NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Phil Jackson says “delinquent behavior” and a “dark cloud” hanging over J.R. Smith ultimately contributed to his decision to trade the enigmatic guard to the Cavaliers.
His candid comments about Smith, Iman Shumpert — who was also sent packing for Cleveland — and others on the Knicks’ roster were published Monday by ESPN.com in the fourth installment of a series by Jackson’s former assistant coach, Charley Rosen.
“J.R. had been exhibiting some delinquent behavior and had gotten into the habit of coming late to team meetings, or missing them altogether,” Jackson told Rosen on Jan. 10.
Rosen said he was given access to Jackson once per month during the 2014-15 season. January’s conversation came five days after Jackson cleaned house, parting with Smith and Shumpert in a three-team trade and waiving center Samuel Dalembert.
“I asked (head coach Derek Fisher) what players were the biggest distractions. He said that although J.R. never talked back to him, he always walked around under a dark cloud,” Jackson said. “Derek was worried that negative energy was contagious.”
Jackson said Shumpert’s downfall was “a very loud, big personality.”
“It was difficult for most of the other guys to deal with,” he said, “especially if things don’t go well for him or the team.”
The Knicks, at the time, were en route to setting a franchise record in futility, though they hadn’t yet lost superstar Carmelo Anthony for the season.
Jackson told Rosen that he met with Smith, Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. during a rough stretch in November.
“He was supposed to carry the scoring load for the second unit and he wasn’t doing the job,” Jackson said of Smith. “I also said that because of his unacceptable behavior, he had two strikes against him with this team. He didn’t really respond. He’s a very sensitive guy, with his big doe eyes. He looked like he was going to tear up. But he finally responded that he was going through some issues with his gal.”
Jackson said “nothing got resolved” with Smith, and lamented the decline of Shumpert following a hip injury. He also called Hardaway, who was traded to Atlanta during last month’s draft, “surprisingly inconsistent.”
As for Dalembert, Jackson said the big man was falling asleep during pregame meetings.
“These aspects presented problems that D-Fish doesn’t think are going to get our season turned around and, more than that, won’t establish this ‘culture’ we’re trying to develop,” he said.
New York finished 17-65, while Smith and Shumpert made it all the way to the NBA Finals with the Cavaliers.