Five seasons ago, the New Orleans Hornets were trying to cut ties with a talented but troubled 20-year-old shooting guard.
Nobody doubted JR Smith’s talent or potential. He was blessed with supreme athleticism and an ability to hit shots from anywhere on the floor. However, former Hornets coach Byron Scott quickly drew tired of Smith’s antics, being late to practice, ignoring the coaches and lack of effort on defense. And after only two years in New Orleans and the Hornets coaching staff were happy to show Smith the door.
On July 13, 2006, New Orleans was able to deal Smith and PJ Brown to the Chicago Bulls for Tyson Chandler. However, Scott Skiles, who was the Bulls head coach at the time, had little interest in the erratic guard and six days later the Bulls turned around and practically gave the talented guard to the Nuggets for over-the-hill backup point guard Howard Eisley and two 2007 draft picks (JamesOn Curry and Aaron Gray). Lets just say the Nuggets got the best of that trade.
Smith showed enormous potential in his first season with the Nuggets, providing the team with highlight dunks and amazing shots. Despite missing 19 games, Smith scored what was at the time career highs in points, field goal percentage, rebounds and steals. However, he also was in the middle of the brawl against the New York Knicks and was suspended for 10 games and once again found himself in the coach’s doghouse in the playoffs after some questionable shots and decisions against the San Antonio Spurs. He was benched for Game 5 of the playoffs.
The following offseason was a tough one for Smith. His wreckless driving killed his best friend after running a stop sign. Neither of the occupants were wearing their seat belts. When he returned to Denver, he got in an altercation with a woman at downtown nightclub in Denver and was suspended for the first three games of the 2007-08 season.
Despite all of the troubles Smith accepted his bench role in his second season with the Nuggets and was willing to play second-fiddle to both Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. He shot a career-best .403 from behind the arc and averaged 12.3 points off the bench. And unlike the season before, Smith stepped up his game in the playoffs and was the lone bright spot against the Los Angeles Lakers where he averaged 18.3 points in the 4-game sweep.
In 2009, Smith had arguably his best season with the Nuggets. He was one of the top sixth man in the NBA and also was an integral part of the team advancing to the Western Conference Finals. His dangerous and fearful style off the bench was extremely valuable especially late in contests when Smith caught fire and blew games open. He helped Denver finish the regular season 54-28 and win the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Statistically, Smith had his best season on paper the next season. However, the truth was Smith was as wreckless as ever and cost the Nuggets as much as he helped them. He was benched in a game against the Hornets and sulked about not playing – despite the Nuggets winning the game. He also dug himself a hole in the playoffs by tweeting that ‘You play selfish you lose selfish that’s all I’m saying about the game!’, which may have cost him some respect from his teammates.
Smith did rebound nicely last season, being more consistent, less selfish and playing smart defense. Just in time for him to hit free agency and it sounds very unlikely that he will return to Denver. There are a few teams that are interested in his services, Minnesota, New Jersey and Chicago all have interest in him.
Tags: Aaron Gray Allen Iverson Byron Scott Carmelo Anthony Chicago Bulls Denver Nuggets George Karl Howard Eisley J.R. Smith JamesOn Curry JR Smith Los Angeles Lakers Minnesota Timberwolves New Jersey Nets New Orleans Hornets New York Knicks PJ Brown San Antonio Spurs Tyson Chandler