It appears that Phil Jackson’s public persona no longer includes a filter. The New York Knicks executive has been increasingly candid when speaking to the media in recent years — which he was again in comments Jackson made for an ESPN piece on the team’s 2014-15 season.
And the guy that took most of the hits from Jackson was none other than current free agent J.R. Smith, who was traded from the Knicks to the Cleveland Cavaliers this past season.
“J.R. had been exhibiting some delinquent behavior and had gotten into the habit of coming late to team meetings or missing them altogether,” Jackson said. “Also, (Iman) Shumpert and Tim (Hardaway Jr.) were regressing, so I decided to meet with them separately and try to find out what, if anything, was bothering them.”
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“Delinquent behavior.” If that sounds like something our middle school principal told our parents in dreaded meetings during our adolescence, that’s because it is. It’s definitely not a term used to describe professional basketball players too often.
“We talked about his (Smith’s) statement to the press that our shooting guard depth was going to be the team’s asset, but so far it hadn’t worked out that way,” Jackson said. “He was supposed to carry the scoring load for the second unit, and he wasn’t doing the job. I also said that because of his unacceptable behavior, he had two strikes against him with this team. He didn’t really respond.”
There’s little doubt that the 2014-15 version of the Knicks involved some major drama. And the way Jackson speaks about the situation, Smith seemed to play a central role in that. Seen as somewhat of a malcontent throughout his NBA career, Smith has a reputation as a player that’s hard to deal with. Jackson’s comments won’t make that reputation go away.
The Knicks president got even more specific.
“He’s a very sensitive guy, with his big doe eyes. He looked like he was going to tear up," Jackson said. "But he finally responded that he was going through some issues with his gal.”
Um. A sensitive guy that saw his on-court performance take a hit because he had some relationship issues? It seems a bit tacky for Jackson to throw Smith under the bus publicly.
Smith, who played pretty well after being traded to the Cavaliers, is still a free agent. The last thing he needed — especially in a market that hasn’t been friendly — is for a top-end executive to throw some major shade at him publicly.