The big NBA news of Sunday, unless you think a World Championships exhibition has something to do with the NBA, was this report from Chris Tomasson that J.R. Smith is on the trading block. As a noted J.R. fan, I feel obligated to weigh in on this news with some ill-informed speculation.
As mentioned by Tomasson, deposed GM Mark Warkentien was a huge Smith fan and perhaps the only thing keeping one of the league’s streakiest shooters in Denver. With Warkentien out, Smith can now be moved. Or that would be the case if the Nuggets actually had a new GM, unless the Kroenkes are going to make the deal themselves. That seems like it’d be a poor move, both because it’s not their specialty and because it might set a bad precedent for the next lead executive in Denver.
Yet the Nuggets might be gearing up for a fire sale if/when Carmelo Anthony leaves town. Smith is also a free agent next season, and it might be smart to trade him while they can get something for him. Plus, he’s never fit in extremely well with the team, alternating impressive performances with stinkers.
Then again, maybe that’s only the case because Smith is naturally inconsistent. J.R.’s only 24, but he’s been in the league for six seasons and clearly found a comfortable role as a sixth man and designated shooter off the bench. When Smith frustrates, it’s because he both exceeds that role and often doesn’t live up to it. As a streak shooter, he can go for ridiculous 30-point, 6-of-9-from-deep performances and also go 1-for-12 from the field for three points. He’s the ultimate boom/bust player, and for many contending teams that’s not enough.
It’s relatively easy to complain about that. But if you find fault in his inconsistency and inability to regularly log those fantastic games, you must also realize that one is impossible without the other; Smith’s streakiness and total lack of conscience are what allow him to succeed in the first place.
Again, not all teams can handle those ups and downs, and it’s possible that the Nuggets will choose to deal him while they can. But Smith has proven that he can be a very important part of a contending team, even with his streakiness. Plus, if you put him on a team where those ups and downs are generally built into the system — like, say the three-dependent Pacers or the suddenly explosive Knicks — then he becomes even more of an asset.
Smith is a known quantity at this point in his career. If he does in fact leave Denver, though, we might find him in a new setting that helps illuminate his value.