Carmelo Anthony knows how important J.R. Smith is to the Knicks. With that in mind, Anthony had a conversation with his mercurial teammate during the offseason.
"I had a heart-to-heart with him,'' Anthony said Thursday at the Tools for Teachers Initiative in Brooklyn, an event involving his foundation and a real estate development company where school supplies were distributed to over 100 teachers from all five boroughs. "I had a talk that two men should have. We had that conversation. It seemed like he took heed to what I was saying, so we shall see.''
It was an eventful offseason for Smith, one that began on a sour note after he self-destructed in last season's playoffs.
Smith played like the Sixth Man of the Year (an award he won) early in the Knicks' opening-round series against the Celtics but was suspended for one game after throwing an elbow at Boston's Jason Terry late in Game 3. Smith was a disaster after that, shooting 29.1 percent the rest of the postseason, which ended in the second round against the Pacers.
Despite the postseason struggles, the Knicks signed Smith to a three-year, $18-million contract in July. Before the ink was dry on the contract, Smith underwent knee surgery that he admitted to delaying so it wouldn't hurt his free-agent prospects.
Smith capped the offseason in September with a five-game suspension for violating the NBA's anti-drug policy.
With so much swirling around one of the Knicks' most important players, Anthony delivered a simple but direct message to Smith.
"The time is now,'' Anthony said. "You've got to want to help yourself. Everybody else wants to help you, but if you don't want to help yourself, then that's defeating the purpose.''
Anthony and Smith have been teammates for the past seven seasons, dating to their time with the Denver Nuggets. Anthony enjoyed Smith's maturation last season and hopes to see it continue.
"He was a big glue to our team,'' Anthony said. "He was a big part of our team's success. He knows that. He had a long offseason thinking about what's been going on and trying to get back, and hopefully he turned over that new leaf.''
Initially, there was concern that Smith's knee situation would sideline him for the start of the regular season, but he's expected to play in the Knicks' preseason finale against the Bobcats on Friday night at the renovated Madison Square Garden.
"We've been looking forward to him coming back all offseason,'' Anthony said. "I'm pretty sure he's looking forward to coming back. I don't know if he's going to play tomorrow night in the preseason game, I haven't heard yet. But we're looking forward to him. We wish the suspension didn't happen, but it happened. We've moved on from that and we welcome him back.''