Quietly, Dennis Smith Jr. might be writing a redemption story this season. The 24-year-old guard, picked No. 9 in the 2017 draft, is starting for the Charlotte Hornets in the absence of LaMelo Ball, and on Wednesday he had 14 points and 11 assists in a 134-131 overtime loss against the New York Knicks.
Before the game, though, Smith revealed that his story could have been completely different. Before signing a non-guaranteed contract with the Hornets, he had his sights set on the NFL.
"I told my previous agent, 'I'm not going overseas,'" Smith said, via the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy. "If shit don't work out, I'm just going to the NFL. And I was dead-ass serious. I put on hella weight. I was gonna try."
Smith said he wanted to play defensive back, he would've played college football if not for the whole elite-basketball-prospect thing and he has since dropped the extra weight.
"I was going to get there, though, I swear to God I would," Smith said.
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The Dallas Mavericks traded Smith to the Knicks in the middle of his second season as part of the Kristaps Porzingis deal. He initially became New York's starting point guard, but couldn't stay healthy, couldn't make 3s and ultimately couldn't keep a spot in the rotation. In February 2021, the Knicks sent him and a second-round pick to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for veteran Derrick Rose. Detroit moved on at the end of that season, and the Portland Trail Blazers signed him to a training-camp deal in the summer of 2021. The Blazers waived him in February 2022, while he was out with an elbow injury.
Smith got the opportunity with the Hornets -- and ditched his NFL dreams -- in part because he'd excelled at open runs in Miami, where he ran into Charlotte assistant coach Nick Friedman, who had worked with him during the pre-draft process five years earlier, as reported by HoopsHype's Michael Scotto. Sometimes, timing is everything.