Much has been made of Smith’s previous assertion that he is a max contract player and while the general consensus borders on split, J-Smoove is standing by his sentiments (via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe):
That was supposed to clear the pathway to happiness for Smith, who felt for the past few years that he should have been the Hawks’ primary option. And while he is enjoying a solid ninth season, he also mentioned that he felt he should be handsomely compensated this summer with a maximum contract.
A maximum deal would start at five years and about $90 million, which scared Ferry, who, like several league executives, doesn’t believe Smith is worth that. But Ferry decided to keep Smith, who is now potentially in his final days as a Hawk, trying to push the rather insignificant franchise to a top-division playoff seed.
Still, he stands by his assertion that he deserves a top-level contract, and he will find out in the coming months whether any team feels the same way.
“I didn’t just come up and make the statement that I was [a maximum player] — it was a question that I was asked,” he said. “I gave an honest answer. It’s not added pressure. I’m not going around just stating that. It was definitely a question.”
Smith’s loyalty to, well, himself is not at all unexpected. He’s well aware the free agent crop isn’t exactly brimming with star caliber talent and as the third most attractive piece on the market (Dwight Howard, Chris Paul then him), a max contract may not be out of reach.
This side of the lockout, though, it could be difficult for him to land that five-year, $90 million contract from the Hawks or that four-year, roughly $75 million deal from any other team. It could be even tougher for him to get that five-year, $90 million in a sign-and-trade. Times have changed, and max contracts aren’t going to be handed out like Butterfingers on Halloween.
Still, Smith is one of just three NBA players currently averaging at least 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game. And he’s the only one to be doing so while dishing out at least four assists. He’s a future All-Star.
Harsh CBA and all, I imagine he’ll get it. He’s a tumultuous shooter and poses a bit of a public relations headache, but knowing that the top two free agents are likely to re-sign with their incumbent franchises, I’d have to believe that even if teams weren’t keen on paying him, they’re going to because he’ll inevitably be the best available.
But which teams are those? Washburn mentions the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and even the Atlanta Hawks as the teams most likely to be in play, and there are bound to be some others (sorry Brooklyn, not you). Who is going to be willing to pay him that much?
For starters, not the Hawks. They’ve watched as Joe Johnson turned into a waste of a max contract and won’t want to take that risk. Smith is younger and they were able to rid themselves of Johnson, but that’s still a peril not worth exploring. That Smith has never led them beyond the second-round of the playoffs doesn’t help his case either.
As for Houston, they don’t have a need for Smith. James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Thomas Robinson form a core that can run. Bringing in Smith and leaving Robinson on the bench would be an added bonus, but not overpay-Smith-or-else necessity. Unless the market for Smith is dry (it won’t be), expect Houston to line the pockets of a big man (please oh please not Andrew Bynum), as opposed to Smith.
Which leaves the Mavericks (among the teams that will definitely be interested). And they might pay. But they also might not.
Much of there willingness to pay Smith hinges on their ability to 1) clear the necessary cap space and 2) how desperate they are. Dallas only needs a smidgeon more of space to have the ability to offer a max deal, so I’d imagine they can clear the space. As for are they desperate enough, that depends on any number of things.
If the Mavericks name chase (like we know they will), expect them to make a hard push for Howard (which will fail) and Al Jefferson (intriguing…). Star caliber big men are hard to come by and they are in need of a center and point guard, so it’s likely they’ll chase either of them. Consider Smith Plan B (Plan C?).
Personally, I see a dark horse coming into play via a sign-and-trade. The Boston Celtics, using Paul Pierce as bait perhaps? Maybe the Philadelphia 76ers and Hawks revisit their previous deal of Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner for Smith? Could the Brooklyn Nets come into play again (kidding).
The funny thing about rumored deals and interest is that they almost never come true. Normally, especially in free agency, they come out of nowhere. Like Amar’e Stoudemire signing with the New York Knicks in 2010. He wanted a max contract that the Phoenix Suns (and nobody else) wouldn’t give to him. So he found the Knicks.
Expect a similar situation with Smith, but don’t expect him to have to work as hard. He’s young, has good knees and looks good in a headband. And don’t expect the team to pay him to be the Rockets, Hawks or even Mavericks. If I had to pick now, I’d say the Mavericks. But that’s gun-to-the-head, have-to-pick-one-of-those-three type hypothesizing.
Presently, I’m favoring a team to be determined.
A desperate, max contract-yielding team to be determined.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musing can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.