ATLANTA – The NBA trading deadline turned out to be relatively anticlimactic for the Hawks, as the team elected to retain leading scorer Josh Smith, who will become an unrestricted free agent in July.
The Hawks did do a smaller deal, sending three-point shooting specialist Anthony Morrow to Dallas for Dahntay Jones, a 6-foot-6 wing defender that the Hawks have lacked. Morrow, who has an expiring contract, had lost playing time recently to injury and ended up being replaced by rookie John Jenkins, the team’s first-round pick in whom the organization has more invested.
Despite days of speculation and recent reporting that the Hawks were determined to trade Smith, it ended up not coming about. Smith, who is making in excess of $13 million this season in his ninth season in the league, all in the city where he is a native, has said he wants a contract worth max dollars under the league’s collective bargaining agreement – a sum which the Hawks might not want to pay the 6-9 forward.
“Right now, it’s not up to me where I go or what happens,” Smith, 27, said following practice but before the deadline passed, “but in the summertime I do have the flexibility to make my own decisions. It’s going to be my first time being a free agent — unrestricted — being able to see what’s out there. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve just got to focus on where I am right now.”
The Hawks went through in-depth discussions with numerous teams but in the end none of them proved equal to Smith’s talents: He averages 17.2 points 8.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.1 blocks. The Hawks are 29-23, sixth in the Eastern Conference, and poised for their sixth straight playoff appearance.
“We value Josh and we have said that all year long,” general manager Danny Ferry said. “He’s been important to this program and he’s been important to our year. We were in an unusual situation with Josh’s contract, our cap space and flexibility going forward. Having a good team right now, there were a lot of factors that that played into this. I think the main factor is that we value Josh and he’s been important to our group this year and (if the Hawks) finish the year strong, hopefully we play well and we’re a solid playoff team and we play well in the playoffs.”
By ridding themselves of Joe Johnson’s contract over the summer with the trade of him to Brooklyn, the Hawks seemingly freed themselves up not to have to trade Smith in order to rebuild the team. When asked what he thought the Hawks’ chances were of re-signing Smith this summer, Ferry responded that “we’ll address those things from the Hawks’ standpoint this summer and I’m sure Josh will have the opportunity to look at things from his standpoint.”
The risk that Ferry took in not dealing Smith is that the Hawks could lose him and receive nothing in return. Of course, one could infer by Ferry’s actions that Ferry would prefer not to make a deal in which he took on a player with a bad contract and that he would rather have the possibility of the substantial cap space vacated by Smith if he does end up leaving.
“We’re in a unique situation where we have a competitive roster,” Ferry said. “We have flexibility set up within this new collective bargaining agreement that allows us to look at a lot of different things going forward. I think we can walk into this season when we’re done playing and be organized and make decisions that I think can put us in a good position to grow our program and build a championship-caliber program and a championship team.”
Ferry said that in the time leading up to the deadline, he stayed in contact with Smith and his agent, along with other players and their agents whom the Hawks considered dealing.
The process seemed to weigh on Smith at the end, as he said he had trouble sleeping last night.
“I mean, compounded with the trade rumors and then the loss, it was a disappointing loss,” Smith said of Wednesday’s 103-90 defeat against Miami at Philips Arena. “I went to sleep kind of late last night. It was definitely hard to sleep.”
The Atlanta native also said that family members and friends have reached out in recent days to voice strong opinions with him. He was asked if any of them had any funny comments.
“It’s really not funny,” Smith said. “This is a serious moment right now. I find humor out of it, but they’re very passionate about what’s happening.”
Hawks coach Larry Drew, who was peppered with questions in recent days, said he was trying to keep his team from being distracted.
“We have to go about this thing in a regular, in a normal business manner and that is to conduct business as usual,” Drew said.