Tim MacMahonESPN Staff Writer
Coach Rick Carlisle informed the team about Smith’s pending return at Sunday’s practice in Milwaukee, stressing Smith’s value to the team and encouraging players to welcome him with open arms, sources said.
Smith has missed the last five games – three officially due to back soreness and an illness cited by the team as the reason for the last two — as reports swirled about the Mavs shopping him in the trade market. He will also miss Monday’s road game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Carlisle acknowledged Friday that “business stuff” has kept Smith, a 2017 lottery pick who sources say has made it clear he would like to be traded, away from the team.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I know one thing: This kid is a team guy, and he loves being with his teammates, and he really respects his teammates,” Carlisle said during his weekly appearance on 103.3 FM ESPN in Dallas. “This is just my feeling, is that he’s being told to stay away for whatever reason. I just don’t want people out there to think he is snubbing the Mavs or anything like that. This is just my opinion, I believe there’s business stuff going on, and he’s being told to stay away. Listen, if that’s what they feel in his best interests, he should trust his advisors. But it’s unlike him not to want to be with his teammates. “I do feel strongly that people should not look at Dennis in this situation now and judge him harshly, that he’s doing something against his teammates or the Mavs or anything like that. I just think this is a business type situation, and this is what he’s being advised to do.”
The Mavs have been adamant that they won’t trade Smith unless they get good value in return and have not received any offers they consider tempting, sources said.
Smith’s frustration, according to sources, stems from his diminished role with rookie star Luka Doncic emerging as Dallas’ primary playmaker and friction with Carlisle.
Several team sources have downplayed the issues regarding Carlisle’s relationship with Smith, saying it’s a typical case of a coach being demanding of a talented young player. That’s how Carlisle characterized the dynamic between Smith and him, praising the 21-year-old point guard for the progress he has made in his second season.
“I do coach him hard,” Carlisle said Friday during his radio show. “The guys with the best levels of ability deserve to be coached the hardest, because they’re the ones that have the chance for true greatness. I would not disrespect any player like Dennis Smith Jr. by holding back and not doing everything possible to bring out the best in him. I have that kind of respect for him and his ability.”
Smith is averaging 12.6 points, 3.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game, down from 15.2 points, 5.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game during his second-team All-Rookie campaign. However, his shooting percentages have improved significantly and he’s made major strides as a defender, highlighted by win-saving stops against All-Star candidates Tobias Harris and Paul George.
Carlisle acknowledged that Smith has had some difficulty adjusting to the new dynamics created by the 19-year-old Doncic’s rapid ascent to stardom. While Doncic and Smith have developed a friendship and frequently hang out together, they have struggled to create on-court chemistry, a factor in Smith’s future with the Mavs being murky.
The Mavs’ offense has sputtered with Smith and Doncic on the floor together, scoring only 100.9 points per 100 possessions in 687 minutes, which would rank last in the league. The Mavs average 108.3 points per 100 possessions overall.
Asked Friday if he was confident that Smith could still be a long-term piece of the Mavs’ core, Carlisle took a short-term view.
“Look, that’s why we drafted him,” Carlisle said. “A lot’s being made of the fact that both of these guys need the ball. We’ve got a lot of games left in this season. Let’s play it out and see where we are. I think that’s the way to go.”