Could J.R. Smith Be a Mini-Moss In San Antonio?

A Daily Babble Production

Cancer.  Miscreant.  Loser.

A year ago at this time, those were the words we were hearing as descriptions of one Randy Moss.   That would be he of the penchant for making hood ornaments out of traffic officers, beating people up (more a high school issue), not busting his gut on the field, causing dissension among his teammates and generally acting like a jerk whenever possible.

Few believed he would fit in New England, but those who did asserted that it would take a special coach like Bill Belichick to make it work.

From day one, Moss showed up to play big-boy football in New England, and the rest is history.  He spent a season setting records with his quarterback and their offense, generally behaved as a model citizen and was far more responsible for the Patriots' 18 wins than for their one loss last season.

The belief remains strong that few coaches and organizations could have gotten as much out of Moss as the Patriots did last year.  The winning culture that Bill Belichick has established and the understanding that those who don't get in line with the program get sent packing in short order have been credited as crucial to the success the Pats had with Moss last season.

If any NBA coach and team have come close to paralleling the Patriots over the past ten years (besides the illicit videotaping end of the spectrum), they are no doubt Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs.  The Spurs have won four titles in the last decade, and they have done so largely thanks to having one of the league's best tactical coaches as well as a culture upheld by the coach and players of professonalism and team-first behavior at all times.

This is all relevant because, as the San Antonio Express-News' Buck Harvey points out, the Spurs will be faced this summer with the decision of whether or not to pursue free agent Denver swingman J.R. Smith.

While all the logical signs point to his not being a successful Spur, here's wondering if J.R. Smith could have an effect in San Antonio similar to the one Moss had in New England -- but on a much smaller level of course.

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Harvey does a good job laying out the myriad of risks associated with Smith: He has a history of conduct issues (there's been some fighting in his past), some trouble with on-court discipline (see his benching in 2007) and a general lack of interest in playing defense.

X.  X.  X.  Those would be three strikes that could certainly prevent him from becoming a member of the black and silver at any point in this lifetime.

But Smith also holds something the Spurs may be desperately craving this off-season: explosiveness.

This guy legitimately epitomizes instant offense.  A 6-foot-6 swingman, Smith came into the league known for his ability to get to the rim and finish off thunderous dunks.  He's since turned himself into an all-around threat on the offensive end of the floor.

He entered the league below 30 percent from behind the three-point line and has improved that aspect of his game steadily over the last four years.  In fact, Smith shot an excellent 40.3 percent from deep this past season to go along with his 46.1 shooting from the field.  He also isn't shy about getting the ball up, averaging more than 12 points in 19.2 minutes per game in Denver this season.  That included 13 performances of 20 points or more, led by a bonkers 43-point effort (15-of-25 shooting) in Chicago back in February.

The Spurs dropped out of the top ten in offensive efficiency this season.  At 10.1 points per game, an aging Michael Finley was the only Spur outside the big three of Parker, Ginobili and Duncan to average in double figures.  The team has just ten players currently under contract for next season, and the Spurs are almost unquestionably in need of a big-time offensive energy boost.

It's worth noting that the Nuggets played the league's fastest-paced game last season, and Smith's total numbers would all but certainly come down if he went to a place like San Antonio.  But he would still provide a major offensive upgrade off the bench for this team, and he would allow the Spurs to start Manu Ginobili once and for all, which is what will ultimately need to happen there.  Smith showed this year that he has the ability to come off the bench to score points in bunches, and there is no reason to expect his efficiency from the field to drop after four years of steady improvement.  He could truly add a dimension to the Spurs' game and thus be that missing piece that brings this team back to the top in the Western Conference -- if all plays out well enough.

The problem, once more, comes down to those risk-versus-reward issues.  My buddy Mays points out that Smith and Moss are different cases in that "Smith isn't transcendently talented."  This seems like a good time to make this point particularly clear: J.R. Smith doesn't compare to Randy Moss in terms of potential rewards of his presence on a team.  Moss is one of (if not the) most talented players at his position in all of football.  Smith is an exciting reserve guard.  There is an enormous gap of difference there, one which makes Moss a much more worthwhile investment.

But both players have the ability to be difference-makers on some level, which is why we're sticking with the analogy -- with the understanding that J.R. Smith is nowhere close to analagous to Randy Moss (just wanted to make that crystal clear once more).

Truth be told, I'm big on character guys,  and I'd have a hard time ever convincing myself to make a conscious effort to put a dude like J.R. Smith on my team.  But I'm not Gregg Popovich or his team.  Pop and the solid influences of the rest of the Spurs helped turn later-renowned hothead Stephen Jackson into a solid contributing role player and non-distraction on a championship team in 2003.  Pop is as respected a coach as there is in the game today, and his players are as committed to winning as he is.  If anyone could take a chance on Smith with a possibility of reaping some benefit, it's this group.  Both the players and the coaches would have no trouble making it clear to Smith that he would have to buy into the team philosophy -- no idiocy, perhaps even occasionally playing defense -- or he would be shown the door.  For a team so strapped for offensive potency aside from the three studs, it could be a move that proves all but necessary in the chase for a fifth title.

But it could also be a move that begins the deconstruction of all this team has stood for: classiness, professionalism, unselfishness and team play.

By and large, the Moss experiment worked in New England.  San Antonio is New England's match in the realm of pro ball.

J.R. Smith isn't basketball's Moss, but he could have a similar effect on a far lower scale.

Whether he will or not will only be told by time -- on a hot Sunday morning in June, I'm truly not sure.

Is J.R. worth the trouble in the Alamo? 

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