Newest Piston Dennis Smith Jr. arrives with something to prove

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

For about 50 games, Dennis Smith Jr. will get an audition with the Pistons, something he didn’t really get much of with the New York Knicks’ new regime.

Smith, who was acquired in a trade that sent Derrick Rose back to a reunion with former coach Tom Thibodeau, is only 23, but already is donning his third different jersey in his fourth season in the NBA.

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It’s not that Smith caused problems in New York the Dallas Mavericks, who drafted him ninth overall in 2017. It’s more that an unbelievable offer came for the Mavs to get Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks had a surplus of point guards and Smith ended up being the odd man out.

For Pistons coach Dwane Casey, it’s nothing new, another opportunity to work with a player who has a chip on his shoulder, as he did as an assistant coach with the Seattle Supersonics, the Mavericks and as a head coach with the Raptors.

The Pistons had success last season with Christian Wood and it’s the early returns on Josh Jackson are looking good in his first season in Detroit.

“It’s one of those things where I’ve always identified with guys like that…You want to bring them into your culture and fit them into your culture,” Casey said Monday. “They have something to prove to us and to the rest of the league, whoever that person is. It’s not a bad thing and you can look around in sports — New England’s done it for years.

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“It’s a little tougher with a young team to bring guys in, but I enjoy it. I enjoy coaching guys like that, taking the challenge on from a coaching standpoint, teaching standpoint, molding standpoint, and let’s prove the rest of the league wrong.”

Casey is known for developing solid relationships with players and that starts with not bringing any preconceived notions when a new player arrives or by listening to rumors about what a player is like.

Instead, Casey looks to get to know players with a fresh start and build on that from there. It’s proven successful and that mutual trust helps set a new level of expectation, while giving players an opportunity to begin anew and not carry that baggage forward.

“I tell all the new players on the team: ‘Let’s start out with a clean slate.’ I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I’m going be honest with you — brutally honest sometimes — and I expect the same effort honest effort, and approach to the game and we go from there,” Casey said.

“That’s the only way I know how to approach it. Because if I go on everything someone else says, their personality may be different than mine. Their approach may be different than mine, so I have to treat people the way they treat me, and the coaching staff and the rest of the teammates here, and not anywhere else they’ve been.”

Delayed debut

Smith was scheduled to join New York’s affiliate, the Westchester Knicks, in the G League bubble, but because of the trade, he likely won’t have to go through the stringent NBA COVID protocols before he can become available to play with the Pistons.

It’s unlikely that Smith will play in Tuesday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, but he could have more time to get acclimated and be ready for Thursday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers or Friday at the Boston Celtics.

Casey said that some of the transition will be easy for Smith because some of the same schemes and terminology are similar to what Smith played with under coach Rick Carlisle with the Mavericks. Casey was an assistant under Carlisle previously.

“It’s going to take all of us to help him along, but our coaching staff will assign someone to him to watch film and to go over things with him and the players on the floor will be able to help him,” Casey said. “We’ve got a great group of guys that are willing to mentor and help. That’s something that I think won’t take very long for him.

“He’s a smart kid and he’s a basketball junkie. One of the first things he said was that he wanted to watch film. He shouldn’t have said that because I’m going to take him up on it. He’s a good kid, he’s got an opportunity, and this is the first team to me as a coach.”

Pistons vs. Nets

Tipoff: 7 Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena

TV/radio: FSD/950

Outlook: The Pistons (5-18) get their first look at the new-look Nets (14-11), who have lost two straight games. Brooklyn will be without Kevin Durant, who is out until Friday because of COVID protocols, but Kyrie Irving and James Harden should be available.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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