Rod Beard | The Detroit News
Dennis Smith Jr. was planning to have a scrimmage with his new Westchester Knicks teammates in the G League when the news came.
He was being traded to the Pistons. A new chance. A new opportunity.
Smith couldn’t hide his excitement.
“I was just smiling all day. I couldn’t really sleep that night,” Smith said Wednesday, following his first practice in Detroit. “I was just looking at it as an opportunity, a fresh start like me and coach (Dwane Casey) talked about and how to make the most out of it.”
The Pistons got Smith, along with a 2021 second-round draft pick, in a trade with the New York Knicks that sent Derrick Rose to a reunion with his former head coach, Tom Thibodeau.
For Smith, 23, it’s another chance to find a fit in the NBA. He was drafted ninth overall in 2017 and in his fourth season, he’s already on his third team. After spending his first season-plus with the Dallas Mavericks, he was traded to the Knicks in the Kristaps Porzingis deal.
Smith had a good start in New York, but his playing time fizzled with the change in the front office and with Thibodeau’s arrival, he fell out of favor. Now, it’s a new start for him with the Pistons.
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It got to the point that Smith requested to go to the G League so that he could get more consistent playing time and to keep his career going.
“I was feeling sharp and I wanted to keep playing and keep that level of confidence about myself and about my game. I just wanted to play basketball,” Smith said.
“When I went to the G League, it was simply just to play basketball. There was nothing else to it, like you might be (traded).”
Because Smith was in the G League bubble, he didn’t have to go through the full week of quarantine and is able to play for the Pistons tonight against the Indiana Pacers.
Casey said they will look for ways to get Smith involved quickly, relying on some of his speed and quickness, and using some of the plays they used for Rose.
Coach Dwane Casey said they’ll have to keep an eye on Smith’s playing time as well, because he’s only played three games this season and getting up to speed in a small time frame could be tough.
“His conditioning level is probably not what it’s going to be,” Casey said. “We’ll have to monitor that as far as how much we use him in the next couple of games.”
It’s been a quick acclimation process for Smith, who started to study the playbook and to do some other homework to figure out what it’s like to be a Piston. That means a quick rewatch of a favorite video.
“My first night here in Detroit, my girlfriend and I spent it watching the Bad Boys documentary,” Smith said. “It was my 10th time watching it, but it was her first time.
“That’s about the culture. It’s about the city and how the city embraces tough basketball in Detroit.
“I can tell with the guys we have on the team, they’re about the same thing. I’m fully aware of what’s being built here.”
Two options at center
For the past four games, the Pistons have had just two options at center: Mason Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart, because Jahlil Okafor has been out because of knee soreness.
The team provided more insight into the severity of the knee issues Wednesday, announcing that Okafor underwent a surgical procedure to clean the lateral meniscus in his left knee. He’s expected to miss six to eight weeks as he recovers.
Okafor, 25, signed with the Pistons in the offseason as a free agent, looking to become the backup center and to allow rookie Isaiah Stewart to grow into the position as he learned.
As it turned out, Stewart was a quick learner and has moved into the backup role behind Plumlee. Okafor has played in just 12 of the Pistons’ 26 games and his last game was Jan. 30 at Golden State.
Okafor played 12 minutes against the Warriors and had two points and three rebounds. His season averages are 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds.
Pacers at Pistons
Tip-off: Thursday 8 p.m., Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: After a hot start, the Pacers have cooled down, with a string of five losses in six games. … Domantas Sabonis is having an All-Star season, with 21 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists.