When it comes to trade rumors swirling around forward Josh Smith, the Atlanta Hawks have rarely taken the road less traveled in recent years. Instead, they’ve traversed a route that’s beaten, rocky, narrow and filled with speculation.
With a new general manager and franchise vision, this season is no exception. Smith is once again front and center on the NBA stage, at least in terms of the trade talks, but the feel is different this time around — more urgency, more possibility. Judging by the rumor mill and Smith’s reported rejection of Atlanta’s three-year, $47 million extension offer, a move is considered more likely than not.
The trade deadline is just 10 days away (Feb. 21) and the history of the Atlanta franchise — and one of its all-time greats — hangs in the balance.
The latest report centers on the Brooklyn Nets, the same team that traded for former Hawks’ All-Star Joe Johnson this past offseason, in an attempt to bring additional frontline talent to pair with Johnson, point guard Deron Williams and center Brook Lopez. Other potential suitors to be mentioned over the past few weeks are the Rockets, Mavericks, Suns, Celtics and Magic, among others.
If the Hawks (27-22, sixth in the Eastern Conference) allow the trade deadline to pass without making a move, Hawks GM Danny Ferry would likely be forced to either offer the five-year contract Smith desires or let the talented 27-year-old to walk off the team’s books without receiving assets in return. If that were to happen, however, the team would possess additional financial flexibility moving forward to potentially pursue marquee names through trades or free agency moves, presumably next summer.
There’s also the outside chance the team moves Smith this summer in a sign-and-trade scenario, although the team’s options would then be fewer and farther between.
Smith’s time in Atlanta has boasted its share of ups and downs, although his on-court performance and off-court behavior during Ferry’s short tenure have been far from spotless. The College Park, Ga., native is in the midst of one of his least efficient seasons as a pro — far from a major obstacle given his ability and past numbers, but still a viable question mark — and was suspended in January for conduct labeled “detrimental to the team.” Any team that pulls the trigger on a Smith-centric trade would certainly be buying low, to borrow a stock-and-trade term, which could affect any potential assets the Hawks could receive.
Still a threat on both ends of the court, Smith currently leads the team in points (16.9) and blocks per game (2.0). His minutes have increased this season, but his field goal and free throw percentages, turnovers and rebounds are all trending negatively thus far compared to his All-Star-level performance in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign.
Atlanta and Smith are reportedly at a bargaining stalemate, and the market is heating up. It’s strange to think such an central figure to the Hawks’ organization since 2004 — he ranks highly in nearly every major statistical in franchise history — is on his way out of Atlanta, despite his polarizing performance (and shot selection) during his eight-plus seasons.
With 179 more points, he’d become the eighth player to score 10,000 points in a Hawks uniform. Now, he may be wearing different colors before he hits that career milestone.