ATLANTA – He grew up in Atlanta and then grew up some more in the same city as an NBA player.
After nine seasons as a Hawk, Josh Smith might have played his last game in that uniform on Wednesday, a 103-90 loss to the Miami Heat at Philips Arena, as he remains perhaps the most sought after – and available — player with Thursday’s 3 p.m. trading deadline looming.
Smith, who has never been an All-Star, although he might have been snubbed once or twice, has said he thinks he deserves to be paid max dollars, an amount the Hawks might not be willing to give him when he becomes a free agent in July.
He finished with 10 points (on 5-of-13 shooting), nine assists and nine rebounds – just shy of a triple-double – and he played some pretty good defense on the Heat’s LeBron James, who finished with 24 points, three under his average.
Smith was asked if he thought it might have been his final time on the court as a Hawk when he walked off.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll have to see, what, Thursday, 3 o’clock, 3 p.m.? We’ll see. Who knows?”
Smith seemed slightly off-put with the continual questions about his status in recent days. As he got dressed after the game with his back to about two dozen media members waiting to speak with him, he muttered to teammate Anthony Morrow about having to answer the same question day after day.
Would the passing of the deadline prove a relief to him?
“I think it’ll be a relief for all the questions I have to keep answering,” he said. “Whether it happens or not, I’m still going to play hard. This organization gave me so much over the years. They gave me the chance to play my dream. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
If Smith has felt any pressure or stress, to his credit it has not affected his game. In the few games before the All-Star break, he played some of his best basketball of the season.
Before Wednesday’s matchup, he looked relaxed. He entered the Hawks’ locker room about an hour and 15 minutes before tipoff, turned on some music, settled into the swivel chair at his locker, turned around and began playing solitaire on his mobile phone.
“He’s been good,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said beforehand about Smith’s handling of the situation. “With all the talk that’s been going on, it can be a distraction. He’s shown no signs of it distracting him. He’s been totally focused with everything that we’ve done. He’s handled himself in a very professional manner and I didn’t expect anything different.
“I know during this time it can be a little unsettling for any player. His name is constantly tossed around as far as trade rumors, but he’s been a total professional.”
Smith said he has tried his best to tune out all of the media reports – whether they have him going to Brooklyn, Milwaukee or any number of other locations.
“You know, it’s pretty much everywhere so it’s hard for it to not come up,” he said, “but just kind of staying with my family, not really putting my ear to the street or the media. Just trying to focus on basketball.”
If he does end up getting sent out of town, Smith said he wants to be remembered for his versatility and “the hard work and passion and emotion I brought to the team.” He also said he wanted to be remembered for the five trips to the playoffs that the Hawks have made with him on the team after an eight-year drought.
“We had a lot of successful seasons, multiple playoff runs,” he said. “There’s a lot of positives you can take. I understand it’s a business so whatever happens, happens. No love lost. If I’m still here, we’ll compete and still fight for playoff position.”
If there’s anything Smith might not be fond of, it could be the way so many opposing fans fill Philips Arena on nights like Wednesday. Maybe it’s because he’s an Atlanta native or maybe it’s just his personality, but it seems to irk him more than others. Or at least he shows it more. He said he thought the crowd was “70/30” in favor of the Heat and that if the fans were sending him off with a positive message, he couldn’t hear it.
“I couldn’t hear nobody,” he said. “I heard ‘Let’s Go Heat’ at the end.”
In the end, he was asked if he wanted to stay or if he could do anything to stay. He said he was but a pawn, albeit one who makes $13 million.
“I’m just a basketball player,” he said. “I don’t have any input on me leaving or going. I don’t have any impact on any decisions that are made with this ball club. I just go out there and play basketball.”
Maybe on Wednesday, he did so for the final time as a Hawk.