Favoritism shown or patronage granted to relatives, as in business.
If you’re reading this, chances are, like me, you’re the type of Knickerbocker fan that deconstructs, debates and obsesses over each and every personnel move that the franchise makes. Call me overzealous, call me fanatic, just don’t ever say that my proclivities are unjustified. You see, I very, very badly want to see the New York Knicks win a championship.
Now, attempting to draw a straight line from the fifteenth man on the roster to an NBA Championship is a daunting proposition, to say the least. But farfetched as it may be to argue that the suspicious retention of a training camp invitee will have any bearing on the likelihood that the Knicks are playing basketball in June, sometimes roster moves are not at all what they seem.
Let me back up for a moment. In the interest of full disclosure, I will readily admit that J.R. Smith is my favorite current Knick. Sure, Iman Shumpert and Metta World Peace are sure to tickle my fancy from time to time during the upcoming season, but Smith has an extremely long leash with me. (If you’re unsure how anyone can root for the mercurial, but talented guard, @netw3rk summed things up quite nicely for Grantland last week.) And I should probably also mention that I work for a talent agency that is a direct competitor of the oft-lambasted Creative Artists Agency, and as such, I have had the opportunity to spend time with J.R. and his younger, less talented brother, and both of whom are extremely affable, pleasant human beings. (Mysteriously, on more than one of those aforementioned occasions, J.R. has strongly smelled of citrus fruits for reasons that I still don’t quite understand.)
To wit, I certainly hold no ill will towards Chris, and frankly, this post has very little to do with him personally. It’s just that the act of awarding the far less accomplished Smith a roster spot so perfectly encapsulates what I find most frustrating being a diehard New York fan.
Simply put, the Knicks are the most bizarrely run organization in the NBA, if not all of professional sports. (Heck, at least the Clippers hired Doc Rivers.) By my unofficial count, over the last 15 years, New York has unequivocally led the league in “what the fuck?” moments. And not WTF as in, “I didn’t see that coming” or “I can’t believe our team’s management is so shrewd!,” either. I’m talking, “WTF, Man?! This move makes very little, if any, basketball sense. Not now. Not ever.”
Having industry experience, I can state with absolute certainly that CAA is as corporate and cutthroat as it gets — it is no coincidence that they specialize in the kind of big-business-gets-things-done-via-backroom-deals that we’ve come to expect coming from the brain trust at 1 Penn Plaza. Of course, no one would begrudge the Knicks — first and foremost, a billion dollar enterprise — from taking business considerations into every decision that gets made, personnel or otherwise. And it is undeniable that basketball — from the AAU circuit to the professional level — remains a place where granting favors and scratching backs is the way of the world. But at the Garden, the repeated ignorance of the team’s marginal leverage (see, e.g., the Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani trades), seemingly based on nothing more than the incomprehensible whims of ownership, remains damaging and disheartening. And who is at the center of it all, at least in recent memory? CAA is.
On the basketball side, I will not belabor the point that Chris Smith is not an NBA caliber player, let alone someone who should rightfully occupy a roster spot on a team that purports to have championship aspirations. Even if he was talented enough, Smith just does not fill a positional need with these Knicks, especially given their very real frontcourt injury concerns. No one thinks that Ike Diogu, Jeremy Tyler or even Cole Aldrich at world beaters, but why not hedge your bets and carry some insurance? Or, at a minimum, give yourself some flexibility and carry 14 players on the off-chance that someone useful gets cut by another team? Any rational person making basketball decisions would agree, of this there is little doubt. Unfortunately, rational isn’t the word most closely associated with the Knicks’ front office.
To be clear, Smith isn’t the real issue here; he’s but a pawn in the endless chess game which James Dolan just can’t seem to quit. Here, New York felt compelled to cater to J.R. Smith’s contractual and under-the-table demands instead of letting him walk. Who else was giving J.R. — coming off knee surgery, a playoff suspension and five-game regular season for smoking pot — to the deal that he ultimately signed with the Knicks? Anyone? Bueller? Well, as far as CAA was concerned, their client was going to get his and they knew just whose strings to pull to make it happen.
And we’ve seen this game play out on many previous occasions, too. Like when the Knicks inexplicably and needlessly include draft picks in deals where they already possess all the leverage. Don’t think the rest of the league knows how the Garden operates? Think again. You can’t consistently and hopelessly mortgage your future without your peers noticing. And once there is blood in the water, it is very hard, if not impossible, to mask the odor.
So if Chris Smith gets some garbage time burn this season before he is inevitably cut at some point, I will root for him. (I may even laugh at him, too.) Just don’t expect me to believe that the Knicks spent one one-hundredth of the time analyzing Smith’s on-court merits as I did, because it’s painfully obvious that the Knicks care most about (foolishly) placating the means to justify the unlikeliest of ends.