Should he stay, or should he go: J.R. Smith

The Denver Nuggets have a lot of decisions to make this summer.  They sport one of the deepest rosters in the league, but many players have uncertain futures either due to expiring contracts or the potential to clear up positional logjams via trades.  Over the next few days we will be looking at these players to determine who must stay and who must go.  We start off with one of the most decisive Nuggets, J.R. Smith.

Don’t let Karl push out a true Nugget
By: Kalen

After the playoffs concluded I was abraded and ready to move on. J.R. Smith and Karl just finished getting in their thousandth career player-coach feud vicariously hosted by the media, and I had finally had enough; let J.R. walk and lets be done with it. Obviously if I had to choose between Karl and J.R., readers of this blog know who I would take in a heartbeat; but being that Karl just signed a three-year extension and J.R. is primed to become a free agent, destiny seems to be pointing in the direction of only one — Karl and his first-round playoff exits — instead of the most exciting, fan-favorite highlight machine in recent Nuggets memory. Although I was discomforted by this notion, I came to accept it as inevitable. I just wanted J.R. to be happy and Karl to no longer have somebody to blame for his shortcomings. Sometimes we forget, in the world of sports, that these athletes are human beings out there, not just some surreal, fan-pleasing superheroes. These guys have feelings, emotions, desires, aspirations and lives outside of basketball. If J.R. was truly unhappy with Karl and vice versa, then the cantankerous relationship that has simmered forever should simply end, especially now that J.R.’s contract has expired leaving him the option to sign with anybody. But now that I’ve had some time to touch on Karl’s dispensability, I’ve realized that J.R. shouldn’t be the one forced out of town by a single grumpy denizen, when he has thousands of supporters whose love overpowers the minute bit of hate directed towards him — unless of course he truly does want to leave for his own personal endeavors.

I was helped to this epiphany when on May 9, 2011, I attended a Rockies game and noticed J.R. walking into the team gift shop. I knew it was him the instant I saw the letters “Swish” threaded into the back of his hat, and immediately followed him inside out of pure fascination. J.R had no problem gliding through the store, fetching whatever he desired (I think he bought a few t-shirts), but eventually people caught on and approached for autographs, photos and anything else they could pry out of the monstrous 6-foot-6 shooting guard. I observed J.R. the entire time, and not once did he turn down anybody who begged for a moment of his life, in fact, J.R. seemed more than happy to offer his name and face on Rockies memorabilia of all shapes and sizes. At the time I was with two friends, both of whom are big Nuggets/J.R. fans, and just as J.R. had done with all the other contestants, he signed both their shirts and shook hands amiably.

Following this encounter, one of my acquaintances who got J.R. to autograph his Troy Tulowitzki shirt (of all things), then began calling family members, friends and anybody else who’d listen to him proclaim with childlike enthusiasm how awesome it was to meet J.R. He was laughing the entire time, overjoyed, eventually admitting how his face hurt from smiling so much and how he would never wash that shirt again no matter how dirty it became. It was then that I sat back with a cold Coors Light (that’s basically all the options at Coors Field: Coors or Coors Light, go figure) and really began to contemplate exactly what J.R. means to the Nuggets as I thought, “Would my friend have been this happy to meet anybody else on the Nuggets?” Unequivocally, the answer was “No.” J.R., and only J.R., has the unrivaled ability to make fans jump out of their seats as if a firecracker was beneath it, both at Nuggets games and Rockies games. He’s just that guy that you can’t help but love. They say some coaches are players’ coaches; J.R. is a fan’s player.

Undoubtedly J.R. deserves better than what he’s received from Karl, and part of me wants to see him get the opportunity to start because of how much he deserves it, but J.R. has been here for so long that I feel like he’s truly a Nugget at this point — you know, just like how Kobe Bryant is a Laker or Derek Jeter a Yankee; J.R. Smith is a Nugget — and whenever you’re truly a member of a franchise, you can’t leave in your prime. Seeing J.R. play for another team, to many fans (including me), would be heartbreaking and wrong. Since he is a Nugget, it’s only right that the best basketball of his career be played in Denver. He’s been a common factor in the Nuggets most successful period ever, and that should continue to blossom as our team looks primed to remain competitive in the Western Conference for the near future. Ending things so abruptly and on such disappointing terms would be unsettling with shades of despondency, especially for J.R. fans. Karl and Smith should both surrender some of their pride (especially Karl), and attempt atonement by reconstructing a relationship that’s always been in shambles, as it would not only benefit both player and coach, but the entire team as well.

By re-signing J.R., the Nuggets would be taking another step towards stability (and yes, I know how awkward that sounds), as he provides the pure scoring punch every NBA team needs, which without him we don’t have. We would remain one of the deepest teams in the league, and our bench would continue to ignite the Pepsi Center crowd that provides the Nuggets with one of the best home-court advantages in all of basketball. Trust me, without J.R., ain’t nobody coming in from the Nuggets bench to save the day when we need it most. J.R. is that guy who can catch you during a free-fall, sweep you back up into  it the sky  — a la Superman — and occasionally produce a momentum changing swing that wins you the game. When combined with Birdman, the Nuggets have character, passion, energy and excitement unlike any other team in the league off the bench. These guys give people a reason to, not just attend games, but be ready to exert energy in the form of cheering, jumping and slapping hands with fellow fans as well. If you took J.R. away, Birdman won’t have a partner in flight and the bench just won’t be that same reviving breath of fresh air that has saved us so many times.

But more than anything, J.R. Smith is a good deal. He’s relatively cheap and for what he gives you, it’s a great trade-off. Having J.R. on your team is like always going into battle with some crazy-new untested weapon: more often than not you’re going to be blow away with the advantage you have and how much fun it is, but there’s always a small chance something could go wrong. Though J.R. is a bit of a gamble, he’s well worth the money because his ceiling is so high and there are virtually no risks involved given that we’ve already seen “Bad J.R.” (as Karl likes to refer to him as) and weathered that storm, so-to-speak. By re-signing him we’re not going to get anything less than what we already have — a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, fan-favorite and great teammate — plus, we secure the possibility of owning him in the event that he does mature (we’ve already seen glimpses this season) and does evolve into the player we all know he can be deep down inside. Yes, J.R. hasn’t quite reached the potential he maybe should have at this point, but he’s made tons of progress along way, which makes bailing out now all the more ridiculous. Maybe he won’t ever be that 20 ppg guy we know he can be, but I’d rather have him on our team if it were to happen, than see it occur with another club.

In my eyes, J.R. loves Denver and Denver loves him back equally as much. If we’re satisfied with keeping Karl, I see no reason why we should build the team around his malfunctions and ship players everyone else loves but him, out of town. If we can’t even compete come playoff time, then what is a supposed “head case” like J.R. really doing that’s a detriment to our success anyways? J.R. would be admittedly risky on a team like the Lakers, Heat or Celtics; but not the Nuggets. Until we can somehow prove that once playoff time starts all mistakes are taboo — which George Karl cannot through his own coaching methods — then J.R. remains nothing but a positive for this team and franchise going forward.

You do not hang onto losing lottery tickets
By:  Jeremy

What to do with J.R. Smith?  It is one of the most important questions facing the Denver Nuggets this offseason.  I have been very open about my affection for J.R. over the years.  Starting with his first appearance in summer league for the Hornets his rookie season I have always been blown away by his offensive talents.  There nothing he cannot do on that end of the court.  Nothing.  He can finish in traffic, play the pick and roll (he and Nene are absolutely deadly together), is a gifted passer capable of setting up teammates, has a solid midrange game, can shoot off the dribble as well as anyone and as we all know has unlimited range.

Sadly, J.R. has never put all his talents together to become the dominant player he is capable of being.  The question is how long are we supposed to wait?

Of course Smith is mere pup as he will turn 26 shortly before training camp (hopefully) commences this fall.  He still has time to reach his potential and it is difficult to fathom dealing with five seasons of growing pains only to see J.R. move on and fulfill his vast potential somewhere else.

The problem with that argument is it is based on the assumption is J.R. is still growing as a player.  I fear that is no longer the case.

Looking at last season J.R. has made sizeable leaps as a defender from where he was early in his career.  He is much more focused and has shown the ability, or at least the willingness, to take on superstar caliber players such as Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.  He still falls asleep from time to time and gambles a little too much in going for steals, however, his defense has reached an acceptable level.

The problem in my mind is J.R. is not good enough at what he is supposed to be good at.  Offensively, he peaked three seasons ago and I have no idea why.

By almost any metric you want to use Smith’s career year was 2007-08.  He set career highs in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, three point percentage, points per minute and PER.  If J.R. was on an upward track to being all he can be, why have his numbers not been improving?  Smith actually made very good advances in what was probably his greatest weakness last season and that was his shot selection.  The number of off balance off the dribble three pointers dropped precipitously.  It was rare to see J.R. forcing bad shots. With such an improvement in that area you would expect to see a boost in his efficiency, but strangely that was not the case.  While his three point percentage rebounded back to the level you would expect his overall percentages were subpar.

Is this all we have to look forward to?  A streaky sixth man who remains inconsistent from game to game after seven NBA campaigns?  Smith did post his second best assist rate, had a stellar rebound rate for a shooting guard and posted a career best turnover rate.  Those ancillary stats are nice, but they are small victories in a battle to improve year after year that J.R. is losing.

For all the explosive scoring outbursts, jaw dropping dunks and stunning plays you still do not know if you can count on J.R. on any given night.  Did I mention 2010-11 was his seventh year in the league?

J.R. has had his fill of problems off the court, but has been a decent citizen as of late, save for an alleged altercation at the Pepsi Center prior to the start of training camp last season.  As far as I am concerned, his off the court issues are irrelevant in this discussion.

The real nail in the coffin for my belief in Smith is his lack of getting the job done when it counts the most, the postseason.  Smith’s percentages fall off a cliff when the games involve the words “best of”.  Even worse is it is not only his scoring that falls off, but his rebounding and passing tail off as well.  For a player who is always pointed to as a major X factor in every postseason game Denver plays you can typically put a big cartoonish X over him when he is on the floor because he has yet to help push Denver over the top.  To be fair he did play well against the Hornets and Mavericks in the Nuggets 2008 run to the conference finals, but failed to produce against the Lakers or in any series since.

The truly bad news for J.R. and his supporters is the fact that the man who determines how much time J.R. spends on the court clearly does not believe in him nor is he going anywhere anytime soon.  George Karl has certainly failed to reach J.R. and his tactics are very debatable.  Depending on who you listen to he rarely talks with J.R. and Smith has been confused on what Karl truly wants from him.  Regardless, Karl is inked for another three years at the helm of the Nuggets.  That fact certainly does not bode well for J.R.

Now that the Nuggets have plenty of depth in the backcourt it is easier and easier for Karl to keep Smith on a short leash.  If you think that is going to change you have not been paying attention.  For whatever reason for all the good Karl has brought to Denver his inability to bring out the best in J.R. is chief among his failures.

Finally we have to look at money.  How much will it cost to retain J.R.?  While the NBA is likely facing labor strife that will result in a more financially restrictive CBA there are plenty of teams that will have cap space this offseason.  Denver was able to resign J.R. to a reasonable three year deal as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2008.  This summer he will be an unrestricted free agent and the Nuggets cannot use the threat of matching an offer sheet to keep suitors away this time.  I would expect to see someone offer J.R. a contract at a salary similar to what he is making now.

That would certainly not be an outrageous price tag for a solid NBA player, but Denver is in the position to put themselves in a very good position financially over the next two seasons.  Paying $5 or $6 million to a player who is destined to be coming off the bench and lacking the trust of his coach is not fiscally responsible.

As much as I hate to admit it, it is in Denver’s best interests to part ways with J.R.  Denver has been holding onto J.R. like a lottery ticket hoping to cash in on that big payday.  He came as cheap as you could imagine costing Denver only the corpse of Howard Eisley and two second round picks (who turned out to be JamesOn Curry and Aaron Grey).  The truth about lottery tickets is very few of them pay out.  For all the promise and hope that J.R. has tantalized us with it looks like the numbers are in and Smith did not payout.

Let us know if you think J.R. should stay or go in the comments!

  • mitch

    What JR needs is more responsibility to improve his play. Look how well he played at PG when he had to. However as long as Karl is here that will never happen, not that the fault is entirely Karl’s. Its JR’s responsibility to figure out what the coach expects and even if Karl won’t talk to him directly there are plenty of assistants who will. I’m not a fan of Karl’s but since he’s not going anywhere its time for JR to move on and I can’t imagine that he’d want to resign here anyway.

  • DHinNYC

    Fans love him. He is as exciting to watch as Iverson was. He is a great teammate (when he’s not sulking) and his defense is underrated. I say keep him.

  • John

    JR Smith is a high matinence player with potentially hugh benfits for whatever team picks him up. That team will need ultimate patience to teach him what is expected. Help him learn from his mistakes and push him to reach is potential. He will take a lot of attention from the coaching staff, and in some cases micromanagement. As long as both JR and the coaches except that, it can work. Unfortunately I don’t think the Nuggets are the right place for that kind of player. Hopefully JR finds the right team that is willing to put in the work to allow him to achieve his potential.

  • Brian

    Keep JR! Loose Coach Karl. Look, I’m tired of making excuses for George. We have givin’ him All Stars and a deep bench. We let him discipline players because we error to his knowledge of the game and let him coach while we watch. At some point he has to shoulder the blame. George Karl once said Carmelo Anthony is the greates offensive player he has ever coached but cant get it done on the defensive end. Well Coach you are the greatest regular season coach I have ever seen but you just cant get it done in the post season. (Remember Seattle) Once again. Keep JR and loose the Karl.

    • Ryan

      to be fair, he was FAR better in the playoffs with seattle (2 1st rnd losses, 3 2nd, 1 conference final and 1 nba final, but he also had two studs who truly wanted to own everyone they played in GP and the Reign man. he doesn’t see JR as the potential star else he would have made it work already and that’s apparent, look at the progress of ty this season, look at how he made vin baker 2nd team all nba then he leaves and the guy falls apart. if JR is resigned the management has to make it clear to karl in what role they think Mr. Smith should fill, if not the same will happen. Unfortunately to do this JR has to be a starter, which would mean AAA to the bench or signing elsewhere. that choice is between intangibles and potential and doesn’t seem to be one that will happen with how the coaches love afflalo (nothing against him, just we know he never will be more than a good role player). personally i think we need to see what we can get for felton this summer, he wants to be a starter and then we dont give george the option of letting him control the ball at the end of games, win-win.

  • Andrew

    Agree with Jeremy for many of the same reasons, though I think the right coach could put him over the top and I pray that they trade him to the East for great value – draft pick/quality rebounding big. I will hit the roof if he is traded to a West contender, because you know he will end up burying the Nuggets a few times a year…plus in the playoffs. I can only imagine how his game would develop under a Popovich or other good playoff coach. Yikes!

    • Kalen

      If it came down to it and we had to part with J.R., I would love for this scenario to play out. Unfortunately, it’s not really a possibility because J.R. is a free agent. The only way we could get value out of J.R. is via sign-and-trade, but that just doesn’t seem very likely given all the circumstances surrounding the new CBA and J.R.’s unrestricted status.

  • Brian

    Great comment Andrew. I like that last part, “Good Playoff Coach”. Must be nice!

  • Andy

    Very nice point and counterpoint but I agree more with Jeremy. Given the commitment we have made to Karl, it is probably best that management surround him with players that fit his philosophy. I’m an admitted novice on the college prospects but it seems like this would be the year for the Nuggets to draft a SG prospect and potential JR replacement. Many teams may pass on Fridette for his defensive liabilities but his ability to spread the court for Lawson and Nene would be undeniable.

    • Kalen

      This is very true Andy. Where the Nuggets are selecting at No. 22, there will be a lot of potential J.R. replacements. Though I still think it’s in our best interest to go big with this pick, you can’t deny the opportunity would certainly be there to take a backup SG or combo-guard like Reggie Jackson, Jimmer Fredette, Josh Selby, Travis Leslie (a player very similar to J.R.) or Nolan Smith.

      I think our first round pick will tell us a lot. If we take a SG or even a PG who can shoot, this could be the first indication that J.R.’s days in Denver are over.

  • zebort

    I agree the Nuggets should weigh their options with J.R.. If they can’t get anything better for him or a good draft pick, then they should resign him. If they do resign him, Karl should let him start and pick on the new guy. He let Carmelo be a prima dona, he can give J.R. that chance too! Sometimes when you give a underachiever a lot of responsibility, they step up to the plate.

  • http://www.nobloodnofoul.com No Blood No Foul

    Three things to know about J.R. Smith:

    1. He can’t grow anymore in Denver. He has a contested relationship with the man in charge, and that’s not ever going to change. He’s all he’s gonna be here until science perfects the brain transplant.

    2. Highlights and outrageous offensive don’t make up for poor shot selection, poor defense, and a bad attitude. Someone here compared JR to Allen Iverson, and I think that’s an interesting comparison…especially because Iverson never won a title. He was too selfish, too unwilling to be coached, and didn’t commit to defense.

    3. JR’s skills, as electric as they are, can be replaced. His offense is definitely above average, but his defense is below average, and he doesn’t really mesh well with his coach. If Denver brought in a less talented offensive player with better defense – who was also a better fit for the coach – I’d think the result would be similar.

    So basically it all comes down to this: JR is good, but he’s not a good fit. He should move on, and Denver should focus on developing Afflalo to be the main man at the 2.

  • AVERY

    I THINK HE SHOULD GO AND START AT TOO GUARD AT OCK THEY NEED ONE THEY HAVE JAMES HUARDEN BUT HE NOT REALLY A JR SMITH WE NEED HIM COME TOO OCK

  • Isaac G

    To the ignoramus “OCK” fan, James Harden is the spitting image of JR Smith and Smith would be in the exact same situation he was in here at the beginning of the year. Except instead of veterans to caudle him along the way he would have immature kids telling him what to do. I agree though, George Karl needs to get over it and start giving JR responsibility, he is a great teammate and can be an amazing player when he wants to be. So let’s help him blossom into the next Jamal Crawford.

  • Mark Wayne

    J.R. Smith,

    JR has been living in the shadows of Carmelo Anthony ever since he joined the Nuggets. Subconsciously it seems that JR felt like a little fish in a big pond with Carmelo leading the team; and it is apparent JR convinced himself that he would never measure up to Carmelo while melo ruled the roost. Like every wildly successful inventor (Einstein), business tycoon (Steve Jobs), and infamous athlete (Michael Jordan) they all had to suffer through years of mediocrity; moreover, almost a decade of being disgusted because they were not perfect. Many haters of JR are quick to point out that when JR fails he sulks and the haters claim this is a sign a weakness. Au contraire mon fraire; JR sulking shows how passionate he is about his game: moreover, as he sulks Karl wisdom pulls back the curtain and delineates JR’s path to superstardom. JR will have to be more determined and confident than Melo, more passionate than Billups, command respect like Afflalo, be tougher than Martin, all the while continuing to empower his teammates. The cost of perfection is a heavy burden to bear for a Nuggetnation divided and the Village must support its KING. I am proud JR wears his emotions on his sleeves’; because once he figures out how to consistently use his emotions as a weapon, like a Kobe, JR will be one step closer to being our David, slayer of Goliath.

    I resent anyone who thinks Karl dislikes JR. Karl has been around basketball his entire life. Karl knows as well as anyone the talent JR has is limitless. Often the drama the media mistakenly suggests as a fight between the two; instead is the subconscious awakening of self-discovery the mentor has gifted to his prodigy. Many highlight the 08-09 season as JR’s pinnacle; because the success of the Nuggets franchise during 08-09 peaked. The reason for the success of JR as well as the team in 08-09 is a direct result of the previous 3 years of a consistent roster and the dedication the team had in practice. It took Einstein 10,000 failed attempts before he celebrated success for the first time.

    Over the last 7 years JR has consistently had to adapt to a changing team and moreover a changing NBA climate. Through all the changes JR has been expected to remain consistent, resilient, and continue to improve. In the spirit of improvement like Einstein, JR was forced to execute theories in which he was unsure of the result. As a result in the 09-10 season JR took 100 more field goals while being played 200 less minutes. He quickly analyzed his mistakes and during this past season his stats were within 2% of his best stats during a season of extreme flux.

    JR has proven over the past 7 years any obstacle put in front of him can be overcome and that he will use the experience to grow as a player and human being. A wise man once said it takes a village to raise a superstar. George Karl realized early on JR would not respond to praises, hugs, and kisses. JR has the talent to be the best and both Karl and JR expect nothing less than perfection. The past seven years the mentor has been molding the prodigy for his emergence as a superstar. JR has learned from the most respected offensive players in the league (Iverson, Billups, Carmelo) as well as, the most revered defensive players in the NBA (Martin and Camby). Steve Jobs didn’t sell Apple computers in ’95 when it was worth squat and everyone doubted him. He stuck to his guns and created one of the largest companies in the world well after everyone had dismissed Apple. This is my war cry for Nuggetnation to collectively salute to our hero, a God among mere mortals, JR Smith.

    Sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
    (The Matrix)

    I BELIEVE IN J.R.
    FEAR THE SWISH!