He grabbed his 10th rebound with two minutes and 50 seconds left in the game. He pushed the ball up the center of the floor, drifted to his right as Dirk Nowitzki slipped a screen at the top of the key. He found Dirk on the left side, and threw his hands in the air as the Tall Baller from the G drained another Madison Square Garden triple. It was his 15th assist of the night, and his final as a Maverick.
Dennis Smith Jr. recorded his second triple double (13 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists) in what has been a recently dramatic career, on one of the biggest stages in basketball. And for himself, and the Dallas Mavericks, it may have been the most important game he’s ever played.
The game against the Knicks was just 588 days — that’s one year, seven months, nine days — from the night Dennis Smith Jr. was declared a Dallas Maverick. It was a draft moment that sparked a wave of excitement, not just from this staff, but of MFFLs everywhere. The front office was declaring Smith their future, a cornerstone piece in their rebuilding process.
What a roller-coaster ride those 588 days have been. From wowing fans in summer league, to being given the reins from Rick Carlisle day one, to the dunk contest and making the All-Rookie Second Team, DSJ made an early impression and left fans optimistic. But as the Mavericks front office threw a few large eggs in to the Luka Doncic basket last summer, there was at least a small sense that the end was in sight.
To everyone’s credit, the organization with both DSJ and Luka Doncic, they all said the right things and entered the off-season with the proper positive mindset. They were determined to find a way for the young point guard and the Euro sensation to share the floor together. Even if the immediate match felt unsteady. While there were brief moments of genius, flickers of what could be to come for years as the two shared the backcourt, often the rhythm felt stilted.
But taking a player who has played the sport one way his entire life, with the ball in his hands, and asking him to change that style was always going to be a tall task. Not impossible, and would involve some creativity and patience from player and coach — but tough nonetheless.
There had been rumblings back to December, belief across the league that the Mavericks were already shifting their team building strategies. Though it happened faster than many of us expected, there were plenty of advanced stats that pointed to the pair not working long term.
But it was never supposed to go like this.
It was never supposed to get to the point where Dennis and his camp felt it necessary to step away from the team, for the Mavericks to shop a player they publicly loved less than a year previous. But both sides wanted different things, and no one is wrong for that. And though the relationship was temporarily mended, it was with plans in mind. And for his part, Dennis Smith Jr. came back from “sabbatical” on a mission — posting 15.5 points, six rebounds and 7.5 assists in four games. And it’s possible that stretch was enough to get a team like the Knicks interested.
For Smith, he should have an opportunity in New York to prove he’s the capable and athletic starting point guard that he’s always wanted to be. And in one of the biggest sports markets in the world no less. For the Mavericks, they seized an opportunity at cashing in the value they had with the young guard and betting it on what could be a one-of-a-kind big man to play alongside Luka Doncic for years.
Both sides have destinies undetermined. Both sides get fresh starts.
So thank you, DSJ. Thank you for the hops and the highlights. For the rebuilding season when often people only tuned in for you and Dirk. It’s not an easy job to be the center of a tanking season. And honestly, thanks for the NYC triple-double. In the end, it may have led to both sides getting what they wanted. Watching this year’s dunk contest will be bittersweet — but you’ll have some people in this camp pulling for you, for years to come.