New contract on back burner for Hawks’ Smith

ATLANTA — In Josh Smith’s newest Adidas commercial, he traverses the city of Atlanta in a pristine white Hawks uniform discussing the encumbrances of carrying a franchise’s expectations. 

It’s nothing groundbreaking; typical basketball advertising. The shoe company has Smith recite his lines over a symphony of squeaking shoes and a keyboard-driven beat: “They say the hopes of a franchise are heavy, but that they are nothing compared to the hopes of a city.”

Hometowns might be even heavier.

It is a contract year for Smith, the standout Hawks forward who is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2012-13 NBA season. His future options were oft-discussed throughout an active offseason for the organization.

Will he attempt to recruit another superstar Atlanta native — like, say, Lakers center Dwight Howard — to join the franchise? Will he leave to join forces with another top player, like Boston’s Rajon Rondo, a good friend who Smith, to much subsequent speculation, played flag football with in Los Angeles recently? Will new general manager Danny Ferry even make a move to re-sign the All-Star-caliber playmaker?

The speculative musings will likely to persist all season. Smith expects it, though.

“It’s funny to me, man. I mean, they have to talk. It wouldn’t be fun if they didn’t,” Smith said at Monday’s Hawks Media Day event. “Nobody would read papers; nobody would pick up any newspapers or look at TV if they didn’t have any kind of news. I mean, it’s funny, whatever suits them, whatever they want to print is cool. But I’m here. I’m a Hawk. I did play flag football with one of my best friends, but when we play the Celtics I’m looking to tear him up.”

The key issue in the contract extension discussions presently deal with timing and length.

Per league rules, if Smith signs before the June 30 date next summer, he and the team can only agree to a deal with a three-year maximum. After that date, both parties can discuss a contract length of up to five years. All things considered, if there is mutual interest between Smith’s representatives and Ferry, perhaps it is in everyone’s best interest to take the wait-and-see approach.

“I think the team and I are on the same page, we know what we want to do,” said Smith, who will earn $13.2 million this season. “My main concern is making the playoffs and winning basketball games.”

Ferry has stated multiple times contract talks are going smoothly, but that no finalized deal is anticipated before the upcoming season plays out.

Smith has averaged 15.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in eight NBA seasons and he, along with All-Star forward Al Horford, are now the centerpieces to a team featuring eight new names on the roster. In a flurry of offseason moves, Ferry dumped incumbent starters Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, electing instead to piece together a transient roster of speedy veterans and sharpshooters. Smith isn’t nearly the only player in limbo — Horford is the only Hawks player locked in past the 2013-14 season.

“I’m all for change. I think with the unit we had for the last five years, we just felt ourselves being stuck in one place. We couldn’t get out of it, it was like we were stuck in cement,” Smith said. “If you’re a new GM and you see the history of what’s been happening the last five years, I mean, you do applaud us. But at the same time, you have to wonder, ‘How long can this last?'”

If it comes down to free agency for Smith, and an offer from the Hawks is on the table, new teammate Lou Williams said it will be a tough one to turn down.

Williams signed with Atlanta as a free agent this offseason and knows just how hard it is to turn down the hometown squad.

“I think just naturally you want to play in front of a crowd that supported you throughout your career that even got you to the point that you’re at, you know? I wasn’t just, “Let’s sign at home, let’s sign at home,” the 6-foot-1 Snellville, Ga., product said. “But I just think in general, guys are more open to playing at home than anywhere else.”

Smith certainly looked receptive to the idea in his newest commercial. He effortlessly made claims of putting the franchise on his broad shoulders and carrying it to the promised land. Of course, that was all scripted by Adidas.

Things change in the business world of basketball. Things can get a little heavy.

Luckily, he’s got his new Adizero sneakers to lighten the load.