Ish Smith hoping to stay with Sixers, but he'll have options

Sixers guard Ish Smith drives to the basket against Portland's Damian Lillard in the first quarter. Saturday's game ended too late for this edition.
Sixers guard Ish Smith drives to the basket against Portland's Damian Lillard in the first quarter. Saturday's game ended too late for this edition. (STEVE DYKES / AP)
Posted: March 28, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. - Ish Smith wants to remain with the 76ers.

His coach, Brett Brown, also hopes the point guard returns next season. But Smith and the team may have other options that could lead to their parting ways for the second consecutive summer.

As a Sixer this season, Smith has enjoyed being a starter for the most extended period of his career. The 27-year-old, who will become a free agent this summer, will have to decide how much he wants to keep that role.

"Eventually, I will have to pray about that and figure it out," Smith said before Saturday's late game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center. "But if it's a good situation, and stuff like that, you can't be like, man, I just want to start. You got to humble yourself. If you are meant to start and you are meant to be an all-star, it will happen."

There was a time when it appeared the Sixers were by far the best situation for the 6-foot speedster, who has played on nine teams and is in his sixth year in the league.

After mistakenly not re-signing him last summer, the team, sort of, rectified the situation by acquiring him in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans on Dec. 24. The Sixers even sent the Pelicans two coveted second-round picks in exchange.

The results were instant. The Sixers had lost 30 of their first 31 games before Smith returned. They went 6-9 in the first 15 games after his arrival.

Despite that, the Sixers (9-63 through Friday) offered Smith, shooting guard Nik Stauskas, and a protected first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for point guard Dennis Schroder at the Feb. 18 trade deadline, according to sources.

The uncertainty surrounding the re-signing of Smith this summer was a holdup for the Hawks, according to one source. Smith, whose stock has risen, is expected to have plenty of suitors when he becomes a free agent.

Perhaps that's why the Sixers tried to ship him to Atlanta.

Sources have said the team is interested in drafting Providence point guard Kris Dunn in June, assuming the draft pick they get calls for that. Meanwhile, established NBA point guards, including Mike Conley, Brandon Jennings, Rajon Rondo, and Matthew Dellavedova, will become free agents this summer.

So the team and Smith will have options.

But no one can deny that he has been an upgrade for the Sixers since being reacquired. They ranked 26th in the league with an average of 18.8 assists per game in the 31 games before Smith arrived. In their 41 games since, through Wednesday, they've averaged 22.8 assists, putting them in 11th place.

Heading into Saturday, Smith was averaging 14.7 points and 7.0 assists since rejoining the Sixers, and has finished with 10 or more on seven occasions.

He was averaging 6.5 assists in 67 combined games with the Pelicans and Sixers, tied for 11th in the NBA with Kyle Lowry, the Philly native and Toronto Raptors all-star point guard.

"Listen, I would be thrilled to have Ish back," Brown said. "He's done everything and then some. As we all know, it's a volatile world that we live in. There are draft picks. There are trades. There's all the stuff that we know.

"But he's done everything that I have asked of him and then some. And I'm just personally fond of him."

Smith's perimeter shooting and defense have some questioning whether he can become a regular starter in the NBA. Right now, he's known for pushing the pace and excelling in the pick-and-roll.

To his credit, Smith had shown improved three-point shooting during a stretch after the all-star game. But teams are now making it tough for him by putting taller, athletic defenders on him. Former Sixer JaKarr Sampson (6-foot-9) guarded him at times Wednesday in the Sixers' loss to the Denver Nuggets.

"I don't know how my journey is going to end up," Smith said of free agency. "I'm kind of in between. Some are saying 'Yo, this kid is a starter.' And then some are looking like, 'Ah, you know what, he's legit. We know he can go. But is he a starter?' That's the beauty of it."

He's going to work on his weaknesses this summer and take that next step, wherever it leads him.

Brown and Smith hope that's back in Philly.

"I enjoy having him around," the coach said.

Said Smith: "Yeah, I love this city. Fans have been great. Man I would love to, but you never know."

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