WASHINGTON — While his teammates went through the morning shootaround Saturday at Georgetown University before taking on the Wizards, Dennis Smith Jr. casually put up some shots in sweatpants, resting a strained oblique and looking very little like a part of the team.
But he insisted that despite growing rumors and the reality of his situation, he isn’t trying to force his way out of New York.
While the Knicks hardly have hid the intentions of the front office — signing seven free agents to short-term deals this past summer and counting roster flexibility as the best hope for the group — their 8-24 record entering Saturday and crowded roster have the players interested in trades, too. According to an SNY report this week, Smith is one of several Knicks hoping to be traded.
The most likely player to attract attention in the trade market is Marcus Morris, a talented veteran with an expiring contract who could provide shooting and scoring for a contender.
Smith, who has seen his role diminish, is believed to be seeking a fresh start, but he denied that he has expressed that to the team. “It hasn’t been in my mind,” he said. “You know what I’m saying? My thing is to take care of what I got going on now. I’m with the New York Knicks, so I try to be the best version of me with this team. I like playing for the Knicks. So whatever I’ve got to do, I’m going to take care of that.”
“Honestly, right now, these guys have been great,” interim coach Mike Miller said. “They come here and work every day. They put winning in front of everything else in terms of their personal approach of things. They’ve been great. They’ve been professional. We’ve seen improvements in areas, working to play at a consistent level every day. That’s our focus. I think the nature of the league right now with the trade deadline, everybody is speculating about everything. There’s no way to tell what is real and what is speculation.”
The season certainly has taken a turn that Smith could not have expected. He arrived ahead of the trade deadline last season as one of the key pieces in the deal that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas and started 18 of the 21 games he played with the Knicks, averaging 14.7 points per game.
But utilizing some of the salary-cap space that was created in the trade, the Knicks signed Elfrid Payton. He has taken over as the starter at point guard after Frank Ntilikina started 23 games. The two spearhead the Knicks’ defensive efforts, and Smith has been left out of the rotation completely at times. The high expectations have faded.
“Yeah, that’s what anybody would have expected,” Smith said. “But it didn’t turn out like that. That’s out of my control. I can’t focus on that. I can’t do nothing about it.
“The way I look at it, of course, you come in and you want to play. I don’t know how much you’re supposed to, like, feed into it. You want to see [Payton] do well. You want to do well yourself. That’s what it’s really about.”
His season has been marred by injuries and personal issues, beginning with a back injury in preseason and then the sudden passing of his stepmother. He has started one game and is averaging 5.2 points per game.
“The season, you know, just like life — there’s stuff that goes good, stuff that goes bad,” he said. “Whatever it is, you can’t really dwell on it. You’ve just got to keep moving. That’s the only way things are going to get better, if I keep my focus positive and continue to work
“It’s a lot. It’s a lot. The Lord wouldn’t give me nothing I couldn’t bear, so I’m going to be all right. I’ll deal with it. Like I said, I’ll keep my focus positive and continue to work. It’ll make sense in the end.”