Two days after the Knicks traded Dennis Smith Jr. and a second-round 2021 NBA Draft pick to the Detroit Pistons for veteran Derrick Rose, the fourth-year point guard gave a genuine reaction.
On a Zoom video media availability Wednesday, Smith — who was preparing to play for the Westchester Knicks when Monday’s news broke — revealed how he found out about his next chapter.
“I was super excited, I was super excited,” Smith said. “I was down in the G (League) and I was getting ready to play with the guys and have our first scrimmage, and I heard the news and I was just smiling all day. Super excited, couldn’t really sleep that night and I’m just looking at it as an opportunity, fresh start — like me and coach talked about — and I’m going to make the most out of it.”
The Knicks acquired Smith and a pair of first-rounders — among others involved — in a Jan. 31, 2019, trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis and three additional players to the Dallas Mavericks. Smith averaged 14.7 points and 5.4 assists in 28.6 minutes while starting 18 of 21 games during the 2018-19 season’s second half, but took a step back.
“I can’t — I’m not sure,” Smith said of why a tenure with the Knicks never ultimately worked out. “But I will say I’m thankful for the opportunity that they gave me, and to all the people that supported me — whether it’s in media or even the fans that supported me — I’m thankful for those guys as well.”
Smith posted 5.5 points and 2.9 assists in 15.8 minutes over 34 games (three starts) for the 2019-20 season, a significant drop. After scoring nine points through 28 minutes over three of the Knicks’ first 14 games, Smith planned on playing in the G League to stay fresh.
“Truth be told, man, I was feeling sharp — I was really feeling sharp — and I wanted to keep playing,” Smith said. “I wanted to keep that level of confidence about myself and about my game, and just really the base of it is wanting to play basketball, and that’s what I had the opportunity to do. And they didn’t have to grant me the request, so I appreciate that, too.”
After a Feb. 1 assignment to Westchester, Smith embraced the opportunity. Before his deal, he was set to debut with Westchester in Wednesday’s game, a 125-120 win over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Indiana Pacers affiliate).
“So, when I went down to the G (League), it was simply, simply just to play basketball — I wanted to play basketball,” Smith said. “Nothing else to it, like, ‘Oh, he moved,’ or, ‘Such and such, whatever,’ it’s just I wanted to play basketball and I realized that would give me an opportunity to do that. So I took advantage of it and I went down there like I was ready to hoop.
“I was down there with my boy, Myles (Powell), and I actually got close with a lot of guys on the team in the brief time that I was there. So that was just about hooping. And I was smiling hard because, like, I was excited for the opportunity. And I knew what kind of guy (Pistons) coach (Dwane) Casey was — great coach, great person. So being able to be with him, I was looking forward to that.”
As a rookie with the Mavs during the 2017-18 season, Smith flashed, producing an average of 15.2 points and 5.2 assists in 29.7 minutes while starting all 69 games he played. The 2017 NBA Draft’s No. 9 overall pick out of NC State sounded determined to capitalize on a second chance in Detroit.
“It’s super refreshing, and I’m going to go out there with a chip on my shoulder that I always had,” Smith said. “I’m going to go out there and compete at a high level, try to execute and try to win games. In terms of coming out and trying to prove something, I think its definitely more important to prove things to myself — you know what I’m saying? — and that’s what I want to do.
“I believe in myself and the people here that believe in me, and I think that’s the first step to really tapping into some greatness here.”