Note: despite the fact that I adhere to The Great Bomani Jones’ creed of “Life is not about deserve,” it was the only word I felt comfortable using. Using “need” or any other word instead was just…nah.
For some people, two of the biggest head cases in the game of basketball bear the same last name. They are both immensely talented, multi-dimensional players who, at times, have clashed with their coaches during their time in the NBA. Both of these guys, while showing glimpses of how much of an impact they can have on a team, are in two distinct worlds, bound by the same ball and game, and are currently seeking liberation in their own distinct way. Those two players happen to be Josh and J.R. Smith.
The story of Josh Smith has been told on ETSF in previous times. Simply put, I believe the man is not only underrated and underappreciated, but he is also one who has been an All Star-caliber player and should make the All Star team this season. He is, much to the disagreement of my brother Cuffs, the best power forward in the Eastern Conference, when you consider the science project that is the Atlanta Hawks basketball team. Hell, I’ll go as far to say that he should be on the 2012 national team that heads to London for the Olympics.
The man can score inside and out, defend up to three positions (four, if absolutely necessary) and can rebound. Sure, he has his moments when you wish he wouldn’t shoot “Josh Smith Jumpers,” and plenty of people like to make the claim that he can’t shoot. However, if someone who is listed as a power forward can give his team 18-20 points a night, does it really matter how he gets them? Besides, if the claim is that he can’t shoot, which I don’t agree with (it’s more a case of him having questionable shot selection than anything), then how many other power forwards can we not only say can’t shoot, but rely too much on their jumper? Oh, that’s right; Ed eloquently illustrated that dynamic in a story over a year ago, one that people readily agreed with him on, myself included.
There’s absolutely no reason that Josh Smith should not be an All Star this season, even if people want to make the assertion that it will be by default, due to the injury of Al Horford. If that’s what it takes for the man to get the recognition he’s deserved for quite some time, so be it.
As for J.R. Smith, well, his liberation will come in the form of a return to the NBA sometime next month. When he decided to head to China during the NBA lockout, one of my boys, Kris Rothstein, expressed a concern and a warning to all who love and care for the young man, when he quipped, “J.R. Smith is going to turn Hong Kong into Baltimore.” See, he and I are as big a J.R. Smith fans that you will find, and we both know that the last thing Smith needed was to go across the world, unsupervised (in the sense of a stable basketball program) to play basketball.
The man is overseas giving buckets to anyone who dares to guard him, but it’s hard to tell if he’s truly enjoying his time there. The man hasn’t had a haircut since he’s been there (I’m merely speculating, due to the homely look he’s currently sporting), his sister and his old lady have had to defend themselves at his games, and it just seems like a situation that is in dire need of a immediate conclusion.
J.R.’s liberation will have to come in multiple parts, as leaving China and returning to the NBA won’t be enough to make it happen. See, when it’s all said and done, the last thing Smith needs is to go to a team with no identity, such as the one he was on before he left, and before people say “What are you talking about? The Nuggets have been good” and all that other jazz, I ask a simple question: “What is the identity of the Denver Nuggets basketball team?” Every team that is considered a very good team has one, and when someone can explain what theirs is, at that time, there will be a concession of belief.
So what will it take exactly for J.R. Smith to achieve true basketball liberation? Well, it will take a program, a system that is proven and something that he will believe in, and let’s not act like this is a dynamic that is singular only to him. In high school and college, how often do you see players act up when they have a coach that doesn’t screw around? Even in the pros, it can be done, as is the case in New England, a place that has been known to do its fair share of rehabilitation with athletes who folks were long ready to give up on, and not only did New England rein them in, they won championships with them. However, when there is a coach who doesn’t have the respect of the team, then there are players who will invariably act a fool.
In the case of Smith, it would take a situation like San Antonio, or Boston, or (maybe) Chicago, and the only reason it’s hard for me to fully include the Bulls is because this current regime doesn’t have sustained success just yet. If Smith returns to the NBA only to be back in another situation like he was in during his previous years in the NBA, then it will just be the same old song, only on a different day.
Josh and J.R. Smith are two of the most talented young players in the NBA, which is an oxymoron in itself, since they are technically veterans in the game, and while one should achieve liberation in the form of a well-deserved All Star recognition soon (and even more, if an Olympic bid comes his way), and the other in a return to the league, it remains a process that will continue to be played out for all to see. Hopefully, all will end well, and these two will reach their potential, thus allowing the fans to see even more exciting and compelling basketball.