Will Derek Smith Return?

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July 2, 1991

Derek Smith is in familiar territory. He's an unrestricted free agent again. And he's facing surgery again.

Smith said yesterday he'll be in Boston next Monday to have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. The operation will be performed at New England Baptist Hospital by Celtics team physician Arnold Scheller. It will be Smith's fifth knee operation in the last six years - and second in 10 months. 

"I was experiencing some pain playing in some pickup games out here and I came back to Boston for an MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging exam a couple weeks ago," Smith said from his home in Louisville, Ky. "They found a little bit of cartilage that might be the cause of the discomfort. I didn't think I had any left, they've been in there so many times. But they're going to scope it out next Monday."

The operation means Smith won't be able to attend the Celtics' rookie camp, scheduled for July 20-23 at Babson College. Smith said he has been told he can resume a normal workout pace two weeks after the operation and that he plans to come to Boston later in the summer to work out for the Celtics.

"They're going to bring me in," he said. "It'll be just like last year." Last year, the team brought in Smith for a hermetically sealed, hush-hush workout at Hellenic College and signed him the following day.

Yesterday, Smith became an unrestricted free agent for the fourth time in his career. The last time was a year ago when the Philadelphia 76ers cut him loose to sign Jayson Williams. He had surgery in September to remove scar tissue from the left knee and signed with the Celtics in December. He played in only 10 games, however, and said he never felt completely comfortable.

At the NBA draft last week, Celtics basketball boss Dave Gavitt said the team still has interest in a healthy Smith. Gavitt has relayed that view to Smith's agent, Ron Grinker. Smith wants to return. Because he last played here, the Celtics are under no salary-cap restraints in their effort to re-sign him.

His possible return inevitably led to the topic of Rick Fox, Boston's No. 1 draft pick, and, like Smith, a tough, rugged, 6-foot-7-inch player who doesn't mind playing defense. Smith was asked if the selection of Fox had him at all concerned about his position on the Celtics.

"Rick Fox? If I got two legs that are in operable condition, I'm not worried about Rick Fox," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I think it's a good pick. They don't know about my situation and they're covering all the bases. He's a good player. But I'm not worried about Rick Fox.

"They know there's a tremendous void on the team that they have to fill. They don't have who I am. Or what I am. I never even got to the point of where I had been in Philly the year before. If I could have just done that, Chris Ford would have had a hard time keeping me on the bench."

What happens if the knee doesn't come around? Smith said he already is getting out feelers to get into coaching through his good friend and former coach, Sixers mentor Jimmy Lynam.

"If I can't play 18 minutes a night and make a contribution, I'll retire and do some coaching," he said. "Jimmy thinks I have a lot of potential. It's definitely something I'd like to consider after my playing days."

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