GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- A day after J.R. Smith tweeted, "Damn didn't know this [many] people didn't want me in #NY might just get what you asking for! #sorrykidz," following his 3-for-15 shooting performance in Game 5 Wednesday night, the New York Knicks' sixth man changed his chance with the team.
Thursday morning at the Knicks' training facility, where the players were having their exit interviews with coach Mike Woodson, Smith, an unrestricted free agent, said the tweet was just meant to mess around with a few critical fans. However, he said he wasn't bothered by the negativity and would actually love to return to the Knicks.
"Without a doubt," he said. "I wouldn't want to play anywhere else. This is the greatest place to play and it's the greatest city in the world. Without a doubt, hands down. [Playing here] is my ultimate goal."
However, sources have said Smith will opt out because his $2.6 million player option for next season that he can exercise is below his market value. Smith himself said that price tag for his services may be too low.
"The way that the economy is working nowadays, I don't even know," he said. "In my heart, I believe I am worth more."
Smith said he hasn't begun thinking about the free-agent process, and he'll meet soon with his agent, Leon Rose, along with Woodson and GM Glen Grunwald. On the court, he wants to continue to develop his defense and becoming more of a floor general, which he had been doing with the Knicks due to their decimated point-guard situation.
"My defense is my No. 1 emphasis right now in my game," he said. "Secondly, working on being that combo guard with point guard skills and just keep getting better with ball-handling, and watch a lot of film."
If Woodson returns, Smith would benefit under that leadership. During their time together this season, Woodson and Smith had like a positive father-son relationship. Woodson always seemed to be on top of Smith more than the other guys -- and that's because Smith is such a talented player, but he likes to play his own isolation game sometimes, and not within the team offense.
When Smith made a mistake, usually forcing or jacking up an outside jumpshot too quickly in a halfcourt set, or slacking on a defensive play, Woodson gave him a long stare down. Then, he'd continue to preach better habits by giving Smith an earful during timeouts. But those tactics were done to encourage him more than anything. Never at any point did Smith's playing time really suffer.
That care and attention Woodson gave Smith was key, because the combo guard played a big part in the Knicks' 18-6 record to close out the season and make the playoffs. Woodson kept saying that he believed in Smith and wanted him to do well in New York, and in the end that demanding yet nurturing way Woodson handled Smith paid off. "Good J.R." came to play more than "Bad J.R."
Looking ahead, Woodson would love to see his bench sparks, Smith and Steve Novak, both re-sign this summer.
"Steve Novak and J.R. were a big part of what we done so far this season and there's room for growth for them as well," he said. "I would love to see those two men come back and play a big role in our Knicks' success."
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