Trade rumors will likely continue to swirl around Josh Smith right up until next week's deadline. Thus far teams like the Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets and San Antonio Spurs have been rumored to be pursuing Smith but it is far from a foregone conclusion that Hawks GM Danny Ferry will follow through and actually ship Smith out of town.
The most problematic thing is getting value in return for Smith who is unlikely to give any team an indication that he will re-sign this summer as it is much better for him to keep all of his options open at this time. His 15% trade kicker is another hoop to jump through as well as Ferry's desire to enter the offseason and be a major player in free agency.
The offseason trades of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams created a large amount of cap space for the Hawks going forward. At some point Ferry will have to decide how much of that space (if any?) to allocate into trying to convince Smith to stay with the Hawks. Smith recently declared that he thought of himself as a "max player" but it remains to be seen whether Ferry and the Hawks share that view.
As Smith's name has popped up in trade rumors so has doubts about his desire to remain with the Hawks. A report by USA Today writer Sam Amick insists that Smith's representatives are telling teams that he is unlikely to re-sign in Atlanta. However, Smith recently talked with NBA.com's Jeff Caplan and didn't sound like he had his bags packed just yet.
As is the case in professional sports, the money will likely be the deciding factor and provided the Hawks don't trade Smith at the deadline, they can offer more money than any other team out there. Atlanta can offer Smith a five-year deal worth approximately $94 million while other teams can offer a four-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million. That gives Ferry approximately a $24 million difference in total money to play with in negotiations.
Assuming the Hawks offer more than any other team would Smith accept? The Hawks famously (or infamously depending on how you look at it) brought a max offer to Joe Johnson on the day free agency opened in the summer of 2010 and ignored what other teams could offer him. Will Smith be looking for similar treatment or will he simply be looking for the best deal and the best situation?
Another problem facing the Hawks is the lack of star power in the 2013 free agent class. Both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul will be free agents but neither are expected to leave Los Angeles. It looks almost certain that Paul will re-sign with the Clippers and the Hawks would need a mammoth Donald Sterling screw up at this point to land the perennial All-Star.
Howard's situation on the surface doesn't feel quite as cut and dried. He has faced constant criticism for his play and the struggles of the Lakers. He is clearly not healthy but has been urged publicly by his teammates and his coach to get back on the floor. His work ethic has been openly questioned and Howard quite frankly hasn't exactly handled the situation well either. There are also questions about how exactly he fits in with Mike D'Antoni's system.
However, as we said with Smith earlier, the advantage the Lakers hold over every other team in terms of the amount of money they can offer is a huge bargaining chip and one that isn't likely to be ignored. In other words, Howard has approximately $20 million reasons to re-sign with the Lakers. Besides even if Howard decided to leave Los Angeles the Hawks would likely need Smith in the fold to convince the Atlanta native to come home and not go to Houston or Dallas. So given the lackluster free agent possibilities it is quite possible that the best player available for the Hawks is in fact Smith.
Which brings us right back to what the Hawks should put on the table. As ludicrous as it sounded when it came out of Smith's mouth, there is a precedent for a team like Atlanta to give him the max. He is a factor at both ends of the floor and no one questions his talent. There is however enough questions about his decision making and sometimes questionable attitude to give many fans out there pause.
There is always the possibility that the Hawks could re-sign Smith and then later trade him. If we learned anything from the Joe Johnson trade its that no contract is immovable. Atlanta is unlikely to have any trouble moving Smith who is still just 27 years old even if he is signed to a max deal.
Ultimately things will depend on Ferry's vision of this team going forward. So while we are still discussing possible trade destinations for Smith, we need to also examine the possibility that he could stay with the Hawks and be a part of the team's future.