As trade rumors swirl during the early part of the NBA season, a continuously hot topic that could turn into the next big trade saga is what the Atlanta Hawks are going to do with Josh Smith.
The 27-year old forward is currently in the last year of his contract and has been rumored several times in the past to want out of Atlanta. The Hawks were unable to work out a straight trade to the Lakers for Pau Gasol earlier this year and now seem more poised to make a trade for a player they can build around for the long term.
The Hawks could very well take their chances, let the year run its course and offer Smith a max deal at the end of the season, but it wouldn’t be very smart as they’d likely be competing with Mark Cuban and a Dallas Mavericks team that includes Dirk Nowitzki and an enormous amount of cap room to pick up other players.
The general consensus amongst the press seems to be that Atlanta will move Smith, but where and for what in return remains a mystery. With Smith, the Hawks have the pieces in place this season to make the playoffs, but how high of a seed they can achieve is another matter and championship aspirations are, to say the least, out of their reach.
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Atlanta has needed a shake up for years, which is why new general manager Danny Ferry immediately moved Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams along with the $104 million they were owed over the remainder of their contracts as soon as he arrived.
In the interest of thinking long term, the plan to trade Smith makes more sense. In doing so, the Hawks face a number of obstacles in trying to get a good return on their all-star player. Finding someone of the same caliber won’t be easy and could require the Hawks to change how they set their team up. So, let’s take a look at the best options for Atlanta and Smith should a trade go down.
Philadelphia- The Sixers have the best pieces to offer the Hawks in a deal that benefits all parties. Philadelphia hasn’t had the benefit of Andrew Bynum suiting up for them just yet, but acquiring Smith would give them one of the most lethal front courts in basketball when he does.
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Both players have expiring contracts after this season, but remaining in Philadelphia looks much more enticing to each if they were to both be offered contracts to remain Jrue Holiday’s front court targets. If not, the Sixers would be left with significant cap room to dip into free agency.
In return, the Sixers could send former second overall pick Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young to Atlanta. Turner is at a make or break point in Philly and could benefit from a fresh start with a new team. The Hawks would benefit from acquiring a direct replacement for Smith in Young who currently averages around 14 points and 8 rebounds per game. Both are younger than Smith and are locked into their current deals for the next three seasons.
Memphis- The Grizzlies are said to be looking for a place to send Rudy Gay. While Smith isn’t a like for like swap, the Grizzlies could play Smith at small forward and find the solution to an ongoing problem they’ve had. Gay and Zach Randolph haven’t fit together on the court at the same time over the last two seasons as Memphis played their best ball last year with Randolph coming off the bench.
By bringing in Smith, the Grizzlies acquire another weapon and can offer him a sizeable contract at the end of the season. Atlanta could pass the power forward duties onto Ivan Johnson and have a player in Gay that they could now build around for the next three seasons.
Houston- The Rockets don’t have a lot of front court power to offer the Hawks, but Atlanta would have their pick of the litter. If Ferry is truly looking to rebuild they could take on a couple of Houston’s recent draft picks without dipping into their plethora of cap space. Terrence Jones and Royce White are two young talents that don’t really figure into the Rockets lineup at the present time. If Lithuanian seven footer Donatas Motiejunas or Houston’s first round pick, or perhaps both, were included in the offer, the Hawks would have something to think about.
Houston would finally get the front court star they were so eagerly coveting at the end of last season and would go from a fringe contender for the playoffs to almost guaranteed postseason play with a good balance between their front and back courts.
Milwaukee- The Bucks need to break up their failing backcourt duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the latter of which is a good fit for the Hawks after they dumped Joe Johnson. But a straight trade doesn’t fit what the Hawks need at the present time, so the Bucks would have to include one of their several front court players. Including Drew Gooden in the deal gives Atlanta a player to replace Smith along with the scorer they require in Ellis.
The Bucks would finally have a superstar player in their midst and could create a good pick and roll combo in Jennings and Smith. Getting the player to resign in a small market when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season would prove a big challenge, however.