Dennis Smith Jr.

Hornets Notes: Smith, McGowens, Hayward, Washington

The Hornets‘ offense was clicking before LaMelo Ball‘s ankle injury on Monday, but now coach Steve Clifford needs to find a new approach for the rest of the season, writes Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer. The team scored just 91 points Wednesday as its five-game winning streak was snapped, marking just the fourth time since December that it failed to reach 100.

“It’s important that we understand that once you have a way to play, you’ve got to commit to that,” Clifford said after Wednesday’s loss. “From now to the end of the year, we’re not going to be scoring 135 a night anymore. We’ll play a lot better than this offensively, but we’re going to have to defend, rebound and be low turnover every night.”

Terry Rozier has taken over for Ball as the starting point guard in the two games since the injury, with Kelly Oubre sliding into the backcourt as his partner. The first guard off the bench has been Dennis Smith Jr., who has shown a notable improvement on defense since signing with the Hornets last offseason.

“I was out of the league because I got waived because (of injury and) I couldn’t play for the rest of the season, and going into the summer I didn’t have a deal or anything in place,” Smith said. “So everybody was like, ‘Oh, he can’t play, he’s not an NBA player.’ This, that and the third. It didn’t really mean much to me when they saying that because I know who I am. But to be able to come in and prove the people that believe in me right, I think that means a lot.”

There’s more from Charlotte:

  • Rookie guard Bryce McGowens had his two-way contract converted to a standard deal this week, but his play of late hasn’t matched his promotion, Boone writes in another Observer article. McGowens opted for extra practice time after Friday’s game, in which he misfired badly on two of his three shot attempts. “I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the rookie wall,” McGowens said. “I would say it’s just getting back to the basics and the stretch that I had in midseason, just getting back to that, staying confident. I feel like these past couple of games it wasn’t there and I feel that.”
  • In a recent appearance on the Hornets Nest podcast, Gordon Hayward characterized his time with the franchise as “unlucky.” He notes that Charlotte has been plagued by numerous injuries since he was traded there in 2020.
  • P.J. Washington is listed as probable for Sunday after missing the last four games with a foot injury, Boone tweets.

Hornets’ Kelly Oubre Undergoes Surgery On Hand

JANUARY 5: Oubre underwent a successful surgery on the torn ligament in his left hand, the Hornets have announced in a press release.

JANUARY 3: Hornets forward Kelly Oubre will undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left hand, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Oubre is expected to be sidelined for approximately four-to-six weeks while recovering from the procedure, sources tell Charania.

Oubre appeared in each of the Hornets’ first 34 games of the season before missing three of the last four. However, according to Charania, the 27-year-old has been dealing with the hand injury since the first week of the season and has been attempting to play through the pain.

Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer wrote over the weekend that the Hornets were trying to come up with a plan for how to treat the injury, which was being referred to as a sprain. Head coach Steve Clifford said Oubre was “really sore” and “definitely needs time.” It sounds like Hornets doctors ultimately determined that surgery, rather than rest and treatment, will be the best path forward for Oubre.

Despite battling the injury, Oubre is averaging a career-high 20.2 points per game through 35 games (32.6 MPG) for Charlotte this season. His shooting percentage of 42.1% from the floor and 30.8% on three-pointers all well below his career marks though, which is perhaps an indication that the hand has been bothering him.

Oubre, earning $12.6MM this season, is in a contract year and had been considered a possible trade candidate if the Hornets decide to sell. The recovery timeline provided by Charania should put the forward on track to return sometime around the February 9 deadline, so he could still draw interest from teams looking for another piece in the wing.

Although Oubre’s absence is an unfortunate break for Charlotte, the club is healthier now than it has been for much of the season, with LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and Terry Rozier all available after missing time earlier in 2022/23. Point guard Dennis Smith Jr. also returned to action on Monday following an 18-game absence due to an ankle injury.

Hornets Notes: Williams, Maledon, Oubre, Smith Jr.

Mark Williams hasn’t played as much as some of his fellow first-round picks, so he’s taking advantage of the opportunities the Hornets are giving him in the G League, writes Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer. Williams was selected 15th overall, but the Hornets view him as a long-term project at center. He’s behind Mason Plumlee and Nick Richards on the depth chart and has logged 13 total minutes in three games, so Williams is focused on making an impact with Greensboro Swarm.

“Go down there, dominate, show the pro that I am and I try to do that,” Williams said. “There’s nothing like playing five-on-five. It’s good to get in a flow, get into rhythm and be able to play, go down and do that. I just got to make the most of the opportunity when I’m out there, just try to work on my game. Work on the defensive principles and stuff like that, so whenever the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready for it.”

Boone points out that Charlotte traditionally has young players work on their skills in the G League, with Richards and Kai Jones as two recent examples. Coach Steve Clifford said it’s beneficial for rookies to play regularly and experience success, and Williams is on board with that philosophy.

“At the end of the day it’s not like when I’m there I can do anything about it,” Williams said. “You’ve just got to make the most of it, turn it into a positive and just go out there and play basketball. It’s definitely great for your confidence, going there, playing there, playing well. It’s definitely great for your confidence to go there and show what you are capable of.”

There’s more from Charlotte:

  • The Hornets’ top four guards have all battled injuries this season, so Theo Maledon has been playing more than expected, Boone adds. Maledon signed a two-way contract on October 15, four days after being waived by the Rockets, and is averaging 16.7 minutes in 20 games. “It’s for sure a huge confidence boost,” Maledon said. “Just not being there for preseason and just getting in with the team and just being able to do what I’m doing right now is a great feeling, and I just want it to keep going and have that same mentality for sure.”
  • With free agency looming next summer, Kelly Oubre sounds interested in a long-term future in Charlotte. He talked about his love for the city in an appearance on Boone’s podcast. “Just coming from where I’ve been at in my career, just like the ups and downs, the uneasiness, I’ve never been able to find a consistent flow in a city, other than the city I was drafted in because I was there for so long,” Oubre said. “It’s just been amazing, man, to come and play for this city and for this organization.”
  • Dennis Smith Jr. will miss his fourth straight game tonight with a sprained left ankle, but he’s no longer wearing a walking boot, Boone tweets.

Hornets’ LaMelo Ball Re-Injures Left Ankle, Out At Least Friday

NOVEMBER 17: Ball did not practice on Thursday and will not play on Friday versus Cleveland, tweets Rod Boone of The Charlotte Observer.

We’ll be without him here,” head coach Steve Clifford said. “I don’t think we have any idea how long.”

Clifford also told reporters that Ball had an X-ray after Wednesday’s game, which came back negative.

NOVEMBER 16: Point guard LaMelo Ball, who just made his 2022/23 regular season debut on Saturday, re-injured his left ankle late in Wednesday’s loss to Indiana and did not return, the Hornets announced (via Twitter).

According to the Hornets, Ball suffered a left ankle sprain — the same injury that caused him to miss the team’s first 13 games. He initially injured his ankle in preseason and it was fairly serious, since it was a Grade 2 sprain.

A first-time All-Star last season, Ball averaged 20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.6 steals on .429/.389/.872 shooting in 75 games (32.3 MPG). While he had to shake off some rust in his first two games back this season, he was having a big night Wednesday prior to the injury, recording 26 points and six assists in 37 minutes.

After making the play-in tournament in each of the past two seasons, the Hornets have struggled early on in ’22/23, with Wednesday’s loss dropping their record to 4-12. In addition to Ball, Terry Rozier (ankle), Cody Martin (knee surgery) and Gordon Hayward (shoulder) have all had extended injury absences, and backup point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has missed the past two games with his own left ankle sprain (Twitter link).

If Ball and Smith miss more time with their ankle sprains, Theo Maledon and James Bouknight should see an increase in minutes.

Southeast Notes: DSJ, Beal, Haslem, F. Wagner

Dennis Smith Jr. didn’t have a ton of personal or team success during his stint as a Knick from 2019-21, but he said on Wednesday that the adversity he experienced in New York “helped me grow as a person,” as Zach Braziller of The New York Post relays.

“Without going though what I went through, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’m thankful for that whole time I was here, the good and the bad,” Smith said before his new team, the Hornets, faced the Knicks. “The thing I learned is nobody gave me my happiness or my job, so I can’t let anybody steal it. I came in, found something to be grateful for every day, and I started to make the most of every situation I was in. That really prepared me for where I’m at now.”

A free agent for most of the 2022 offseason, Smith said he told his agent he wasn’t interested in playing overseas and indicated that he mulled the possibility of trying to compete for a spot in the NFL as a defensive back, per Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.

Smith ultimately landed in Charlotte, and while his deal with the Hornets remains non-guaranteed, he has played well in LaMelo Ball‘s absence, including registering 14 points and 11 assists against his old team in New York on Wednesday. Head coach Steve Clifford likes what he has seen so far from the former lottery pick.

“His defense is just, I mean, it’s terrific,” Clifford said, according to Braziller. “His individual defense, his pick-and-roll defense, his team defense. He’s competing at an incredibly high level at that end of the floor. Some guys figure it out late, some guys figure it out right away. He’s a talented guy. Even though with the injuries he’s not the athlete he was, but he’s still a really good athlete even for this league. I don’t see that he’s doing anything that he can’t continue to do, frankly.”

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • After signing a record-setting $251MM contract in the offseason, star guard Bradley Beal is now trying to lead his teammates by example, especially on the defensive end, writes Josh Robbins of The Athletic. The 3-1 Wizards have a top-five defense in the NBA early on in the 2022/23 season. “I know that … if I’m engaged and locked in and energetic and ready to go on the defensive end, that speaks volumes to the rest of the team, and everybody else follows suit,” Beal said. “We almost have a saying: ‘If Brad can do it, everybody can do it.’ So if I can get down in a stance and get after it, everybody can. It’s something that we hold each other accountable to do, starting with me.”
  • Having appeared briefly in the Heat‘s Wednesday victory in Portland, veteran big man Udonis Haslem has now officially played in 20 NBA seasons, fulfilling a vow he made to his late father. Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel has the story and the quotes from Haslem.
  • In a conversation with Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Magic forward Franz Wagner spoke about his long-term goals, his early impressions of No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, and getting to play with brother Moritz Wagner in Orlando.

Contract Details: Lakers, Galloway, DSJ, McCollum, More

When the Lakers signed Matt Ryan and Dwayne Bacon to non-guaranteed training camp contracts earlier this month, both players received Exhibit 9 clauses in their new deals, but not Exhibit 10s, Hoops Rumors has learned.

Exhibit 9 contracts are non-guaranteed camp deals that don’t count against the cap during the preseason and offer teams some protection in the event of an injury. Exhibit 10s are similar, but also allow teams to convert the player to a two-way deal (if he’s eligible) or to give him a bonus worth up to $50K if he’s waived and then spends at least 60 days with the team’s G League affiliate.

As a general rule, a player who signs a training camp contract without an Exhibit 10 clause is usually just competing for a spot on his team’s 15-man regular season roster and won’t end up playing for the club’s G League affiliate if he doesn’t make the cut.

Langston Galloway (Pacers), Dennis Smith Jr. (Hornets), LiAngelo Ball (Hornets), Cody Zeller (Jazz), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (Suns), and Wes Iwundu (Trail Blazers) are among the other recently signed free agents who signed Exhibit 9 – not Exhibit 10 – contracts.

Here are a few more contract details from around the NBA:

Hornets Sign Dennis Smith Jr. To One-Year Deal

SEPTEMBER 23: The Hornets have officially signed Smith, the team announced today in a press release.

SEPTEMBER 21: The Hornets have agreed to sign Dennis Smith Jr. to a one-year contract, agent Daniel Hazan tells Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Smith’s deal will be non-guaranteed, per Rod Boone of The Charlotte Observer (Twitter link).

The ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft and a North Carolina native, Smith averaged 15.2 PPG and 5.2 APG in 69 games (29.7 MPG) as a rookie in Dallas, but his shooting percentages (.395/.313/.694) were underwhelming and he was supplanted as the Mavericks’ starting point guard following the arrival of Luka Doncic in 2018.

Smith was subsequently traded to New York in the Kristaps Porzingis blockbuster in 2019, then was flipped to Detroit in the Derrick Rose deal two years later. Following the expiration of his rookie contract in 2021, Smith signed with the Trail Blazers. He averaged 5.6 PPG and 3.6 APG on .418/.222/.656 in 37 appearances (17.2 MPG) for Portland last season before a UCL tear in his right elbow prematurely ended his season.

While Smith’s contract won’t be guaranteed, he has a potential path to a 15-man roster spot in Charlotte if he shows he’s fully healthy and has a strong preseason. LaMelo Ball is the Hornets’ starting point guard and Terry Rozier will take on some ball-handling responsibilities, but the team’s depth chart is otherwise thin at the point.

Currently, the Hornets have 18 players under contract, including 13 players on guaranteed salaries, four on Exhibit 10s, and one on a two-way contract. The team would have room for one more player on its 20-man training camp roster once Smith is officially signed, assuming restricted free agent Miles Bridges remains in limbo due to his legal troubles.

And-Ones: D. Smith, Micic, 2023 FAs, Contracts

Former ninth overall pick Dennis Smith Jr. is holding a private workout in Las Vegas on Monday, his agent Daniel Hazan tells Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Currently a free agent, Smith will attempt to show teams that he’s healthy and deserving a roster spot this fall after his 2021/22 season ended prematurely due to a partially torn UCL.

Smith, 24, earned a regular season roster spot in Portland after being invited to training camp last fall. He appeared in 37 games for the Blazers, averaging 5.6 PPG, 3.6 APG, 2.4 RPG, and 1.2 SPG in 17.2 minutes per contest. Before he injured his elbow, the 2017 lottery pick had become a regular part of the team’s rotation with Damian Lillard sidelined.

Approximately 10 teams are expected to attend Smith’s workout on Monday, Haynes says.

Here’s more from around the NBA:

  • After winning back-to-back EuroLeague titles with Anadolu Efes, 28-year-old guard Vasilije Micic feels like he’s ready to make the leap to the NBA. “I can say that this year, I’m ready to go to the NBA and that it’s time,” Micic said during a TV interview, per “Last year I wasn’t mentally ready because I wanted another year in Europe, but we’ll see. I am also very happy in Efes and we will see what happens. I’m enjoying the moment.” The Thunder hold Micic’s NBA rights, but reports have suggested his reps would like Oklahoma City to trade him.
  • Danny Leroux of The Athletic takes an early look at the NBA’s 2023 free agent period, observing that it doesn’t look like a particularly star-studded class. LeBron James, Khris Middleton, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving, and Andrew Wiggins are among the top players who could reach free agency next summer, though it’s probably safe to assume at least one or two of them will sign extensions before then.
  • Mike Vornukov of The Athletic wonders if we’ll ever see NBA teams publicly disclose contract terms when they announce free agent signings, as some clubs in other sports do.

Trail Blazers Promote Trendon Watford, Waive Dennis Smith Jr.

1:40pm: Watford’s promotion and Smith’s release are now official, according to an announcement from the Trail Blazers. Portland now has an open two-way slot.

11:40am: The Trail Blazers have reached an agreement on a deal with rookie forward Trendon Watford that will promote him from his two-way contract to the 15-man roster and give him a new four-year contract, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

According to Wojnarowski, Portland will waive guard Dennis Smith Jr. in order to create an opening on the 15-man roster for Watford. Smith is currently sidelined due to an elbow injury.

Watford’s new four-year contract will be worth $5.8MM, says Wojnarowski. The Blazers will dip into their mid-level exception in order to go up to four years and to give the 21-year-old a salary worth a little more than the prorated minimum for the rest of 2021/22 — the remaining three years will be worth the minimum. Additionally, the final two seasons of the deal will be non-guaranteed, according to Woj.

Watford, who went undrafted out of LSU in 2021, quickly caught on with the Trail Blazers on a two-way deal and was one of the very first players to officially sign a contract once the ’21/22 league year started in August.

Watford began the season out of the rotation and didn’t play double-digit minutes in a game until January 3, but he has appeared in every one of Portland’s games since then. In 24 games since the calendar flipped to 2022, he’s averaging 5.5 PPG and 3.9 RPG on 60.4% shooting in 15.5 minutes per contest. We identified him last week as one of the players on two-way contracts who was a candidate for a promotion.

Smith, 24, signed a non-guaranteed contract with Portland in the 2021 offseason and won a roster spot in training camp. He appeared in 37 games for the team, averaging 5.6 PPG, 3.6 APG, 2.4 RPG, and 1.2 SPG in 17.2 minutes per contest. Before he injured his elbow, the former lottery pick had become a more regular part of the rotation due to Damian Lillard‘s absence.

The fact that Portland is opting to waive Smith rather than injured forward Joe Ingles, who was acquired for salary-matching purposes at this month’s trade deadline, suggests that the team may still see value in Ingles’ Bird rights. However, with Ingles out for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL, he remains a candidate to be cut in the coming weeks if the Blazers want to make another signing.

Dennis Smith Jr. Out At Least 3-4 Weeks With Elbow Injury

Trail Blazers guard Dennis Smith Jr. is expected to be sidelined until at least mid-March due to a right elbow injury, the team announced today in a press release.

According to the Blazers, Smith has been diagnosed with a high-grade partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow. He’ll be reevaluated in three or four weeks, the club added.

Smith, 24, signed a non-guaranteed contract with Portland in the 2021 offseason and won a roster spot in training camp. He has since appeared in 37 games for the team, averaging 5.6 PPG, 3.6 APG, 2.4 RPG, and 1.2 SPG in 17.2 minutes per contest. The former lottery pick became a more regular part of the rotation in the new year due to Damian Lillard‘s absence.

Portland doesn’t have a ton of depth at the point guard spot with Lillard, Smith, and Eric Bledsoe all sidelined, but has been relying on Anfernee Simons and Justise Winslow for play-making.

If the Blazers feel compelled to add another backcourt option, they could open up a spot on their roster by waiving an expendable player such as injured forward Joe Ingles.