The Pelicans newest forward used the time to reflect.
In his year away from NBA ball, newly-signed New Orleans Pelicans forward Josh Smith spent the year reviewing what's most important in his 31-year-old life, he said.
He, a rugged, 12-year NBA veteran, even attended some "Daughter-Father days" with his daughter, Genesis, at school during the off year.
Most recently, prior to Smith's two points in 6:56 minutes during his Pelicans debut Saturday, he appeared in 26 games as a Sichuan Blue Whale for the Chinese Basketball Association in 2016-17 and averaged 18.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.0 blocks overseas.
Smith's spent time as a versatile, 6-foot-9, left-handed forward as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers since being drafted by the Hawks in 2004, maintaining career averages of 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.9 blocks in 32.5 minutes per game.
"He's also a big guy that can make plays," said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry. "He's made plays in the past. Good passer and has a pretty good feel for the game."
Though his time may be limited in New Orleans since he joined the Pelicans after they received an injury hardship exemption from the NBA, Smith's veteran experience (892 career games) may be valuable to a Pelicans club splintered with injuries, he said.
The Advocate spoke with freshly-signed Pelicans forward Smith, who hasn't played in the NBA since 2015-16, before Saturday's 6 p.m. tipoff against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Q&A is below.
What was it like getting the call from the Pelicans?
“Felt like the first day, being in the Green Room, getting that call when I got drafted. Just being away from the game for a year gave me great time to reflect and put things in perspective about what’s more important in my life and what didn’t have any meaning. Being able to get this call, I feel like it was a second chance, a breath of fresh air. I thank the New Orleans Pelicans organization for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to do what I continue to love to do.”
What’s it like for you to play alongside two bigs like Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins?
“Sshh, it’s amazing. Those guys are future Hall of Famers. Two of the dominant big men in the game. Being able to play with them is going to make my play so much — that much more easier. All I’ve got to do is move with those guys ‘cause they’re going to draw so much attention. It’s easier on the other guys to be able to help facilitate with them.”
How do you anticipate to fit in on the floor with the Pelicans?
“I mean I’m just happy to be here. I'm not really focused on minutes, or anything else. I'm just happy to be here and be able to get an opportunity to help these guys.”
Did you think you’d get another chance in the NBA?
“Yeah. I mean, I’m very optimistic. I keep my faith strong in God. I did a lot of praying, already speaking it into an existence, thanking him for the second chance. You know, the grind and the hard work out there that I’ve been putting in, I knew initially that I’d get that second chance and I was going to make the best out of it.”
What’s it going to be like to run out on the court again?
“I don’t know yet. It’s going to feel amazing, man. It’s going to feel amazing.”
This locker room, with Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo, Jameer Nelson and the veterans, what advantage does that give you guys?
“It gives us a lot. Two out of the three guys won a championship. Jameer is a guy that’s been a guy that’s been to the Finals. And that’s been deep in the playoffs. And [Jameer] won big games for teams, you know, just like he did in Sacramento, he played big. Those guys give the locker room that much more attentiveness. It gives them that much more focus because a seasoned vet knows what it takes in order to be successful. Being able to have that many players on one team that’s been so successful in their careers playing, it helps these young guys out a lot.”
What was it like not playing, watching games on TV? How tough was that?
“Well, I played in China for like three months last year. I really didn’t watch it like that. I was taking time out and being able to spend it with my kids. You know, something that we take for granted as well being professional athletes and not being able to be home as much we’d want to do. So I was able to be able to take my kids to their games, watch them play and go to certain things in school, you know, with my daughter. Daughter-Father days, stuff like that. I got a lot done with my kids.”
You were with them in Sacramento, yes?
What’d you see from that game?
“Man, that there’s no quit in this team. A lot of teams that would’ve faced that deficit early on probably would’ve had their heads downs and their posture — their whole demeanor — would’ve changed. But these guys stayed and fought. I was back there in the back cheering. Cheering my a-- off. It was an amazing game, an amazing comeback. I was happy that the team was about to lift up us and be able to give my man DeMarcus Cousins a big win in Sacramento.”
Advocate sportswriters Scott Kushner and Rod Walker contributed to this report.