Dennis Smith Jr. said he was “smiling all day’’ after hearing on Sunday he was being traded from the Knicks to the Pistons for Derrick Rose.
At the time, Smith, a key acquisition in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, was in the G-League’s bubble in training camp for the Westchester Knicks — upon his request.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau had banished him from the rotation after an early season quad injury, and Smith, 23, knew his chances of getting back weren’t good.
“I was super excited,’’ Smith said in his introductory Zoom call Wednesday after his first practice. “I was down in the ‘G’ getting ready to have our first scrimmage. I heard the news. I was just smiling all day. I couldn’t really sleep that night. I was looking at it as an opportunity and a fresh start and make the most out of it.”
Smith, a restricted free agent, should get a big opportunity because rookie point guard Killian Hayes, selected seventh by Detroit, will be out most of the season after hip surgery.
In fact, the Knicks had Hayes as their top point guard on their board outside of LaMelo Ball during the draft process until they received intel before the draft that the French resident had a hip issue, according to multiple sources.
Now the uber-athletic Smith, a 2017 lottery pick, has a chance to shine in Motown after never gaining traction with the Knicks, partly due to injuries.
“I always have a chip on my shoulder, but to go out and prove something, it’s more important to prove to myself,’’ Smith said. “I believe in myself and people here believe in me. That’s the first step to tap into some greatness.’’
Smith said he didn’t ask to be traded — just to get reps in the G-League.
“Truth be told, I was feeling sharp. I wanted to keep playing with that level of confidence about myself and my game,’’ Smith said. “I really wanted to play basketball. They didn’t have to grant my request. I appreciate that. It was simply to just play basketball. There was nothing else to it about being moved.’’
“I was smiling hard because I was excited about the opportunity and knew what kind of guy coach [Dwane] Casey was, great coach great person. I felt fortunate.’’
Casey said Smith is a blank canvas.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t work,’’ the Pistons coach said. “Christian Wood had how many teams [before starring here]? Sometimes a change of scenery is good for everybody. I told him you’re starting out with a clean slate. I don’t care what happened in New York, what happened in Dallas. I don’t care what happened at North Carolina State. It’s what happens here.”
Knicks rookie Obi Toppin said he’s thrilled to have Rose on his side. Rose actually looked like he had better chemistry with Toppin than Julius Randle.
“He’s great,’’ Toppin said. “When Derrick came here and talked to me and ‘Quick’ [Immanuel Quickley] and told us what it was. He’s the best and will teach us his ways, and we’re going to keep rolling. Having the opportunity to be on the court with him, he’s someone I watched my whole life and looked up to. He’s a great guy, great player and he plays with speed and looks to find guys. Having him here now is amazing.’’