I’ve fought such a feeling since the team dealt Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets. I believed that now free from the shackles that is playing alongside Johnson, Smith would thrive. I believed that as “the man” in Atlanta, he would want to stay. I believed that he belonged with the Hawks.
But I was wrong.
Per ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, Smith was suspended for one game by Atlanta for conduct detrimental to the team.
The Hawks announce they suspended Josh Smith for a game and fined him for conduct detrimental to team.
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) January 16, 2013
According to Chris Vivlamore of of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that detrimental conduct included getting tossed out of the Hawks’ team practice.
According to a source, Smith was kicked out of practice Tuesday. #ATLHawks
— Chris Vivlamore (@ajchawks) January 16, 2013
Now, Smith has always been a tumultuous talent, but the fact that he’s making waves during his contract year doesn’t speak volumes about his respect for or faith in this team’s direction. If anything, it does just the opposite.
Smith is the team’s leading scorer (16.5 points per game), second-leading rebounder (8.3 boards a night) and their leading shot-blocker (2.3 swats per bout). He’s one of the most athletically-inclined and versatile players in the game, and there’s a case to be made for him to make his first All-Star team this year.
But there’s also a case to be made for Atlanta to trade him. He’s easily their best player but frustrations are beginning to mount and the suddenly reeling Hawks can’t risk losing him for nothing over the summer.
It was but a month ago that Atlanta appeared near unbeatable. They had risen to the top four of the Eastern Conference and plenty of people were ready to make a case for them as a legit contender. Six losses in eight games later, and everything about the Hawks is being questioned, including Smith himself.
To make matters wrose, according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, Smith is one of the ones beginning to question the direction of the team and has made it clear he wouldn’t be opposed to a trade:
Josh Smith’s agent spoke with Hawks general manager Danny Ferry on Wednesday to discuss what he characterized as “a lot of frustration” with the team’s recent spiral, but stopped short of making a trade request.
The Hawks face a dilemma with Smith, whose love-hate relationship with playing his entire NBA career thus far in his hometown of Atlanta will be put to the ultimate test if the Hawks continue to struggle. Smith’s $13.2 million falls off the Hawks’ books after the season, into an already massive abyss of cap space that the team has cleared to revamp the roster after trading high-priced All-Star Joe Johnson to the Nets.
Teams with such room and flexibility — including the likes of the Cavaliers, Mavericks, Bucks and Jazz — are beginning to examine the potential free-agent options and reconsider their strategies. Unless Ferry were able to land either Paul or Howard this summer — a long shot in both cases, even though Howard, too, is from Atlanta — someone in his position might decide it’s best to parlay assets into players now.
Among the teams that would appeal to Smith are Dallas, Houston and Memphis, a league source told CBSSports.com. The Grizzlies, in the midst of establishing the value of Rudy Gay on the trade market in the face of massive luxury tax bills on the horizon, are not among the teams that have spoken with the Hawks about Smith, one of the sources said. Despite owner Mark Cuban’s comment this week that “the bank of Cuban is open,” the Mavs also have not yet expressed interest in trading for Smith, another source said.
To be clear, Smith didn’t actually request a trade, but the fact that he remains open to one and essentially has a list of preferred destinations is more than troubling.
Atlanta is far from the flashiest of markets and it is there that Smith has essentially lived in the shadows. His dominant abilities were masked for years by the volume-scoring Johnson and now, even on his own, he’s struggled to make a league-wide name for himself. While that may be something he could live with when the Hawks were winning, they’re simply not winning anymore. As such, it may be only a matter of time before he takes matters into his own hands this summer and leaves.
And the Hawks cannot let that happen. Not without receiving something in return. Ever since the Cleveland Cavaliers got hosed by LeBron James in 2010, teams have been more cognizant of incumbent players bolting for greener pastures. Atlanta should be no exception.
On the surface (via Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today) Smith continues to say all the right things:
“Clearly I am competitive and was frustrated by our recent losses,” Smith said in a statement. “I understand and respect the team’s actions and just want to get back on the court to do whatever is necessary to help my teammates. I apologize for letting them down and apologize to our fans for not being available for tonight’s game.”
But does this mean anything?
It’s great that Smith is seemingly taken responsibility for his own actions; it’s a testament to how far he has come as a player and person. And yet, it doesn’t mean a damn thing.
If Smith spurns Atlanta, it’s not going to be in the vindictive way LeBron left Cleveland or Chris Bosh left the Toronto Raptors. This isn’t a matter of revenge or hatred; Smith cares about his team.
But his team isn’t winning and he’s proved to be a baffling fit for the better part of a decade. So it’s time to move on.
And it’s time for the Hawks to move on first, before he leaves them with less than they already have.
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.