The Starting Five: This week’s hot topics in the NBA


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While we’re holding our breath waiting for the New York Knicks to discover a market for J.R. Smith’s contract, let’s launch this week’s edition of The Starting Five.

When the J.R. referenced is Smith of the New York Knicks, the usual answer to this question seems easy.

He should have been benched, due to relentlessly disturbing shot selection.

But instead of typically burping up a torrent of field-goal attempts, Smith is in trouble for something worse. To spin it positively, what he was doing could be interpreted as a cockeyed method of disturbing the opposing team.

Untying the shoelaces of opponents, however, could have cost the Knicks a point or two in technical foul shots if it had continued. After he was warned by the NBA for pulling the string on Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, he faked a reprisal of the stunt against Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons.

For his trouble, Smith was fined 50K. That was fine by us.

It had to happen because it only was a matter of time before J.R. — perhaps requiring a bigger thrill — started stepping on the heels of players wearing low-cut sneakers.

And if you think it’s amusing, stop for a moment and consider the velocity with which most NBA players navigate the court. Although tripping may be the most common result, the potential for serious injury makes J.R. — whose substandard play is linked to off-season knee surgery — someone who should know better.

We’re going to claim victory for the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Bulls win because they can guard other teams well enough to remain mediocre without Deng. And if they happen to stagger out of the playoffs and into the lottery, the future gets even brighter.

That future probably would have occurred without Deng, who’s gunning for a bigger free-agent pay day than the Bulls should have been willing to give him.

Getting under the luxury tax is wise for a team in no position to contend for anything, and it also puts the Bulls in better position to coax Eurostash power forward Nikola Mirotic to the Windy City.

That remains contractually tricky, and the franchise still is connected to Derrick Rose’s knees, but moving Deng makes sense.

It might not seem that way for the Cavs, who could improve just enough with Deng to wreck their lottery status.

But based on what they turned the overall No. 1 pick from last summer into, even the 2014 NBA Draft might not be mistake proof for them.

Besides, after several lottery trips, it’s time for fans in Cleveland to have basketball in May. Making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference doesn’t require much of a boost.

Let’s frame that question a little better.

OK, what team would offer the best fit for soon-to-clear-waivers center Andrew Bynum?

The first option lobbed into the ether has been the Miami Heat, who offer a caliber of stability that could withstand Bynum’s often-peculiar (or just plain) petulant behavior.

Miami has a strong executive in Pat Riley, locker-room leadership in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and could use another big dude to help take down the Indiana Pacers (we’re still waiting on the Greg Oden Experiment).

We’re also hearing about several other teams, including the Chris Paul-less L.A. Clippers.

But if Bynum wants to win, the best organizational choice for him is the San Antonio Spurs.

Like any team going out on this Bynum limb, the Spurs can dump the former NBA-champion post player and still thrive.

But unlike Miami, which bases its attack on speed and perimeter play, San Antonio could fold Bynum’s skills into its current system. And, aside from skewing toward the corner 3, the Spurs have demonstrated the ability to win playing multiple styles.

With Tiago Splitter out, there certainly is a need for another big to work alongside Tim Duncan. We haven’t heard or read of them having interest in signing Bynum, but in the Spurs’ (c-word alert) culture, he could thrive.

And if he doesn’t, San Antonio will continue to win.

In case you’re investing most of your allotted basketball time actually watching basketball, you might have missed a report that Spike Lee may unleash a sequel to his popular film "He Got Game."

That means Jesus Shuttlesworth (also known as Ray "Spurs Spoiler" Allen) would come out of cinematic retirement.

Although Spike already has a story arc for the second coming of this particular Jesus in mind, let’s offer some options:

— Jesus, after failing to hit a minor-league curveball for about 14 years, enrolls at Butler as a 38-year-old freshman two guard.

— Jesus, attempting to bring nations together, tells a group of former NBA players that the charter flight they’re boarding is bound for Hawaii. When it lands in North Korea, he explains they’ve been hired by David Stern to play for an expansion team there.

— Jesus decides against making a return to the NBA after losing a one-on-one battle to his 55-year-old father (Denzel Washington)  because he settled for too many contested jumpers.

— Jesus’ triumphant NBA comeback is doomed when he destroys his knee during a fall caused by an untied shoelace.

— Jesus is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, where he celebrates a tearful reunion with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Well, we give you the next Jordan — Jordan Clarkson.

Clarkson, a 6-foot-5 junior point guard for the Missouri Tigers, has jumped from little-known transfer from Tulsa to the cusp of lottery-level speculation.

Some testimony from an NBA personnel guy:

"What I like about him is his pace. He knows when to punch it and accelerate by a defender, and he knows when to downshift. What really impresses me, though, is his patience in the lane once he gets there.

"He really makes good reads with the ball that include scoring on his own and finding guys, then making an accurate pass an open shooter can use."

Clarkson, averaging 18 points, 4 dimes and 4 rebounds per game, gets to the free-throw line, can shoot off the dribble and has deep range.

And he’s played well against good teams, giving the Tigers 25 points in their win over West Virginia, 21 against UCLA and 25 (plus 8 assists) in a victory over Illinois.

More from the NBA guy:

"He had some turnover issues early, but he’s cleaned that up lately."

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