ATLANTA – Nineteen days. It’s a span that will decide if Josh Smith plays the remainder of this season in a Hawks uniform or someone else’s.
It’s Smith’s No. 5 that’s the dominant jersey on the backs of those in the Philips Arena seats and the face of the College Park, Ga. native — along with Lou Williams of Snellville — that appears on a billboard in metro Atlanta proclaiming him “homegrown.”
That homegrown forward took the ball from Kyle Korver on a fast break, broke away from a trailing Luol Deng and delivered a one-hand slam that brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Hawks a 44-43 lead on the Bulls at halftime Saturday night.
Smith scored 10 of his team-high 19 points in the second quarter, finishing with 13 rebounds for his 19th double-double of the season and added five assists as the Hawks fell 93-76.
“We felt we had a conceivable matchup advantage, which we did at times with Josh Smith at the (small forward) and we took advantage of it,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew.
J-Smoove is Atlanta, playing his entire nine-year career with the Hawks since being selected with the No. 17 pick in the 2004 draft out of Oak Hill Academy.
But it’s a marriage that’s often been rocky and one that could be nearing its end, one way or the other.
It’s a path the Hawks have been down before, giving Joe Johnson a deal worth $123.6 million for six years. It was a contract that hamstrung the organization until it chose to trade him this offseason to the Nets.
So would the Hawks be willing to do it again? Should they do it again or will they trade a player who is reportedly coveted by the Bobcats, Mavericks, Rockets and Suns?
There’s no question what the Hawks would be missing without Smith.
He’s a player that has left his mark on the franchise, ranking in the top 10 in nearly every major statistical category, save assists and steals and with a fourth quarter block he passed Erick Dampier for 40th on the NBA’s all-time list with 1,399 over his career. Though he’s also the same player that was suspended for a game last month for ‘conduct detrimental to the team.’
But all that Smith brings to the table and the fact that he’s entering his prime present a double-edged sword for the Hawks when it comes to his future.
A trade could give them something in return, which they won’t get if Smith leaves via free agency, but it would also take away the franchise’s most dynamic player and a major cog if this team wants to get past the first round of the playoffs.
Though even with Smith, the Hawks struggled against a Chicago team they could face in the postseason and one that was down to eight players without Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah and former MVP Derrick Rose, who has yet to return this season after knee surgery.
Deng had 25 points and 14 rebounds, one of three Bulls to post double-doubles along with Taj Gibson (19 points and 19 rebounds) and Jimmy Butler (16 points and 10 boards).
“We got totally outplayed tonight from start to finish,” Drew said. “The first half wasn’t pretty basketball. Coming in up one at (halftime), there should have been some signs of encouragement because we didn’t play well (and were still winning.) But I didn’t see any signs of encouragement.”
Smith, in particular, struggled in the second half. He attempted just two shots after halftime and didn’t get on the scoreboard again until hitting a three-pointer with 4:50 remaining in the game.
“The matchup we were looking for was mainly (with Smith at the small forward) from an advantage standpoint,” Drew said. “The first half we got some really good baskets off of it. The second half it was just hard for us to move the basketball. We got pretty stagnant and we started isolating and it took us out of our game.”
The Bulls, who came in ranked third in the league in points allowed at 90.9, held the Hawks to 39.2 percent from the field overall and 6 of 19 from beyond the arc. It was a loss that ended a three-game home winning streak for Atlanta.
Before the start of the fourth quarter the Lipps Inc.’s 1980s disco anthem “Funky Town” filled the arena as Smith stood huddled with his Hawks teammates. In the stands, a woman wearing a white Smith jersey danced as the lyrics “Gotta move on . . . gotta move on . . . gotta move on” blared.
Whether it was a bit of audio foreshadowing may be decided in these coming days — 19 and counting for Smith and the Hawks.