The ball never stops bouncing for Ish Smith. Undrafted, undersized and overlooked, the journey to basketball stardom is a never ending one. Five years, eleven different teams, including a D-League gig and a short preseason stint with the Wizards last summer, Smith will go to any place where there’s an opportunity; to any team that’ll help him keep the dream alive. Whereas most NBA players reside in luxurious seven figure kingdoms, Smith is “home” when he boards an airplane or hops on a bus because, in hindsight, that’s where he’s spent so much of his time since turning pro in 2010. And though many of the league’s flashier players flaunt Rolex watches on their wrists and diamond rings on their fingers, the only accessory you’ll see attached to Smith is a suitcase or a duffel bag because he knows damn well that in the blink of an eye he could be gone. “You never get used it. But it happens, it’s the job, you keep moving,” Smith said about consistently switching teams. “The next city is the next opportunity, that’s how you got to look at it. Once you get the opportunity to play you hope and pray God brings out your best gift, and that it works [out].”
For Smith, the 27-year-old former Wake Forest Demon Deacon, his “opportunity” couldn’t have come at a more perfect time to a 76ers team in desperate need of his services. Lacking an experienced floor general with the ability to make crisp passes, halt turnovers and gun it in transition, Ish has provided a much needed steadiness to a youthful, often reckless and always unpredictable Sixers roster. Since being acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans on December 24th, Smith has looked like the reincarnation of Mo Cheeks; posting averages of 15.3 points, 7.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 21 games, including seven games of 10 assists or more. Against the league’s best point guard, Smith has been no slouch either. In some of his more memorable performances this season, Ish has no only held his own, but has outplayed some of the league’s brightest stars. He dropped 18 points (10 assists, 7 rebounds) on Kyrie Irving, 22 on John Wall and 28 on Kyle Lowry; three all-star point guards who are set to make $16.5 million, $15 million and $12 million, respectively, this season. Smith, on the other hand, will profit just $947,276 by season’s end.
But despite his rejuvenating play for relatively nothing, monetary wise, on an NBA pay scale, it’s safe to wonder as to what the future hold for one of the league’s most improved players. Smith has stated in the past that he would love to remain a Sixer, but with the team holding multiple lottery picks in the upcoming draft and with management seeking out big name players to help tranquil a displeased Philadelphia fan base, his second go around in red, white and blue might end prematurely. Simply put, the team is satisfied with Smith’s play this season, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking towards the future. According to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Sixers front office has been in preliminary discussions with the Atlanta Hawks about a trade involving point guards Jeff Teague or Dennis Schroder in exchange for one of Philly’s trio of young big men.
According to Pompey:
“The 76ers have contacted the Atlanta Hawks about their desire to trade point guard Jeff Teague or backup Dennis Schroder, a league source said.
The source said the Sixers have not made a trade offer for either of the two. Multiple league sources said they don’t expect the Sixers to make a serious push for one of the point guards before the Feb. 18 trade deadline.
That’s because centers Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor have the biggest trade value on the team. As a result, teams have been calling about those two. However, the Sixers don’t want to part ways with either until they know if Joel Embiid, a third center, will be healthy enough to play.”
Ironically, if the Sixers were to land Teague, it wouldn’t be the first time he and Smith would pair up in the same backcourt together. As teammates at Wake Forest, Smith played second fiddle to the explosive Teague who entered his freshman campaign as the nation’s ninth ranked high school point guard in 2007. In his two seasons as a Demon Deacon, Teague became the school’s first All-American since Chris Paul and was selected as a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award (given to the best point guard in college basketball) before being selected nineteenth overall by the Hawks in the 2009 NBA Draft. Smith, on the other hand, stayed at Wake Forest all four years and only registered one double digit scoring season (13.2 ppg) during his senior year; the year following Teague’s departure.
As the trade deadline approaches, the Sixers will a tough decision to make; trade for a former all-star in Teague despite the uncertainty of whether or not he’ll stay in Philadelphia long term after his contract expires in 2017 or ink Smith for cheap and continue to trust in their youth and rebuild with the draft. Regardless of what happens, Ish Smith will be ready with his suitcase packed and his boarding ticket in hand because whatever the future holds, if one thing is for certain, it’s that the journey never ends and ball never stops bouncing. “The mentality you have to have is, I’m going to play hard and win every game. That’s my objective, to come out and give 100 percent and try to win the game. When it comes to rebuilding and stuff like that, as a player you don’t think about it. You just play. You let the front office worry about all that stuff.”