keep doing this stuff to themselves. It’s their own doing and no one else’s. There’s no reason to believe that these problems don’t start at the top with their owner, who creates this type of environment.
Now, there’s a good chance that Smith’s knee heals fine and he is back for the first game of the regular season. Unfortunately, the Knicks’ history of dealing with injuries and timetables is not strong, so there’s little reason to be so optimistic. I think Rasheed Wallace is still day to day with his foot injury. Smith’s knee surgeries are also not routine. His lateral meniscus tear is usually considered worse than the medial variety. The patella tendon is far more worrisome, as many players in the past have lost careers or a lot of athleticism to that type of injury. Players like Antonio Mcdyess, Kelenna Azabuike, Caron Butler, Kenyon Martin and Baron Davis have all tore or ruptured their patella, costing them seasons or games. Every indication is that Smith merely had his cleaned up, which is much less invasive and serious. It would put his recovery time right into the 3-4 month range that the Knicks reported.
But knee recoveries are tricky. Ask Amar’e Stoudemire. Even if Smith does come back at the end of October, how long does it take for him to regain his old form? One month? Two months? Three? A year? There’s no way to tell. The team might even have to limit his minutes.
There’s so much uncertainty, which is something the Knicks cannot afford considering they already have injury question marks with other big time offense contributors in Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani. Where’s the scoring going to come from? It’s never easy for the Knicks, and that’s something that didn’t change this offseason.
I’ll have more on Artest and the Knicks’ summer league on Thursday.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, NBA free agency, Giants, NFL and New York sports.
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