Joe Johnson is gone, so everything with the Atlanta Hawks is just peachy, right?
Kind of, but not really.
Though the Hawks made a shrewd financial move when they sent Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, his departure doesn’t guarantee the team anything but an ample amount of cap space next summer. And they’ll have even more cap space to play with if Josh Smith doesn’t return.
Yes, that’s still a very real possibility.
Smith went from discontent to jubilant immediately after the Johnson trade; he went from demanding a trade himself, to expressing his excitement, borderline faith, in the direction Atlanta was headed. But he remains non-committal, and that’s a problem.
No one expects Smith to sign an extension now, after all, max extensions are obsolete for all superstars looking to get paid. The fact is, Smith stands to earn much more money by waiting until next summer to decide his fate. Therefore, in essence, the lack of contract chatter is anything but disheartening or discouraging. Right?
According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smith isn’t even thinking about his next deal:
“My mindset is making it to the playoffs,” Smith said. “I’m not worrying about any contract discussions. I think the team and I are on the same page. We know what we are going to do. My main concern is making the playoffs and winning basketball games.”
Are the team and Smith on the “same page?” Most definitely, but that doesn’t mean anything. Smith knows that Atlanta’s plan is to compete for a playoff spot this season and look to completely re-tool the roster via free agency next summer. But he also knows how hard that will be to do for a Hawks team that doesn’t play in one of the flashier markets.
So, while neither side expects a contract to be negotiated by the October 31st deadline, furthering the notion that the two sides are apparently on the “same page,” there is still plenty cause for concern.
What if Smith becomes sick of playing for a perpetually mediocre team? What if first- and second-sound playoff exits simply don’t cut it for the budding superstar anymore? What if he enjoys being the face of the Atlanta franchise for a year, only to realize that his talents are best served playing for a powerhouse?
That’s the issue, and that’s why Smith, regardless of how happy he seems, is still a flight risk. And one of the more likely ones at that. An athlete of his caliber is not going to continue to remain comfortable in his current situation. Sure, he may find a sense of purpose jumping from the second-leading to the team-leading scorer this season, but an early playoff exit is sure to re-instill the bitter taste of disappointment.
Which is why the Hawks must take more action than they have already. While it’s acceptable to see what they have in a Smith, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Lou Williams dynamic, they cannot become complacent. Because this team is probably a playoff team. But that’s not enough.
Subsequently, Atlanta must look to make some moves this season, to take the mystery out of Smith’s future.
Unless, of course, the Hawks are keen on losing their now most talented player.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.