When J.R. Smith Is Your Savior

J.R. Smith is being considered in Houston as a fix for everything tragic in H-town. They are contemplating J.R. the impulsive or J.R. the streaky. While the Rockets need a lot of things, J.R.is hardly a player who will stop the bleeding, even as his talent to jack up shots early in the shot clock make him a Mike D’Antoni disciple without ever having been coached by D’antoni. In the fine print though are the less is not more J.R. facts.  

He is 33 years old. There is that unforgettable NBA Finals 4.7 seconds left uh-oh performance. His best defensive rating (106) was the year the Cavs won the Finals. His best offensive rating (112) was his first year in Denver, during the pre-Obama years when Smith was 21 years old.

With J.R., it is always a mixed bag. He can make threes in bunches or he can absolutely miserably shoot you out of a game. His shot selection has not matured over time and thinking the game isn’t his strong suit.He is a specialist and he is paid very, very well. But he has emotions that often sink the J.R. ship.

But let me point out the hypocrisy in this preliminary J.R.crush by the Rockets. According to multiple sources, the reason the Rockets bailed on Trevor Ariza, refusing him the $15 mil he wanted, willing to wreck their chemistry, both offense and defense, was because they didn’t want the luxury tax  bill. But guess how much J.R. Smith is owed the next two years? $14 million this year. $15 million next year. So, what did the Daryl Morey bunch gain with their hardline money stance besides burying them deep in the strong West and forcing a Sisyphus fight uphill, setting up a possible no playoff swan song when it is all said and done?

Smith doesn’t have Ariza’s length or height. He will either come off the bench or start. Either way his role would be getting shots. He did win Sixth Man of the Year a long time ago and Smith does have a gritty toughness about him. He’s not soft. But he disappears when things are on the line. Pressure isn’t his friend.

What happened last year in the Finals was legendary J.R. but he took too much of the blame for it. Did it cost them Game 1? Well, George Hill did miss the second free throw and the entire team was worthless in overtime. Nevertheless, it was- considering the stakes, the Cavs stealing game one in Oracle- horrific. Was it the biggest mistake in NBA Finals history? Magic Johnson had a few brain freezes. And what about Games 2,3,4?

J.R. Smith is an easy target, a whipping boy, a person you can turn the blame game on because who else is there besides LeBron James? Kyle Korver?

The facts of his 2018 playoffs is grim, shooting less than 40%. If he can’t shoot, what is the J.R. Smith value?

But what the Rockets and D’Antoni have to figure out is not finding peace with the J.R. past but is there a fit? Does J.R. fit their offense? Does he hold the ball too long? Is he a shoot it or move it player?

J.R. sometimes is his own worst enemy, adding to the lore fans find irresistable. He is that outcast loner that, on the surface, feels romantic. Until he does something without thinking. Like when he went to China during the NBA lockout of 2011. He didn’t add a clause that would allow him to leave China if the lockout ended, which it did. But he had to stay in Asia.

And then there were his contracts sabotaged by J.R. hubris. He had an opt-out and took it. But he made less on the open market than he would had he not opted out.  

When he was a young player and tore his meniscus it was because he was in a brawl. He was suspended. He had a nightclub situation and was suspended again. He untied the shoelaces of Shawn Marion when Marion was at the free throw line. Then he tried it again with Greg Monroe. He was fined 50 grand. (Though Smith uses as an excuse that Dwight Howard had been doing it for years. Yes, but J.R. is not Dwight Howard). Smith was suspended in the playoffs for a rogue elbow that hit Jason Terry. He swung at Jae Crowder and was suspended two playoff games. He violated the drug policy and was suspended.

He told the New Yorker, “People don’t understand why I play, sometimes, with a chip on my shoulder. And that’s one reason: I got bullied.”

But George Karl told the world, “I just the love the dignity of the game being insulted right in front of me” in reply to J.R. Smith’s questionable on court habits.

Houston needs to do something. Like a dying man without oxygen, the team can’t subsist with their supporting cast, a bench rated last in scoring. Everyone in the West is deep. The Rockets lost their depth intentionally. Purposefully. That’s where the cruelty fits in. They did this to themselves and now have remorse.

It’s funny, I suppose, the way a riddle is funny, to think J.R. has the magic elixir to change everything about the Rockets who look like playing with one another is akin to a divorce judge making the couple try to make it work. Their chemistry is out the window and maybe it’s temporary. Winning does cure all things.

J.R. Smith though has never been a cure to suffering. He’s never been the band-aid that covers the wound, more like the shot that takes the pain away but only for a few hours. Then the pain is back. 

If he does venture to Texas, it will be a new role for J.R. with expectations to balance a wobbly boat being everything. And nothing. Because this kind of Houston desperation lacks the grace of a champion.

Oops. Houston isn’t a champion. It all makes sense.