DENVER — Perhaps someday Byron Scott and J.R. Smith could have co-existed. Scott said he thought it wasn't going to happen anytime soon, however, and the Hornets coach wasn't willing to risk his job security during the wait.
"From a coach's standpoint, I can't wait until a guy gets to a point two or three years later where he wants to play,” Scott explained. "I won't be here probably at that time.” Scott and Smith reunite for the first time tonight at 8 when the Hornets face the Denver Nuggets inside the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets and Hornets met Dec. 29 in the Ford Center, but Smith did not play because he was serving a 10-game suspension for his role in a Dec. 16 brawl against New York. To Smith, tonight's just another night. "The media's just making it into something it's really not,” Smith said. "It's just another game we've got to go out there and play.” Talented and confident, Smith jumped straight to the NBA out of St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., when the Hornets made him the 18th pick in the 2004 draft. On opening night of the 2004-05 season, Smith became the youngest Hornet ever to appear in a game at age 19 years, one month and 25 days. Smith seemed on his way to stardom, winning three straight rookie-of-the-month awards. There was a 33-point effort against Memphis and a third-place finish in the slam-dunk contest during All-Star weekend. In the last 23 games that season, Smith averaged 17.4 points and 2.7 assists. But from the outset of his second season, Smith and Scott clashed. Youth wasn't the biggest hurdle in Smith's relationship with the always demanding and candid Scott. "I thought his work ethic was the biggest problem that we had,” Scott said. "I told him all the things I felt he needed to do, yet he commenced to telling you guys (reporters) I never told him. I'm talking to him right there, with (Hornets vice president) Willis Reed and (general manager) Jeff Bower, and telling him what he has to do and what he needs to work on. He would do it for one day, and then he wouldn't do it again. That was my biggest problem.” Smith averaged 7.7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists last season. The most notable stat, however, was games played: He appeared in 55 games and was inactive seven more games with a sprained ankle. Scott simply didn't play Smith the other 20 games. "Personally, we weren't that far apart,” Scott said. "It was, ”' ‘This is what I'm asking you to do for you to be successful as a basketball player and make us a better basketball team.' There was probably no way that we could work out because I didn't think he wanted to work like that.
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J.R. Smith is averaging 16.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in his first season with Denver. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Hornets at Nuggets•When: 8 tonight
•Where: Pepsi Center
•TV: Cox 7
•Radio: KHBZ-FM 94.7 Probable starters