The swirl of NBA free-agency is what delivers both hope and trepidation for a prospect such as the Miami Heat’s Javonte Smart.
Your team ships out a bunch of players to match salaries with a single elite addition, and roster spots immediately open.
Your team takes in additional bodies to facilitate a deal, and roster real estate vanishes.
Against that backdrop, Smart, already with experience at the NBA level with the Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, is attempting to showcase himself over these two weeks of NBA summer league.
“I’ve already been through it. So coming back for my second year, I think it’s a lot easier,” said Smart, a 6-foot-3 guard who holds one of the Heat’s two two-way contracts, along with guard Mychal Mulder. “I know how the game goes. I know the spacing would be a little different than it usually would be, because a lot of young guys are in. But I think overall it’s just another learning experience.”
The ride, as has been the case for the entire Heat summer roster, has been uneven through the first two games of the California Classic, in the Heat’s pair of losses. In the summer opener, a 34-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers’ summer roster, Smart closed 1 of 8 on 3-pointers. Then, Sunday, he was more in control in a team-best 12-point outing that also included a team-high four assists in the 40-minute game.
The latter aspect, he appreciates, could be a key to a potential second NBA season after going undrafted out of LSU in 2021.
“My playmaking ability, I can make plays for others,” he said. “Also, I can get mine. But also look for my teammates. Keep being a leader. Keep trying to put the guys in the right position to score the ball. Just make plays for others.”
A second consecutive summer league with the Heat means the team sees something to develop. But a second consecutive summer league also means questions remain.
“There are times,” Heat summer-league coach Malik Allen said, “where he’s going to have to be able to have the ball in his hands and not necessarily get you set up, but at least get you in some offense.”
Another chance will come Tuesday, when the Heat close out their three games at Chase Center in San Francisco with a 3 p.m. Eastern game against the summer roster of the host Golden State Warriors (NBA TV). Then it will be off for five more games at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, starting Saturday.
For Smart, the opportunity for a roster shot with the Heat, or even additional time on a two-way contract in 2022-23, could come down to how the rest of the offseason plays out, with the Heat backcourt mix in flux. Already, free-agent guard Victor Oladipo has been brought back. But there remains question of whether guard Tyler Herro might be flipped as part of a multiple-player trade package.
Allen said he appreciates the most difficult aspect for the 23-year-old neophyte is the patience to wait for his moment.
“He’s going to have a game,” Allen, an assistant to coach Erik Spoelstra during the regular season, said of Smart. “And he just has to trust it. The ball’s going to be in his hands a lot. We trust him. And he just has to keep growing as a player, to make the right play, whether that’s to score or get others involved.
“His intention is right. We just got to keep working at it, and keep building, and keep showing film, and just keep getting him comfortable in the role that he’s been in.”
The offensive bent is there, including a 20-point effort in the Heat’s regular-season finale against the Orlando Magic. There also was a 21.1 scoring average in 25 games in the G League last season.
“Not too many people get this chance,” Smart said. “I’m grateful for getting this opportunity again. You just got to live it how you want. You’ve got to go at it and keep going hard at it and don’t give up.”