Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle reiterated on his weekly radio show that disgruntled point guard Dennis Smith Jr. “is welcome to come back and rejoin the team whenever he feels like he can,” adding that he believes Smith’s advisers are telling him to stay away from the team.
Smith has missed the last four games — three officially because of back soreness and the fourth for an illness — as reports swirled about the Mavs shopping him in the trade market.
Smith did not report to the team facility for practice on Friday, and he did not join the Mavs for their two-game road trip to Indiana and Milwaukee.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I know one thing: This kid is a team guy, and he loves being with his teammates, and he really respects his teammates,” Carlisle said Friday on 103.3 FM ESPN in Dallas. “This is just my feeling, is that he’s being told to stay away for whatever reason. I just don’t want people out there to think he is snubbing the Mavs or anything like that. This is just my opinion, I believe there’s business stuff going on, and he’s being told to stay away. Listen, if that’s what they feel is in his best interests, he should trust his advisers. But it’s unlike him not to want to be with his teammates.
“I do feel strongly that people should not look at Dennis in this situation now and judge him harshly, that he’s doing something against his teammates or the Mavs or anything like that. I just think this is a business-type situation, and this is what he’s being advised to do.”
Agent Glenn Schwartzman, who represents Smith, has not responded to several text messages and phone calls requesting comment.
Sources told ESPN on Thursday that the Mavericks are optimistic they can reconcile and move forward with Smith, a 2017 lottery pick who recently expressed that he hopes to be traded. Sources said Smith is frustrated with his role and has had friction with Carlisle since Rookie of the Year front-runner Luka Doncic seized the reins of the offense.
Carlisle said after Friday’s practice that he had reached out to Smith and Schwartzman to let them know that the Mavs “would love to have [Smith] back.”
On his radio show Friday afternoon, Carlisle added: “It was sent as a message with no response necessary, but they could either work through [Mavs president of basketball operations] Donnie Nelson or myself to facilitate. That’s where things are, and I’m hoping he comes back soon.”
Several team sources have downplayed the issues regarding Carlisle’s relationship with Smith, saying it’s a typical case of a coach being demanding of a talented young player. That’s how Carlisle characterized the dynamic between Smith and him, praising the 21-year-old point guard for the progress he has made in his second season.
“This kid is a professional,” Carlisle said during his radio show. “He’s worked hard. He’s become a better worker each year. I’m really proud of the progress he’s made.
“I do coach him hard. The guys with the best levels of ability deserve to be coached the hardest, because they’re the ones that have the chance for true greatness. I would not disrespect any player like Dennis Smith Jr. by holding back and not doing everything possible to bring out the best in him. I have that kind of respect for him and his ability.”
Smith’s absence is especially problematic for the Mavs after backup point guard J.J. Barea suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon last week. The NBA has awarded the Mavericks a Disabled Player Exception of $1.85 million with the loss of Barea for the season, league sources told ESPN’ s Adrian Wojnarowski. Dallas can use $1.85 million to acquire a player in a trade with the exception, which expires March 11.
Smith is averaging 12.6 points, 3.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game, down from 15.2 points, 5.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game during his second-team All-Rookie campaign. However, his shooting percentages have improved significantly and he has made major strides as a defender, highlighted by win-saving stops against All-Star candidates Tobias Harris and Paul George.
Carlisle acknowledged that Smith has had some difficulty adjusting to the new dynamics created by the 19-year-old Doncic’s rapid ascent to stardom. While Doncic and Smith have developed a friendship and frequently hang out together, they have struggled to create on-court chemistry, a factor in Smith’s future with the Mavs being murky.
The Mavs’ offense has sputtered with Smith and Doncic on the floor together, scoring only 100.9 points per 100 possessions in 687 minutes, which is only one-tenth of a point better than the Chicago Bulls’ league-worst offensive efficiency. The Mavs average 108.4 points per 100 possessions overall.
“With Luka coming on the scene, things did change,” Carlisle said. “It didn’t go the way everybody expected it to go, so everyone’s had to adjust. Luka’s had to adjust, too. It’s my job to monitor all that stuff and make sure that everybody’s communicating right and that we’re working through things and stuff. But when you have Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. on the floor together, I mean, you have two certified NBA attackers. It’s a great advantage to have.”
Asked if he was confident that Smith could still be a long-term piece of the Mavs’ core, Carlisle took a short-term view.
“Look, that’s why we drafted him,” Carlisle said. “A lot’s being made of the fact that both of these guys need the ball. We’ve got a lot of games left in this season. Let’s play it out and see where we are. I think that’s the way to go.”