There were a couple odd sights at Sixers’ practice Wednesday.
First, there was Jimmy Butler sporting Zhaire Smith’s practice jersey. Then there was Smith himself, present and accounted for, at the Sixers’ practice facility in Camden.
“Oh, s---. I forgot I had this mother f----- on,” Butler said when asked why he was wearing Smith’s jersey. “I just wanted to be the better Zhaire today. I felt like I gave him the business today in practice.”
Smith surely would’ve given anything to have an NBA All-Star give him "the business" a few months ago.
It’s been a weird journey in his first pro season. Though this organization’s definition of weird — especially with injuries to first-round picks — differs greatly from other teams, Smith went through a lot.
After being drafted 16th overall by the Suns out of Texas Tech, Smith was part of a swap that sent Philly native and Villanova product Mikal Bridges — whose mom works for the Sixers — to Phoenix and brought Smith to Philadelphia. After a fairly uneventful but productive summer league stint, Smith went to work preparing for Sixers training camp.
Unfortunately, Smith then suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot on Aug. 6 during a development camp in Las Vegas and had successful surgery on Aug. 10 in New York City.
Smith then underwent a successful thoracoscopy on Sept. 27 to address an issue from an allergic reaction to a food product. Because of all this, Smith’s physical condition deteriorated. He lost weight and needed to regain his strength and conditioning.
But give Smith credit. He’s been working out with the Sixers’ G-League affiliate in Delaware, trying to get back on the court. Make no mistake, Wednesday’s practice was a big step.
“He’s handling it well,” Butler said. “Every time I see him he’s in here working on his game as much as he can, in the weight room trying to get stronger or doing the rehab he’s supposed to be doing.”
Lost in all of the craziness is that Smith seems like a legitimate prospect that could’ve helped the Sixers this season. His athleticism and ability to play tough defense on the ball would’ve been welcomed additions to the Sixers’ bench — especially prior to the trade deadline.
Alas, Smith didn’t get the opportunity to shine, and with just 24 games left in the regular season, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to play in an NBA game this season.
But still, he’s just 19 years old and could become a player for the Sixers yet.
“It was great to see him,” Brett Brown said. “You’re reminded how of how athletic he is. He had a bounce today. It was just good to have him included with his teammates.”
Enough bounce to play a game this season?
“I don’t know," Brown said. "It wasn’t my expectation and still really isn’t, but I think to see him move around with his teammates, from a human standpoint, was pretty cool.”
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