Friday, July 25, 2008


Holly MacKenzie is a contributing writer for SLAM online and magazine, as well as HP. Her SwaggerJack column runs weekly here at the Paroxysm. She also enjoys spending time with friends and not watching the Canadian team get slaughtered like it will tonight. She lives in Toronto. This week's topic is the enigmatic firestarter, J.R. Smith.

Overrated. Underskilled. Troubled talent. Troublemaker. When it comes to JR Smith, there have been no shortage of negative adjectives available to describe him. Coming into the League fresh out of high school, the Jersey native had unbelievable potential. A 6-5 guard who finished above the rim and had range on his J that stretched across the Hudson.

But with that superstar game came his superstar attitude. His introduction into the NBA did not come smoothly. We all know the drill. The tantrums in New Orleans. The after hour club brawls.
Finally, the accident that claimed the life of his best friend last summer, where JR himself was behind the wheel. He was young, rich and famous. And didn't have a clue.

Regardless of his past troubles, you can't take away his truth. He's got heart. While most of his teammates laid down in the first round against the Lakers this past Spring, J.R. was the brightest star on a team that included Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. You may not like it, but that's got to count for something.

There are no excuses to be made for JR and his decisions.The fact remains, this guy has a talent that cannot be denied any longer. JR cares. He cares too much to let this go by the wayside. The kid with the limitless range, rangy quickness and cocky attitude also has a fire that is burning inside of him. A flame that flickers with each negative adjective that is attached to his name; a blaze that burns brighter with each doubter that comes along.

Say what you will, but at the end of the Nuggets first round series, while Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony had fouled out and Allen Iverson was wondering how in the hell he had gotten to this point, it was JR who was the star matching Kobe shot for shot, or at least having the heart, courage and skill to dare and try.

Fast forward a few months. Now he stands, or sits in Vegas where he doesn't even have enough clout to sit courtside while heckling the rookies. This from a guy who could and should be a superstar by now. The talent is there. The confidence is there. The discipline, is not. But, this will come. People forget the paths (and years), it took for some of the best guys in the L to turn things around, get back on the right foot, learn how things really worked. Sometimes it's as though JR doesn't realize just how easy his success can be. He knows he is talented, he believes he possesses all of the pieces, but who will teach him how to plunk that puzzle together? He needs help solving that riddle. The solution does not lie in Denver.

Gregg Popovich. San Antonio. Boring basketball. Fundamentals. Tim Duncan. Champions. Championships. JR Smith. Yes, it does fit. It fits because this is what he needs. The Spurs breed consistency, JR needs stability. Who better than the Tin-Man and Co.? A crew of stealthy vets to veto some of JR's unintelligent decisions. Popp to help him rein in the talent and reign over the L. If it could happen for Stephen Jax, it can happen for JR.

Of course at the end of the day, JR's success depends on himself. You can't save those who don't want to be saved. While Stephen Jackson got himself a ring in San Anton, he left with more than a new piece of jewelry. He walked away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the game and his talent to play it. JR Smith may never be blessed with the opportunity to play for the Spurs. He may not get out of Denver anytime soon. Maybe he won't even grow up as quickly as we'd like him to. In the meantime however, he has just been named to the USA selects squad. This recognition will give JR a chance to continue to grow, learn and rearrange the pieces of the bigger picture until eventually all of the gaps are filled in.

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