Once upon a time, the Dallas Mavericks had big dreams for the young and promising backcourt combo of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. It was never a perfect combination, but early on during Doncic's rookie season, there were encouraging flashes of it potentially being able to work.
However, as that 2018-2019 season progressed, it became apparent that it would only be a matter of time before Smith Jr. and the Mavs parted ways. On January 31, 2019, the New York Knicks agreed to trade Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, and Trey Burke to the Dallas Mavericks. For the Knicks, Smith Jr. was seen as the key young piece coming back to New York in the deal. DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, and two future first-round picks were also part of Dallas' trade package.
Two years later, Smith Jr. was the only remaining player on the Knicks' roster from that trade with the Mavs, and on Sunday, New York agreed to send Smith Jr. and draft compensation to the Detroit Pistons for veteran guard Derrick Rose.
As a rookie in Dallas, Smith Jr. averaged 15 points, five assists and four rebounds in 30 minutes per game, earning No. 9 overall pick All-Rookie Second Team honors. Through 32 games with the Mavs in his sophomore season before the Porzingis trade, Smith Jr.'s averages fell slightly to 13 points, four assists, and three rebounds in 28 minutes per game, but he had also shown that he could be a difference-maker on the defensive end of the court that season as well when engaged. He was also shooting career-highs from the field and from three that season before going to New York.
For a handful of reasons (most of them being out of his control), Smith Jr.'s growth as an NBA player has stalled these last few seasons in New York. He only played in 34 games last year while battling a nagging oblique injury. This season, under Knicks' new head coach Tom Thibodeau, Smith Jr. had only appeared in three of New York's 25 games. It got so bad for Smith Jr., that the 23-year-old requested to be sent to the Knicks' G-League affiliate just to keep cobwebs from accumulating on him while sitting on the bench.
How did Smith Jr. feel immediately after hearing the news that he was on his way to Detroit? Smith Jr. tells DallasBasketball.com that he is 'extremely happy' to get a fresh start with the Pistons. In the last year, he has also expressed to us his desire to eventually find his way back to Dallas one day, if that's ever something that's in the cards. Smith Jr. still loves the city of Dallas and all the fans who supported him every minute that he wore a Mavericks uniform.
There were some negative reports about Smith Jr. right before his departure from Dallas, but a lot of that was overblown. Smith Jr. and Doncic, despite not being the best fit on the court at times, were and still are close off the court. There was never any tension between those two. There might have been some tension between Smith Jr. and Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle at the time, but the two sides have since come together and 'had a great talk' to clear the air.
Smith Jr. will now have a real chance to get his career back on track in Detroit, and he'll likely have an opportunity to catch up with his old Mavs pals on February 17th, as the Pistons make their way to Dallas for a 7:30 p.m. game at American Airlines Center.