Josh Smith, Down The Rabbit Hole
This year, as the trade deadline draws nigh, it appears that the largest domino that is waiting to fall is Josh Smith
, the talented forward with the Atlanta Hawks. What makes Josh Smith, an eight-year veteran who has one playoff round victory and zero All-Star game appearances, such an attractive trade chip?
Basketball is a game where the “wow” factor is difficult to ignore. Smith can launch away 3.5 field goals per game from 16-23 feet – an area where he has shot 33.9 percent during his career – and leave you shaking your head. But, a few times a game he will lower his shoulder, get to the rim, and elevate over his opponent for two points while drawing contact and earning a foul. Reality comes speeding back, like a train into the station when you’re late to work, when Smith steps to the line.
This is a player that has only shot above 50 percent once in his career (2009-10), is a 65.9 percent free throw shooter, and wants a max salary during the offseason. Is he worth the $16 million contract he is seeking?
In the right situation, Smith can be a difference maker who helps lead a strong defense and is a force in transition. But in the wrong environment, he has major potential to become a player who doesn’t play up to his contract and subjugates his team to salary cap hell. With the destination for flight number 5 still unknown, lets take an opportunity to look and see where Smith might find the most success.
After all the hullabaloo has passed, Smith might end up right where he is – in Atlanta.
We already know what Smith can do in Atlanta. He is averaging 17.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, while playing 35.7 minutes per game. The Hawks have an offensive rating of 104.5, good for sixteenth in the league, with a defensive rating of 103.7, a top ten mark. They have a 0.5 point differential this season, and are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
If the Hawks want to keep him, there is still the opportunity for a sign-and-trade after the season ends. Or, the Hawks can sign him to a new contract. Atlanta only has $18,483,800 committed in salaries next season. They are also set to make a run for Atlanta native Dwight Howard, who could decide to sign with his hometown team.
With the defensive prowess of a Howard, Horford, Smith front line, the Hawks would have the potential to be a top defensive team in the league. Combined with young guards Jeff Teague, John Jenkins, and the return of Lou Williams after his knee injury, the Hawks would be one of the top teams in the East – right?
Unfortunately, with a projected salary cap around $60 million, the Hawks would have around $3 million left to add six more players to fill their roster to 12 players – meaning they would likely have to venture into paying the luxury tax. This likely means that the Hawks can choose between two players – Howard or Smith. There isn’t a guarantee that either player signs with the team in the offseason, leaving the Hawks left building around Horford, Teague, and Williams.
Brooklyn wants to grab Smith, and try to turn the athleticism and potential into the next piece to a championship puzzle. Nets owner Mikhael Prokhorov won’t shy away from paying for a winning team – he has deep pockets, and wants to win.
The Nets are trying to sell Kris Humphries, who, despite being a cool dude, isn’t a great trade chip, and MarShon Brooks, a young guard who is stuck behind Joe Johnson on the depth chart.
Smith would be able to start alongside Brook Lopez to form one of the top front courts in the East. Smith would move Wallace to the three, in what could be a precursor of what Smith could be in the future. Playing alongside former teammate Joe Johnson would bring back memories of … last season’s Hawks.
Smith does grab about 20 percent of available defensive rebounds when on the court. Brooklyn is ranked No. 22 in the league in defensive rebounding, grabbing 29.9 per game. Lopez’s rebounding numbers are back up to his career average this season, and playing alongside Smith would free him up to collect missed shots.
This is probably the worst destination for Smith – the Nets don’t have much to offer the Hawks, resigning Smith would launch them far past the salary cap, and adding a jump shooter who could begin to fade as his athletic ability decreases doesn’t sound great when their guards are already doing the same thing.
Milwaukee has a lot to offer Atlanta. They can send Monta Ellis over for Smith, or they can package Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert and Tobias Harris. Ellis would be able to play alongside Teague as a starter, and if Atlanta can sign Howard, his defensive weaknesses would be eliminated by the premier center of this generation. If the Hawks agree to take on Ilyasova and friends, Dalembert’s contract would come off of the books at the end of the season, and the Hawks would have two nice players under contract as they move forward from the Josh Smith-Joe Johnson era.
The question is, why would Milwaukee want Smith? The Bucks are the eight seed in the Eastern Conference, but have lost eight of their last 10 games as they hang on to that final playoff spot. Having fired Scott Skiles, the team is in a transition state.
Acquiring Smith, and signing him to a new contract, would show a commitment to build around a strong defensive frontcourt, anchored by shotblockers in Smith and Larry Sanders, who is developing well. Would Smith be enough to convince Brandon Jennings to resign with the Bucks, or would the young point guard leave for greener pastures? If Jennings and Smith resign, the Bucks would have a solid foundation upon which they could build upon over the next few years.
This is not a bad landing place for Smith. Sanders and Smith would be strong on the defensive end, but the team might struggle to score if Jennings leaves. This much would be true – the buck would stop at the rim (sorry).
Phoenix has a few assets they can dangle to Atlanta in order to snag Smith in a trade. Every player on their roster is available, but the top package for Atlanta should include Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, and Wesley Johnson. This move strengthens their team for the possibility of Howard signing with Atlanta.
Dudley is a solid perimeter defender and can knock down threes, Frye is a stretch four who would be attempting a comeback from a heart ailment, and the Hawks would be able to make a decision on Johnson, a former lottery pick who has struggled in the league.
Phoenix would be able to offer Smith a ton of money, as well as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise in the desert. I have long thought that Smith would be a better fit in the Western Conference, where many of the teams run faster-paced offenses with less emphasis on battling out possessions on the defensive end.
Smith could team with Dragic, Beasley, the Morris twins, and their upcoming collection of rookies from the draft to form a jump shooting team that would compete for a playoff seed in the future. Would that foundation be enough to succeed in a division with the Clippers, Warriors, and Lakers?
It would all hinge on what the Suns get in the 2013 draft, and All-Star play from Smith. Beasley and the Morris twins have not played up league averages so far. Beasley is on his third team, and the Suns are hoping the Morris’ play as well together in the NBA as they did at Kansas.
This is, in my opinion, the best destination for Smith. The experiment of, “Josh as a franchise cornerstone” would be able to play out on a team that is destined for the bottom of the NBA barrel for this season and likely the next, which would result in an influx of talent through the draft. The Suns medical staff would prolong Smith’s career, helping slow down the aging process in the Valley of the Sun.
Maybe the warm temperatures would help keep Smith from ever getting cold from the floor as well.
While not rumored to be interested in Josh Smith, the team that I find most interesting to acquire Smith is a team that is scheduled to undergo an identity change next season – the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans.
The Hornets will likely have a top five pick in the upcoming draft, meaning the Pelicans will have three lottery picks from the previous two seasons on their roster. New Orleans can offer Eric Gordon in a straight trade for Smith, giving the Hawks a talented shooting guard to pair with Lou Williams and Jeff Teague in the backcourt.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans would be able to throw out a frontcourt of Smith, Anthony Davis, Robin Lopez, and Ryan Anderson. The Hornets/Pelicans could resign Greivis Vasquez, continue developing Austin Rivers, and look to strengthen the backcourt through the draft or free agency.
Playing Smith alongside Davis and Anderson has big-time potential. Anderson can play as a stretch four on offense, and then switch onto a poor scorer on defense while Smith and Davis protect the rim and lock up the lane. Vasquez is one of the most underrated passers in the league, and watching the Pelicans run down the court for lobs would be a great way to draw fans into the seats.
Again, this is just a personal dream – it is highly unlikely that New Orleans calls for a deal.
The trade deadline is 3:00 pm EST Thursday, and the final decision on Smith will be made by that time. May God bless him in his travels.