To say that Josh Smith’s time in Atlanta has been rocky would be putting it nicely. He has spent his entire professional career with the Hawks. He has been an integral part of bringing the franchise back to relevance after years of futility following the days of Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith and Christian Laettner. Along with Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams and Al Horford the Hawks became a perennial playoff contender. But over the last 2-3 years the relationship between Smith, the organization and the fans has deteriorated.
Heading into the 4th quarter of the Atlanta Hawks’ game against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday there were two things that were undeniable. The team was playing better than they had in almost three weeks and that Josh Smith wasn’t a part of it. The Hawks disgruntled star was serving a one game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. No one knows the exact reason for the suspension but it is another example of the strained relationship between the two parties.
Smith’s career with the Hawks has had its ups and its downs. As a rookie he took the Dunk Contest by storm and has since then become one of the high flyers in the league. He can look like one of the most versatile players in the league at times, showing off his exceptional passing skills for a big man, his ability to block shots, create turnovers and rebound even though he is undersized at times.
But those flashes of greatness always seem to be followed by what seem to be mental lapses. He gets out of control when driving to the basket, he tries to make the flashy play instead of the simple play often times leading to a turnover. His free throw shooting has deteriorated in recent years and the ones that are on display the most; his tendency to get jump shot happy, taking 3′s early in the shot clock and his tendency to dribble around for 18 second before having to force some awkward shot at the end of the clock. When discussing the suspension on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption on Wednesday, Michael Wilbon remarked that it was probably for taking too many 3′s with 21 seconds on the shot clock.
Smith is in the last year of a 5 year, $58 million dollar contract and this off-season will a big one for not only him but for the Hawks in general. Smith and his agent have expressed frustrations over the last two seasons about rumors floating around that the Hawks were shopping the star forward. After Wednesday’s suspension was announced, his agent again voiced his client’s frustration.
Even though Smith can be one of the most frustrating players in the league at times, his talent is undeniable. When he plays within himself he is an All-Star caliber player. The playing within himself part of that statement is the kicker. Nevertheless, the Hawks and Smith are at an impasse and something has to give. The team can move forward without Smith and try to build around guys like Horford and Jeff Teague, or they can stay the current course, try to resign Josh in the off-season and hope that he can be the piece that brings his good friend Dwight Howard home to Atlanta and form one of, if not the most sound defensive front courts in the league.
If the Hawks decided to move forward without Smith then the time has come to trade him and get something in return rather than letting him walk in free agency. There are plenty of title contenders looking for youth and athleticism up front as well as teams looking to shed salary to avoid paying the luxury tax (Grizzlies). GM Danny Ferry isn’t afraid of making a franchise altering move, just ask Joe Johnson. Whatever decision is made, the two sides have to come to an understanding because this cat and mouse game in the media is getting old. Either the franchise and the player commit to one another long-term or they go their separate ways.
The Hawks will have around $36 million to spend this off-season with a large chunk of that going to Smith if he is resigned and while he isn’t a max contract player, he will get a sizable multi-year deal and the last thing that fans want is another four to five years of a disgruntled and unhappy J-Smooth.
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