Is This J.R. Smith's Last Chance to Be Meaningful NBA Player?

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterOctober 25, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 14:  J.R. Smith #8 and Amare Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks protest a foul called during the game against the Indiana Pacers during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 14, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

There isn't anything worse than disappointment, especially when it comes to trust. It hurts the people with expectations, as well as the image of the subject who failed to meet them. 

In this case, the subject is enigmatic guard J.R. Smith.

He almost convinced us he'd taken that next step last year. Smith channeled all of that bottled-up talent and converted it into a Sixth Man of the Year trophy, along with 54 regular-season wins. 

It appeared Smith had turned the corner, both on and off the floor, and evolved into a guy who could be featured on a contender. For a good five months, Smith was completely locked in. 

Until he wasn't. 

Smith's elbow to Jason Terry's dome might as well been a punch to fans' guts who thought his bonehead tendencies had finally washed away. 

It's been a downward spiral for Smith following that one-game ban during last year's playoffs. He helped shoot the Knicks out of the second round, finishing the Pacers series with a 28.9 percent field-goal clip on 15 shot attempts per game. 

Not long after, it was announced that Smith had violated the league's anti-drug policy, resulting in a five-game suspension to start the 2013-14 season—a penalty given to three-time offenders. 

It's just a bad look for a guy who's been trying to rebuild some credibility. 

/Getty Images

It even got Carmelo Anthony out of his seat. He told ESPN's Ian Begley he had a "heart-to-heart" with Smith after learning of the suspension. 

This last infraction was the final straw in terms of how seriously he'll be taken. His baggage just isn't really worth its potentially destructive weight. Not to mention Smith's resume is pretty much blank when it comes to meaningful impact performances. 

When it mattered most last year, Smith crapped out. 

And that plays to his value as an asset in this league. Teams haven't exactly been knocking down Smith's door in free agency.

Because of his volatility, most contenders wouldn't even entertain the idea of acquiring Smith. Winners want certainty from their players, not unpredictability. 

What happens if a Smith meltdown results in the Knicks losing ground in the East? I'd find it hard to imagine the Knicks deem him untradeable, especially with Iman Shumpert emerging and Tim Hardaway Jr. showing early promise. 

You have to wonder whether one more slip-up could result in newly appointed general manager Steve Mills shipping Smith off to a small-market team in need of a draw. 

He couldn't be in a better situation than he is right now: playing a spotlight role in a major market for a team with a shot to compete. If Smith finds a way to screw this one up, I'm not sure he'll get another chance to remain relevant on the NBA front.