Atlanta’s explosive power forward is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, and through last year, all indications were that he would spurn the Hawks in favor of a bigger market and more prominent role.
Then Joe Johnson was traded. Smith instantly became the man, the unheralded superstar who was now tasked with leading the Hawks; he was now assuming the role he craved. Yet that still wasn’t enough to set his future with the team in stone. Again, the Hawks have been anything but a powerhouse, and Smith wouldn’t want to stick around and entrench himself in mediocrity for another half decade.
Which brings us to the decision Atlanta has to make.
Smith isn’t going to sign an extension the team now. Not necessarily because he wants to leave, but because he stands to make a pile or more money by waiting until the summer. By waiting, however, the Hawks are essentially banking on Smith re-signing, otherwise they lose him for nothing.
According to Steve Kyler of HOOPSWORLD, though, dealing Smith prior to the NBA trade deadline is still an option Atlanta may consider:
That does not mean there aren’t any risks associated for the Hawks. Smith has been frustrated at his lack of recognition nationally over the past few years, believing he had the resume of an All-Star but was never talked about that way and has never made an All-Star appearance other than the Dunk Contest.
Smith has also been vocal about wanting a chance to compete for a championship, something he openly questioned could happen in Atlanta.
The Hawks made a number of changes this offseason including bringing in new leadership at the general manager position in Danny Ferry. He shook up the Hawks pretty dramatically this past summer, leading many to believe Smith would be gone at some point too.
Kyler also goes onto note that Hawks have a number of advantages other teams don’t, so there is a strong possibility that Smith re-signs.
And you know what? Smith is going to re-sign.
Atlanta is currently 14-6 and tied (sans tiebreaker) with the Miami Heat for first place in the Southeast Division. The Hawks are finally looking like a powerhouse, one that will be able to contend for a title in the near future, and that should be good enough for Smith.
As Kyler notes, Smith has always been frustrated with his lack of league-wide recognition, fueled in part by the small market the Hawks play in, but mostly because Atlanta has been the embodiment of mundane. Well, the Hawks aren’t droll anymore.
They’re fifth in points allowed per game (93.1) and while they’re offense is 15th in points scored (97.2), they’re ball movement is impeccable, and they’re fifth in dimes dished per contest (22.8). They’ve also already beaten the likes of the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies. The Hawks even managed to keep pace with the Heat for most of their recent matchup.
Simply put, they’re finally a team worth watching.
And while the personnel on the roster dictates Atlanta is playing above its head, that doesn’t really matter. The Hawks are in a good place financially and will have the opportunity to go out this summer and add one or more prolific pieces to place around a Smith. That’s huge as well. It’s really huge.
Because for the first time in two years, the Hawks have become favorites to land their own player this summer. Atlanta is finally ready or on the cusp of being ready to contend, and Smith is finally receiving the recognition he so sorely deserves and subsequently craves.
Rendering his return to the Hawks next season and beyond essentially inevitable.
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.