When the Knicks arrived for training camp, Dennis Smith Jr. expected big things from himself. The team did, too, and David Fizdale’s top assistant, Keith Smart, spent time working with Smith to refine his outside shot.
But even before the regular season began, a procession of minor injuries slowed him. Then a death in the family took him out of action for 12 days. And Smart, the coach he spent the summer working with, was let go along with Fizdale earlier this month.
Finally, after climbing up the depth chart, Smith thought he was back this week.
Then, while working out late Monday night after the Knicks’ loss to the Wizards, he felt a tweak in his abdomen.
He tried to practice through the pain on Tuesday, finally gave in and was shut down with a strained oblique. That sent him to the sideline again, first for Thursday night’s game in Brooklyn and then for a period that he has no idea about.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I usually bounce back from stuff pretty quick. I can’t really say.”
Smith already is struggling. He is averaging only 5.2 points and 2.7 assists per game, far below his averages of 14.7 and 5.4 in 21 games for the Knicks last season after being acquired from the Mavericks.
He started 18 of those 21 games for the Knicks last season but has started only one this season.
That is a stinging reminder to the Knicks of the deal that brought him here and sent away Kristaps Porzingis. Smith was the lone tangible piece — the rest of the haul being the clearing of cap space and future Dallas first-round picks. With the Mavericks playing well, led by Porzingis and Luka Doncic, those first-round picks don’t exactly look like places to find superstars.
Now Smith has been shut down again for an undetermined amount of time.
“It’s random,” he said. “It was already written, though. You know what I’m saying? It’s God’s plan. It is what it is. I’ll be all right. That’s for sure.
“It’s tough. That’s why it’s about faith. I was just on the phone with [a friend], talking about being there to dance in the storm. He called me, I’m on the phone smiling. He’s like, ‘You feel better than I do.’
“It wasn’t easy for me to get to this place where I’m at right now. It wasn’t easy. But I had to take time out, re-evaluate things, shift my focus, shift the way I think. I’m just learning how to dance in the storm, man.”