Originally posted on Knicks Fanatics Blog  |  Last updated 8/17/12



It is undeniable Smith has brought most of this on himself. He is the one who has failed to live up to his talent. He is the one who has made mistakes on, and most tragically, off the court. He is the one who has chosen to storm off the court and remove himself from his team.


Despite all of this, I, for one, still hold out hope that Smith, 26, can prove his detractors wrong.


Smith burst onto the scene sharing Most Valuable Player honors with another young phenom named Dwight Howard in the 2004 McDonald’s all-American game, which included other young talents like Josh Smith, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, Marvin Williams and LaMarcus Aldridge. That night, J.R. Smith drained five 3-pointers and threw down a slew of nasty dunks. After the game, he claimed he was inspired by the presence of a young N.B.A. star sitting courtside named Carmelo Anthony. That night ignited his N.B.A. career.


Despite his tremendous abilities, after his second season in the league, he saw two teams give up on him in less than a week. He was traded from New Orleans to Chicago after two years of clashing with Hornets Coach Byron Scott. Chicago shipped him to Denver six days later in exchange for Howard Eisley’s nonguaranteed contract and two conditional second-round picks. It was a trade John Hollinger claimed would become known as the most one-sided trade of all time.


The Nuggets had been desperate for a shooting guard who could actually shoot since the days of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Denver was also searching for a second scorer who could take some of the weight off Anthony’s shoulders. Smith seemed to be the answer on both counts.


Seven seasons later, here we are. The book on Smith’s career has already been closed. He is the shooter without a conscience, the player who never fulfilled his boundless promise.


I have watched Smith closely ever since he took the McDonald’s game by storm, and I believe the book needs to be reopened. For all the limitations that are thought to be part of Smith’s game, the truth is there is nothing he cannot do on the basketball court.

The long-range bombs and dynamic dunks are just a small part of Smith’s repertory. Most fans are unaware of his fantastic passing skills, his ability to drive and finish with either hand, his rebounding acumen and his defensive abilities. There were times in Denver when he even played point guard and did it quite well.

I have seen Smith run an underutilized and deadly pick and roll with Nene enough to know that he can help Amar’e Stoudemire get more easy looks at the rim. I have seen Smith take over games, not with his long-range shot, but with his ability to drive and finish at the rim. I have seen Smith take the responsibility of covering Kobe Bryant and not get embarrassed in doing so. And of course I have seen Smith drain 3-pointer after 3-pointer as the crowd explodes in adoration.


I cannot guarantee Smith will do all of those things, especially not all in the same game. It is certainly possible that his time as The Man in China, where he averaged a league-leading 34.4 points per game, has only served to solidify his bad habits.


What happens from here depends largely on whether Smith can heed instruction. He earned the tag of not responding to guidance through his early conflict with Scott and through Karl’s open frustration. However, there are many fans in Denver who believe Karl was the wrong coach for Smith. With a team full of headaches over the years in players like Allen Iverson, Kenyon Martin and even Anthony, Smith was lost in the shuffle. In fact, on one occasion when pressed with why he did not do what Karl would ask of him, Smith responded that he would go long stretches without Karl even talking to him.


Now Smith will be under the tutelage of a more player-friendly coach in Mike Woodson. There is no system more tailor-made for Smith’s talents than Woodson's style. Smith very well could play the role of Joe Johnson to Jeremy Lin’s Steve Nash. Smith will be unstoppable taking advantage of his catch and shoot opportunities set up by Ray, the possibilities in transition and his ability to devastate an unprepared defense with his penetration.


By Re-signing with the Knicks, Earl Smith III is in position to recreate the narrative that has hung around his neck like a millstone since his days in New Orleans. My sincere hope is that both he and Knicks fans embrace that opportunity. I believe that is who Earl Smith III is today!


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