When the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavericks for a package centered around Dennis Smith Jr., cap space and draft picks, there was hope the ninth overall draft pick from 2017 might turn into the acrobatic show-runner he displayed glimpses of in his first year-and-a-half in the NBA.
Alas, the DSJ experience hasn’t been as exceptional as advertised, and it might be coming to an abrupt end. There are credible reports that the 22-year-old point guard would like the Knicks to trade him, and the team is supposedly attempting to accommodate that request. That news comes on the heels of previous reports that several teams have expressed interest in Smith Jr., including the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Depending upon which beat writer you ask, DSJ either denied he wants to be traded or gave a halfhearted eurostep past questions about whether he’d welcome a change of scenery during shootaround at Georgetown ahead of Saturday’s victory over the Washington Wizards.
Here’s Marc Berman of the New York Post on the exchange between the press and DSJ:
Asked by The Post point blank at Saturday’s morning shootaround at Georgetown if he still wants to be here, Smith said, “I like playing for the Knicks. So whatever I’ve got to do, I’m going to take care of that.’’
So you want to be here?
“Right, I want to be here.”
“It hasn’t been in my mind,’’ Smith added. “You know what I’m saying? My thing is to take care of what I got going on now. I’m with the New York Knicks, so I try to be the best version of me with this team.”
To recap: despite reports that he’s unhappy in New York, DSJ likes being with the Knicks, but doesn’t seem incredibly emphatic about it.
It’s reminiscent of the state of things last January, when Smith Jr. was still on Dallas but rumors were starting to spread that he wanted out.
Source close to @Dennis1SmithJr confirms that neither Smith, nor his agent, requested a trade, but are open to one. "He likes the organization and he likes the players. I just don’t think it was probably a good [basketball] fit."— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) January 16, 2019
Basketball players are people, so it’s certainly Smith Jr.’s right to be disappointed in how things have gone this season. Only four Knicks are averaging less than the 16.1 minutes per game he’s playing right now, and they include Ignas Brazdeikis and Kadeem Allen, who have spent the year going back and forth from the G-League to the Big Boy ’Bockers. The lack of minutes can be attributed to a multitude of issues, including injuries, time away from the team due to the tragic death of his stepmother, and straight up poor play.
As for that last point, it’s worthwhile to wonder whether Smith Jr. might show improvement if the Knicks just handed him the keys to the offense, which is what you might have thought was going to happen when the trade went down last year. He showed potential in Dallas before the Mavericks nabbed Luka Doncic and displayed flashes of offensive brilliance in his first half season with New York.
This year, however, the Knicks signed a more than adequate point man in free agency named Elfrid Payton, and Frank Ntilikina, who established himself during two duels with Dallas, has defensive abilities that Smith Jr. simply can’t match. The Knicks might be better off trading Smith Jr. so they can focus on Payton and Ntilikina (with Allen as a third string point guard), while DSJ can try to resuscitate his young career on a third team in less than two years.
Although there’s no use crying over traded Latvians, this is the point of the story where we’ll quickly note that, if the Knicks do trade DSJ, they will have essentially traded Porzingis for what amounted to meaningless cap space and a couple of late first round draft picks instead of figuring out how to ease KP’s warranted concerns with the future of the franchise.
Back to Smith Jr., who might want to focus more on finding a good chiropractor than grumbling about his spot in the rotation: he’s currently dealing with an oblique strain, but it seems like his back problems are of the lingering variety, which is something any team trying to trade for him will surely be aware of and attempt to use as leverage in a deal.
This was supposed to be the season DSJ broke out, according to the internet over the summer. He worked on his jump shot with Keith Smart, who was a Knicks assistant coach before being fired alongside David Fizdale, and lit it up in a number of scrimmages that don’t count in the standings.
Unfortunately, DSJ has failed to make progress on any of the five goals laid out in P&T’s season preview, which, as a reminder, were staying healthy, improving his shooting percentage, getting to the free throw line more and shooting better once he’s there, earning the starting job and doing a 900 dunk.
Now, a frustrated Smith Jr. is apparently hankering for a trade, because maybe things will be different somewhere else. It’s all eerily similar to how his time ended in Dallas. But hey, maybe the same fate won’t befall him in whatever city he plays next.