The defining question around each of the last few trade deadlines has been whether or not the Atlanta Hawks should trade Josh Smith. In previous years, it was due to the reports of Josh Smith’s dissatisfaction with some parts of the organization, however his stance has seemingly changed with the new General Manager arriving. This season, with new management in charge, it is about differences in salary demands and trying to possibly get some value in return should Josh walks away in the offseason.
The topic of Josh Smith’s uncertain future has been thoroughly covered recently around the Hawks blogosphere, including here at Peachtree Hoops and here at HawksHoop.com. In the former, the case is made for the front office to serious consider resigning Josh Smith because of their extra leverage to offer a 5th year on his contract, due to his Larry Bird Rights. The maximum deal the Hawks could offer is about $93.5 million over 5 years, as opposed to a $70 million over 4 years from any other team, assuming Josh stays in Atlanta past the trade deadline. Why not just resign him? After all, there exists a salary floor and Smoove’s contract could be moved if need be a la the Joe Johnson trade.
According to the latter piece, the rumored Brooklyn offer to swap Kris Humphries and Marshon Brooks, and possibly a first round pick, to Atlanta for Josh Smith would not be worth the hassle. Mikhail Prokhorov does have deep enough pockets to max out Smith if need be, judging by the Nets’ lavish spending in the 2012 offseason. However, noted role player Kris Humphries would soak up $12 million dollars of next year’s cap space. Bo Churney further argues that a superstar is needed to win an NBA Championship and the only path to that is by prying away a lottery pick from a bad team or by getting Dwight Howard to sign with the Hawks, a longshot to put it lightly according to recent indications.
While I would agree with Bo’s assessment of the Hawk’s chances at the ultimate goal of an NBA Championship needing an elite player to build around, I do not agree that the decision whether to trade Josh or not revolves around that one central goal. You don’t simply wait around until the next top 10 player decides to sign with your organization.
The name of the game is gathering assets. Look at what General Manager Daryl Morey has done in Houston. They were able to swing a trade for James Harden with their multitude of young promising players and draft picks. Beyond that, they have the cap space and assets to bring in another max or at least near max talent to their Jeremy Lin-James Harden-Omer Asik core.
Furthermore, Josh has yet to prove he is worth an elite contract. Look up in the dictionary for the word “potential” and next it will be a picture of Josh Smith. He has combined elite athleticism and game changing weakside help with questionable decision making, mostly regarding his shot selection. In total, his performance thus far in his 9 year career has been spotty any way you slice it. Take a look at his Basketball-Reference Similarity Scores, which is a measure to compare the progress of Win Shares throughout a player’s career to other players in order to estimate a similar player’s performance. Here, some of the active players he is matched up against include Udonis Haslem, Hedo Turkoglu and Al Jefferson. Not exactly elite company.
In his two most recent seasons, Josh Smith has not cracked .500 in either True Shooting Percentage or Effective Field Goal Percentage. Similarly, his PER has for the most part been closer to average (15) than elite player (25), or “borderline MVP candidate” in the words of PER inventor John Hollinger. While he may have blossomed into the best defender in the world, especially on the perimeter, it’s imperative for someone who wants to command the biggest salary on a team to be efficient and reliable when taking the amount of shots a #1 options would want to take.
Of course, with a new contract, you would be looking toward Josh’s future performance, presumably in the prime of his NBA career. By entering the NBA as an 18 year-old straight out of college, Smith has reached unrestricted free agency at the you age of 27 and there will be many suiters for a top flight athlete like him.
This isn’t to say to send Josh Smith out of town at any offer that comes across Danny Ferry’s desk. General Manager Ferry clearly values his cap space, and any inefficient use of the cap space holds up the progress of that can be made toward building a contender in Atlanta. This rules out Kris Humphries, Pau Gasol, and Danny Granger just to name a few.
I’m simply advocating for any cheap asset that could potentially be part of a championship club. Also high on the list of priorities is to find a capable center so that Al Horford can move to his more natural position of power forward. The rumors involving the Phoenix Suns fit this description, as Marcin Gortat and their multiple first round draft picks would prove to be an enticing offer for the Hawks. For example, the recent rumor involving the Spurs could possibly bring Kawhi Leonard East if the Spurs had a serious interest in Josh Smith. Though both of those deals are highly unlikely, there has to be a better deal than the Nets’ package should a team get desperate closer to Thursday’s trading deadline. Those two deals, however, are probably good benchmarks for what Danny Ferry would be looking toward in his San Antonio model of a successful NBA franchise.
Assuming the Houston Rockets make the playoffs in the Western Conference (currently 2 ½ games up on the Los Angeles Laker for the 8th seed), the Hawks will own 2 first round picks and 2 second round picks in the upcoming 2013 draft. On the books for next year is Lou Williams, John Jenkins and Al Horford for a total of just over $18 million. In addition, Jeff Teague is a restricted free agent, meaning the Hawks can match any offer from another team to retain him. If you can possibly trade for young assets, for example any of the young power forwards in Houston, and/or high draft picks, you can get cheap pieces for next year’s rotation. This means the cupboard is not bare even if no max free agents lands in Atlanta.
The argument “getting something for nothing” doesn’t apply when you tie up cap space inefficiently and unnecessarily but there has to be a deal out there that can bring in young players on rookie contracts and/or draft picks. The Milwaukee Bucks have recently inquired about Josh’s availability, according to a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. The Bucks, like the Houston Rockets, have a number of youthful big men that could help the Hawks for years to come like John Henson, Larry Sanders, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Ekpe Udoh. In order to make salaries match, a throw-in expiring deal, like that of Beno Udrih, could make sense for both sides.
According to Chris Broussard, the Hawks seem to be adamant about trading Josh Smith so we may have a conclusion to this saga within the week, but it’s a fallacy to think the Hawks would fall into a deep state of despair without the Atlanta native. To simply hold onto Josh leaves management with only a choice between him leaving without any return or signing him to a possibly regrettably large contract. We just exited one albatross contract era, let us never return to another.