MILWAUKEE — There was a very real chance Josh Smith could have been gearing up to play against his former team Saturday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Instead, the star forward took his usual place in Atlanta’s locker room, his teammates nearly on the floor laughing as he cracked jokes and told stories. He’s comfortable staying with the Hawks, but became convinced he was going to be somewhere else after Thursday’s deadline came and went.
“I was surprised (to stay in Atlanta), I was,” Smith said. “In the past three seasons now, I’ve been in trade discussions. The dynamics of the discussions that were going on this year outweighed all those (previous) trade rumors because it was national-based conversations.”
Wednesday was a sleepless night for Smith, as his mind was heavy with different possibilities of where he could be headed. He was in constant contact with his agent, whose phone was ringing off the hook.
“It was just the anxiety of not knowing,” said Smith, who is averaging 17.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.1 blocks in his ninth season with the Hawks before being able to test free agency this summer. “It was wearing on me a bit, and it went all the way up to the last minute.”
Milwaukee was in talks with the Hawks in the final hour before the deadline. The Bucks were looking to add the talented forward to their mix with the intention of making a serious playoff push this season, then trying to keep him in their future plans.
Instead, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry elected to keep Smith and take his chances in the offseason. Atlanta entered Saturday’s matchup two games ahead of the Bucks in the Eastern Conference standings, holding down the No. 6 spot in the East with Milwaukee at No. 8.
“It came down to the wire and (Milwaukee) was a possibility, but I’m here,” Smith said. “Now I have to focus on, ‘What can we do to keep jockeying for a playoff position?’ Milwaukee is a really talented ball club, and I see them being in the playoffs as well. It definitely was a possibility.”
Adding to the coincidence of Smith staying with the Hawks, Saturday marks the first of four meetings with the Bucks in the season’s final 29 games. It’s bizarre two conference teams meet for the first time on Feb. 23, but that’s the case for Atlanta and Milwaukee.
“It is kind of an awkward situation,” Smith said of now playing the Bucks four times. “It’s always fun playing against the Milwaukee team because they play so hard. You have to focus not just on one player.”
Prior to the deadline, Smith, 27, dismissed reports that said he was seeking a maximum-dollar contract in the offseason. There’s a chance Milwaukee will be interested in the offseason, and the Bucks have quite a bit of cap room available.
Could Smith end up wearing a Bucks uniform after all?
“You never know what is going to happen,” Smith said. “I can’t predict the future, nobody can. I will be a free agent, the first time I will be an unrestricted free agent in my career, so it’s kind of an exciting time for me. But I can only focus on what’s going on right now and what can we do to get a higher position in the playoffs.”