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Dennis Smith returns, grateful for Knicks' support

New Orleans Pelicans guard Frank Jackson defends Knicks

New Orleans Pelicans guard Frank Jackson defends Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. in the 2nd quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Dennis Smith Jr. was back at Madison Square Garden, in familiar territory and with his teammates, which was a calming feeling after the sudden passing of his stepmother. But he still wasn’t ready to play after two weeks away from the team.

Smith flew to Dallas last week to meet the team and worked out Friday morning and evening, but he returned to the hotel to watch that night’s game against the Mavericks. His decision to return to the team came when he felt ready. The return to the court will, too.

“Just being able to spend that time with family, I appreciate the staff and Fiz and my teammates,” Smith said, referring to coach David Fizdale, before Sunday night’s 108-87 loss to the Cavaliers. “They supported me. They allowed me to spend that time and really take a step back and evaluate everything that’s going on. So I appreciate that.

I’m excited to rejoin the team. It feels good being around the guys. We got a good win, a good road win, and look forward to getting another one tonight.”

The former Maverick left the team on Oct. 27 and remained in North Carolina with his family before flying into Dallas on Thursday.

“I don’t even know for real [if it was the right time],” Smith said. “But I mean, Dallas wasn’t a bad place to return to the team. I got a lot of people I’m really close with there. So that kind of helped. I got to speak to them, I got there a day before the game. So I got to speak to a lot of people I knew, hang out with them. So that helped, too.”

Smith said he will keep working out. That will let him know when he’s ready to be activated.

“I worked out every day,” he said. “But you just really can’t simulate a game, especially being 12 days out in the middle of the season, it’s kind of tough. I’m just basing it off my workouts, seeing how my workouts go, and we’ll figure it out from there.”

While he was in Dallas, he spent time with the family of Shavon Randle, a teenager who was kidnapped and murdered. He had befriended the family while playing for the Mavericks and he met with them Thursday, picking up Randle's brother and sister and taking them to play at a facility for kids in Dallas. He then accompanied the kids to school Friday morning before joining his team at the morning shootaround.

“Just going in to see them, what they dealt with I really can’t relate to,” Smith said. “But I built a special relationship with them. So I just keep it up with them, I talk to them on the regular, they all got my number and call me whenever. They’re extended family, too. So that kind of brightened my mood up seeing them. That was major for me . . . It helped me. Like I said, I like being around good people. I like being around good energy, so that helped me out.”

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