We knew this was going to happen with Carmelo – we knew that he was far too talented not to make Nuggets fans continually wonder “what might have been” if he had stayed. He was bound to set foot on a larger stage and shine like the star that he is. But it wasn’t supposed to happen with JR Smith. That guy is a knucklehead. We shouldn’t pine for him in the least. JR made George Karl’s life miserable. He disrupted team chemistry, embarrassed to the organization and was streaky enough for the Nuggets to justify jettisoning him. No problem.
The downside of a guy like JR Smith trumps any positives – especially in a “team system”.
Strangely, the New York Knicks don’t seem to mind him. They play on the World’s biggest stage – one on which Carmelo is shining, and so is JR Smith. The best team in basketball is winning with George Karl’s trash. For New York, it’s about JR’s upside. He has been New York’s undisputed closer over the past several games, draining sick last-second baskets. The Knicks are 14-4 and Smith is one of their best players. It turns out that he’s a fit.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets have whiffed in the closing seconds of games. Karl is famously clueless when it comes to setting up open shots and he has no idea who should take one for him. He has leaned on Ty Lawson who, despite his $12.4M salary, seems to lack the killer instinct of a closer. He has shrunk in the spotlight time after time, too timid to emerge as a star.
JR Smith’s bravado, which the Nuggets couldn’t live with, is exactly what Ty Lawson lacks. Smith is an obnoxious punk who puffs out his chest, struts and acts like an ass. But who wouldn’t prefer that to indecision, uncertainty and passiveness? Maybe what Ty Lawson needs a little more of that “swaggar” that George Karl seems to be repulsed by. The entire Nuggets team – the entire system needs some, in fact. In repeatedly building their team in George Karl’s image, the Nuggets eschew swagger. In favor of what – that is the question.
We will get to see the Knicks up close and personal on Sunday evening when the Nuggets visit New York. Carmelo and JR show us what we’re missing. The game promises to be one-sided. The talent gap between the Knicks and the Nuggets will be display and Nuggets fans should reflect on where some of that talent came from.