What’s really going on with J.R. Smith?

[Note: Originally Posted 11-19-2010 at 04:27 AM by DenButsu]

For the last 3 games, Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl has sat J.R. Smith, the guard with whom he’s had an often troubled and contentious relationship, on the bench.

When J.R. was benched for the first of these games, it was reported that it was due to his being late for a shootaround.

But with his tenure on the pine now extending to a third game, that reason now seems insufficient. Not that Karl has ever had any reservations about putting Smith in his doghouse and keeping him on a short leash. But it does seem to be a little much.

Now, rookie Gary Forbes has been playing great in J.R.’s absence, and in the same article linked above Karl alludes to his play being part of the reason for continuing to sit J.R.

Still, it seems to me like a stretch.

My first thoughts on this are that no matter how J.R. was playing before showing up late, and perhaps even because he actually was playing quite well but has been benched nevertheless, it seems pretty clear that the reason(s) for his benching have absolutely nothing to do with his play on the court. They are not basketball reasons, but offcourt/locker room/behavior/workplace ethic/attitude/etc. reasons.

I think no matter where any of us Nuggets fans come down on our opinions of J.R. or Karl or the best course of action going forward, we can all agree on the above. At least from anything that was visible to people watching the games, there has been nothing that J.R. has done basketball-wise that should have led to him being benched. So the most reasonable conclusion is that it has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with what’s happening behind the scenes.

So if we can accept all of the above as given, I think there are two main questions that seem important to me:

1. What exactly is it that J.R. has done, and what is the proper course of disciplinary action for that? (It’s my belief that more must have happened than just being late for one practice, but I’m just reading the tea leaves).

2. What is the best thing that Karl and the organization can do for the team’s success and winning, taking into account all things, such as rotations, chemistry, locker room issues, the ethos and professionalism of the organization, etc. And where exactly is the “tipping point” at which the value (in terms of winning individual games) of putting J.R. on the court becomes too “costly” to the team in other ways in the sense of things like undercutting the morale of guys who are working harder by rewarding bad behavior, undermining the professionalism and credibility of the organization by not sticking to their guns in terms of team standards, etc.

This is all stuff that for us as fans is really hard to get a good read on, because we simply don’t have the necessary facts to reach informed conclusions about this stuff. What’s easy for us to perceive is that the team probably has a better chance of winning individual games if J.R. plays than if he doesn’t play. That’s fairly well assured, given that Smith has played in six of the Nuggets’ eight most effective 5-man lineups this season, including all of the top three.

At the same time I think it’s also reasonable to conclude, since that is also probably just as evident to the coaching staff (including Karl) and Nuggets organization, that they have reasons for benching J.R. which they feel are pretty damn important — so important that it’s worth lessening the chance of winning games.

Which is why I’m not buying that J.R. being late for a single practice explains the lengths they’ve gone to in terms of disciplining him. It would be disproportional beyond reason. And even while it should also be kept in mind that their decision is probably made somewhat easier by Forbes stepping up bigger than anyone could have hoped, Karl, his staff, and the FO are pros who take this stuff seriously, and they wouldn’t make this decision lightly.

Given his past, J.R. has less leeway to screw around, and rightfully so. But even taking that into consideration, if I were putting money down on what’s really going on here, I’d bet that there’s more to it than J.R. being late for a single practice. And that whatever it is will probably come to light soon.

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