GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Next to finding an instant cure for the respiratory infections that are tearing through the New York Knicks' roster to the point they didn't have enough healthy players to practice in advance of Thursday's first meeting against the Miami Heat, the NBA did the Knicks the biggest favor imaginable Wednesday by stinging J.R. Smith in the one place he seems to care a bit about -- his bank account.
All season long, Smith has played like a recidivist knucklehead who changed for the worse once he got paid.
The Knicks knew they were taking a risk when they gave Smith a three-year, $18 million contract after he won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award last season. He wasn't all that far removed from an exile spent playing in China. The team's reasoning behind keeping him was perhaps that humbling overseas experience, combined with his close relationship with head coach Mike Woodson and Smith's contributions to the Knicks' 54-win team a year ago, all suggested that perhaps Smith -- who has always been talented -- finally made some personal migration toward being a better, more reliable pro.
Go ahead, laugh till it hurts.
We can wait.
Even Woodson finally turned on Smith Wednesday after learning -- only after he'd spoken to reporters at the Knicks practice facility -- that J.R. had been fined $50,000 by the league that afternoon. Within hours, ESPN.com's Ian Begley and Marc Stein reported the Knicks have begun to explore the trade market for Smith, who is on the record as saying he'd like to retire with the team. If nothing else, Knicks management must figure it's one of the few ways to motivate the guard into behaving and performing better.
The first time Smith tried the shoelace-untying stunt against Shawn Marion in Sunday's game against the Dallas Mavericks, Woodson was disinclined to publicly make a big deal about it. But he did promise to have a brief talk with Smith before Tuesday's game against Detroit -- only to see Smith defy him, and try to pull the same trick again on the Pistons' Greg Monroe as they were lined up beside each other, waiting for a free throw attempt.
By Wednesday, with the Heat coming to town and the 12-22 Knicks limited to only six players who felt well enough to do little more than hoist up a few shots, Woodson had had enough of Smith's insubordination.
"This is unacceptable. It's just got to stop. I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it's got to stop," Woodson said on "The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show" on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "I don't condone things that I know you shouldn't do. [So] no, I'm not happy about this. Because again, he was warned, he comes back and he makes the same mistake, and it's not right. I just got the [fine] information. I'm going to address it tomorrow when he comes in here for work, because it's unacceptable. It really is.
"It's unprofessional ... You just can't do that. You just cannot do it," Woodson added.
If the shoelace stunts were the only thing Smith has done, it might be easier to take. But the guard's antics -- combined with his decline in effectiveness -- long ago became an irritation.
Four days after signing his new contract this summer, Smith had knee surgery without telling the Knicks. Later, Woodson admitted that the Knicks decision to keep J.R.'s younger brother, Chris, on the roster coming out of training camp was influenced by the fact that he is J.R.'s brother. And that happened just as J.R. was suspended the first five games of the regular season for violating the league's anti-drug program in September.
Just last week, Smith admitted to not knowing the score when he hoisted up a 3-pointer in the final half-minute against Houston when the Knicks could've run out the clock. And it nearly cost them the game.
He's now averaging a career-worst 34.8 shooting percentage from the field and just 11.3 points per game, his lowest average since 2005-06, his second season in the league.
He's also been one of the NBA's most incorrigible loose cannons on Twitter -- another place where the Knicks can't really stop him, they can only hope to contain him. Smith was fined $25,000 in 2012 for posting a risque photo of a woman. As he clanked through the playoffs last season there were rumors he was out partying with the pop singer Rihanna. In November, he was docked another $25,000 for tweeting "hostile and inappropriate language" toward Brandon Jennings after the Detroit Pistons guard criticized his brother's worthiness to be in the NBA.
"I'm always in trouble with Twitter," J.R. said then. "I don't know what it is. Trying to shake it."
If Smith were smart, he'd have used last season as a springboard and made this year about cementing an improved reputation.
"He was a big major part of what we did," Woodson said Wednesday. "We need him to be that."
Instead, Smith has reverted to the sort of Good J.R./Bad J.R. switchbacks that have always marked his volatile career. And there should be no wonderment about why Smith so far doesn't fear alienating even Woodson. The other night, Woodson actually blamed fill-in point guard Beno Udrih for passing Smith the ball in that late-game situation against Houston rather than Smith for taking a premature shot that left Knicks center Tyson Chandler speechless. When asked about the Knicks' team basketball I.Q. after the game, a flummoxed Chandler just kept saying, "Yeah, uh, yeah. I mean, yeah ... (heavy sigh)."
Woodson has been so staunchly in Smith's corner, it sometimes feels as if Woodson is enabling Smith's bad behavior.
But here's what else it boils down to: When Woodson was asked Wednesday what recourse he had to punish Smith beyond the fine the NBA slapped him with, Woodson's answer was telling.
"I don't know," he said.
The Knicks don't have enough talent to plant Smith on the end of the bench as punishment, and let him rot.
Smith knows that. Woodson knows it. And so here we are.
"[Pressure on Smith to change] can come from Carmelo, it can come from his teammates, it can come from his coaching staff, it can come from me being there, it can come from the GM, the owner, [but] at the end of the day, he's got to grow up," Woodson said. "How come it can't come from J.R. Smith? That's kind of how I look at it."
Good luck with that.
Smith's paychecks are guaranteed not to stop until 2016 if he exercises his player option.
An angry Woodson finally chewed him out Wednesday. But Smith still gets paid.