J.R. Smith signing looks smart for Knicks
by Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
Nothing like a running left, shoot right, double-pump game-winner from the corner to make a team forget all that ails it.
J.R. Smith did just that for the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, defeating and demoralizing the Phoenix Suns and their stunned, silent fans at US Airways Arena. The list of things temporarily forgotten while the Knicks rushed Smith and hugged him like he’d been gone for months: Three losses in five games coming in, the absence of Carmelo Anthony to close out games such as these (hyperextended knee, day to day), and the fact that point guard Raymond Felton (fractured finger) may actually be gone for months (or at least four to six weeks) with his injury.
The erratic Smith as a steady Knicks savior? No one could have seen that coming – except Mark Warkentien.
The Knicks director of player personnel was surely smiling somewhere when Smith’s shot went down, his dogged recruiting that led to Smith re-signing last July paying off yet again in a most fantastic form. Before Warkentien had gone on to be named Executive of the Year during his days as Denver Nuggets general manager, and before he was hired by the Knicks in Feb. 2011 in large part so he could help bring his former Nuggets star, Carmelo Anthony, to the Garden via sign-and-trade, Warkentien was once the lead recruiter for Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels at UNLV. In other words, he had done this courting dance many times before.
So while most of the NBA world expected Smith to sign with the Clippers as a free agent last July when he returned from playing in China, Warkentien – who knew the complicated, occasionally-controversial, always-talented Smith as well as anyone in the league because of their shared Nuggets past and knew what it meant to him to feel supported – went to work making sure that Smith wouldn’t wind up with Chris Paul and his Clippers. Smith told the story to USA TODAY Sports this week, said he stepped off his plane from China at LAX in July and was surprised to see Warkentien waiting for … [For more on J.R. Smith signing looks smart for Knicks: The NBA A-Z, click here.]