The Atlanta Hawks started the season strong, but have since began a steady descent back down to earth, and apparently, Josh Smith wants out. Again.
Prior to the start of the season, it seemed as if Smith and the Hawks were headed for a nasty divorce. But then the season began, Atlanta was winning and consequently, all was quiet on the trade front.
Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal Constitution is reporting that Smith has asked the Hawks to trade him.
“By the end of last season Smith wanted out of Atlanta because he believed he was singled out for unfair criticism by coaches and media. Those concerns have died down for the most part this season but now Smith believes he needs a fresh start with a franchise where he can better reach his potential on and off the court, according to one of the people with knowledge of Smith’s thinking.”
It’s more than true that Smith has gained a reputation for being volatile. Whether or not that has to do with living in Atlanta is a different story. Regardless, though, the Hawks cannot afford to deal him. Not right now.
The power forward was an All-Star snub, there’s no way around it. He should have been named over Joe Johnson, and when Johnson was unable to go, he should have received the nod.
Smith is a machine on both ends of the floor. He’s a defensive guru with an aptitude for blocking shots, grabbing rebounds and coming up with loose balls, and has even become a threat to draw charges on a consistent basis.
On offense, the power forward has really upped his game. He’s near unstoppable in the low post and has improved his three-point shooting a great deal.
Perhaps most importantly though, Smith is fearless. He takes the ball to the rim with reckless abandon, even if the league’s best shot-blocker—Serge Ibaka—is in his way.
And it’s this fearlessness of Smith’s that Atlanta sorely needs right now. Al Horford isn’t due back for quite awhile and Johnson’s status is questionable at best. Smith has become the go-to guy, and the first option on offense, all the while keeping the Hawks’ head above water amidst a myriad of injuries.
He’s inadvertently become their leader.
Smith may want to leave, but he has little leverage. His contract runs through next season, so while it has become clear he has no intention of re-signing, Atlanta has a year before he absolutely has to be traded. And why trade your best player now if you don’t have to?
Without Horford, Smith is the lone player who forces the opposition to defend in the low post. His presence creates open shots for his teammates on the perimeter, and he himself, knows how to score with his back to the basket.
The Hawks aren’t poised to contend for a title this season, but despite being hit hard by the injury bug, they have managed to remain relevant
Without Smith, though, remaining relevant and competing for anything at all is out of the question.
Atlanta is not going to receive a Grade A return if it deals Smith. He’s a flight risk to any team next summer, and his reputation precedes him. If he really must be traded, it should be in 2013, when his contract is expiring and more teams can be sold on the idea of acquiring him.
That said, Smith’s right. After all this time in the league and such a misconstrued reputation, he’s in dire need for a fresh start.
But, for now at least, the Hawks must convince their explosive forward, their leader, that Atlanta is where he needs to be.
Dan Favale is an avid basketball analyst and firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His work can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.