The Return of Josh Smith


Dec 13, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith (5) during the first quarter against the Charlotte Bobcats at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight will mark the closure between Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks.

Tonight, Josh Smith returns to Philips Arena, suiting up for another team that dresses in red, white and blue. It will be tough to not focus in on how Josh Smith performs for the Detroit Pistons and one can wonder how the crowd will react to his play. Josh’s tenure with Atlanta was filled with high points as well as low points and it often led many to overlook just how important Josh was to the Hawks over the past nine years.

One thing people need to remember about Josh Smith was that he was meant to be a Hawk. Flashback to the headlines surrounding the 2004 draft, almost every mock draft had Josh going to Atlanta at either of their picks that year(6th and 17th). The fact that he was mocked at both positions is a great indication on just what people thought of him at the time; Nobody knew what he would become in the NBA. Chad Ford said it best in his final mock draft before the 2004 NBA Draft, where he mocked Josh to go at 17 to Atlanta:

"Smith’s agent claims this is the lowest the prep could possibly go. And Smith’s people believe he could go as high as No. 5. He has been all over the board. He’s one of the hardest players to get a read on in the draft. He falls on this board because he doesn’t have a true position, and he’s not as skilled as some guys. But he’s by far the best athlete in the draft and the Hawks can afford to wait as two very good high school players develop."

The other high school player Ford mentioned was Shaun Livingston, who he saw the Hawks choosing at 6 over Josh Childress. Following his selection, the argument on what position Smith should be playing continued for years. He primarily played small forward the first two seasons as a Hawk before switching to power forward following the departure of Al Harrington in 2006.

Josh Smith’s time as the starting power forward for Atlanta was marked by fans always looking for more from him. His athleticism made him one of the better finishers in the NBA, but as his time with Atlanta continued, we found him taking more and more jumpers. His stats reflect this trend as well, as his field goal percentage began to decline after the 2009-10 season, where he shot 51% and notably had only 7 three point attempts the entire year. Following that year, his percentages dropped down to the around 46-47% each season and his three point shot attempts were in the hundreds in each of those seasons. Even with all that Josh put the fanbase through with the groans and disappointments every time he pulled up for a mid range jumper, it was still never argued that the Hawks should have just drafted J.R. Smith or Jameer Nelson, two players that were on the board at the 17th pick.

His contract reaching its completion loomed over the Hawks through all of last season and began a continuous argument as to if the Hawks should bring him back. Josh’s public statement of feeling he deserved a max contract didn’t help the cause as new Hawks’ GM Danny Ferry began his work months earlier to make the Hawks financially flexible by trading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. So last July, we saw what many predicted: Josh Smith signed a 4 year contract with the Detroit Pistons. The Josh Smith era was over, and Ferry began to issue in his new era of building through success.

The headline surrounding tonight’s game is Josh’s comments and reflection on his free agency and how the Hawks handled his departure. On Monday, Josh Smith was interviewed by local Atlanta sports radio 92.9 The Game and he had this to say on the matter:

"During free agency, during that period, there were a lot of guys out in L.A. that were meeting with various teams. I was one of those guys. That’s where I work out in the summertime as well. The only time I saw the Hawks during free agency was when they came to one of my workouts just to say hello. I think they were meeting with Dwight Howard that day. They never came in or sat down with me during the free agency period to offer me anything."

The lack of interest by the Hawks shouldn’t surprise many, especially when looking at the price tag on Smith’s contract with Detroit. And yet, its still sad to see him go. For many younger Hawks fans, Josh Smith was the sign of hope when he emerged as a starter for the Hawks. Even for myself, I can say that my love for the Hawks began when Josh slipped on a Dominique Wilkins jersey during the 2005 Dunk Contest. He gave fans a hope they may reach the playoffs again after years of placing near the bottom of the league. The Hawks did accomplish what many had hoped as they began a playoff streak in 2007-08 and look to continue the streak this season.

So, its time to fully move on from Josh Smith, and hopefully, we can give Josh a well-deserved welcoming return tonight. The Hawks and Pistons are set to play at 7:30 ET and the game can be seen on Sports South.

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