The ink wasn't even dry on Al Horford's contract extension before the rumor mill started. ESPN.com's Chad Ford posted in a True Hoop column that the signing would force the Hawks to move one of its core players before next season.
While the talk is premature he could be right or he could be wrong. Fact is that no one at this point knows how the CBA negotiations are going to come out and speculation is that teams will have less money to spend on players once it is finalized. We discussed this possibility back in the summer but lets look at the big picture first. First the money quote from Ford's article:
Several GMs believe the Hawks won't be able to keep Johnson ($18.5 million in 2011-12), Josh Smith ($12.5 million in 2011-12), Marvin Williams ($8 million in 2011-12) and Horford ($12 million in 2011-12) together past this season for financial reasons.
Ford says that the Horford extension won't push the team into the luxury tax but will likely prevent them from resigning Jamal Crawford because in doing so it would certainly put them into the tax level. He is dead on here but to this point the Hawks have shown no indication that they plan to offer Jamal Crawford an extension in the first place. You would have to think that perhaps that was the reason that they thought so highly of Jordan Crawford coming into the draft this past off season. One could draw the conclusion that the organization plans to have one Crawford replace the other.
Mike Bibby's contract will be a lot easier to move next off season when it will be an expiring deal. The challenge in that scenario is that the Hawks would have to have a replacement point guard or would have to be positive that Jeff Teague was ready to take the job on full time. Again they have the entire season to decide on this scenario.
Ford's article states that the Hawks made Marvin Williams available over the summer but didn't get many offers in return. Marvin's value was at an all time low this past off season. A good season might change that but again a starting caliber small forward or shooting guard would likely have to come in return and that isn't going to come at a reduced price most likely.
Which finally brings us to Josh Smith. I have been of the opinion for some time that if the Hawks were to feel that the deck needed to be reshuffled that Smith makes the most sense. Simply put the Hawks would get more for Smith than they would from anyone else short of Al Horford who isn't going anywhere. The question is though what would the Hawks have to get in return to warrant trading Smith? Despite having some head scratching moments through the seasons first three games offensively, Smith has been the backbone of the Hawks defense and is leading the league in blocked shots currently.
In short I don't see the Hawks moving Josh Smith just to cut salary. I still am of the opinion that Jamal Crawford is the likely one to go and I don't think it is a slam dunk that the Hawks will trade him before the end of the season. The point here is, we are not sure what the tax line will be next season due to the renegotiations of the CBA and thus we don't know how much money the Hawks will have to work with.
I think it is highly likely that Jordan Crawford will replace Jamal next season. I think the Hawks would be very happy if Jeff Teague could make Mike Bibby expendable as well next year. If more salary reduction is needed then it is very much possible that one of the core would have to be moved. Of course ownership would have the option of going into the tax also which they have previously avoided. Still it is possible.
At this point I think it is premature to come to a conclusion on this subject because there are too many factors that are yet to be determined. We don't know what the landscape of the NBA will look like next year. It is certain that if the Hawks wish to trade Josh Smith they should be able to find a taker, however I think it is very unlikely that a team that has put everything it has into keeping it's core together would suddenly change that thinking.