The first few days of the season had been tough on Dennis Smith Jr. as he struggled to find his way through the rust that was a residual of a preseason back injury. He endured boos at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, a harsh welcome in what he hoped would be a season he established himself.
But that took a backseat to reality the next day when he learned that his stepmother had passed away suddenly back home in North Carolina. Smith left the team to be with his family and the Knicks have told him to take as long as he needs.
“Dennis is back home with his family now,” coach David Fizdale said. “He had a family member loss. Thoughts and prayers are with him right now. We’re going to miss him.
We’re leaving [his return] up to him right now. He’s got to take care of his family. Obviously, we want to get him back as soon as he can. But when you lose somebody, you’ve got to take care of family first.”
Smith shot 1-for-11 through the first three games, which limited his minutes. Now he must deal with something far more serious.
“You know it’s just, it’s life,” Julius Randle said. “People think because we’re basketball players and we make a lot of money and we play a game we love for a living, we don’t have real feelings and we don’t have to deal with real-life problems. It’s the exact opposite. This is a situation that proves it. He’s going through something real. Us as teammates, as his brothers, we’re just going to try to be there and support him as much as we can, let him take as much time as he needs. It’s obviously a very sensitive situation. All we can do is be there, be there for him as a brother, as a friend.
“I have not [spoken to him]. That’s tough. I’m just going to give him his space. I know if it was me in that situation, I wouldn’t be talking to anybody. I’m just going to give him space, let him deal with the situation how he needs to. Eventually, I’ll talk to him for sure; he’s like a little brother to me. But I’m going to let him relax. I’ll hit him with a text message. I’m sure he’ll see it.”
Mitchell Robinson inscribed DSJ and No. 5 on his shoes for the game.