It probably comes as no surprise that L.D. named Al one of his three team captains. He’s a mature guy with some natural leadership qualities, won two championships at Florida and already started down that path when he called out teammates for poor effort during the Orlando series.
J.J. is an obvious choice, too. He’s Atlanta’s Alpha Dog, the leading scorer, a four-time All-Star and the team’s highest-paid player.
But Josh Smith?
The erratic, emotional forward prone to demonstrative outbursts when things don’t go his way? The first Hawks player who came to mind when you heard about the league instructing officials to crack down on expressions of displeasure? The player who sometimes gives up on plays when he’s frustrated by officials?
Josh Smith as captain?
“That was something that was concern of mine, as well, then I was thinking about it,” L.D. said. “I had a conversation with him about that. He told me, ‘Look, Coach, I spent time this summer talking to myself about that. I know I have to do a better job in that.’
“I’m hoping that with this responsibility that he will look at things a little differently. It puts him in a different light. Some of those behaviors that he has had on the floor, you just can’t do that anymore. I am hoping that giving him more of a responsibility will steer his thinking in a whole different direction.”
If you are looking for some early specifics about the difference in approach between L.D. and Woody, this is a big one.
In my time on the beat, Woody never publicly rebuked Smoove for his outbursts. His style was to instead handle such matters internally during film sessions and in private talks. When public criticism of Josh reached a pitch after Hubie Brown’s comments about Josh during the Orlando series, Woody vehemently defended Josh.
By naming Josh captain and saying he needs to change his on-court demeanor, L.D. is putting very public expectations on him. Smoove said he’s ready for the responsibility.
“I have to take a different approach to this season,” he said. “I definitely have to carry myself in a whole different fashion because when you are captain you have to be more of a leader. I have to lead by example.
“I am an emotional player, obviously. Everybody knows that. But [I] just kind of have to hold my emotions together and just play basketball and stay positive throughout the game, no matter what happens.”
J.J. and Bibby were the team captains last season. Al was just in his third season and Josh still had some maturing to do.
“I think it’s time, both he and Al,” L.D. said. “They have been in this thing long enough. Certainly they have shown areas of growth in that [leadership] department. I just think it’s time for both of them to take a step. I am going to expect some certain things from them being the leaders.
“Along with being captains comes responsibility. Their teammates look at them in a different light, the public looks at them in a different light with those titles. You have got to live up to those titles.”
Smoove certainly has the basketball credentials to be captain. He’s pretty outspoken, too, unafraid to voice his opinion. Shoot, he’s been around longer than any Hawks player so he can stake a legitimate claim to this team.
And it’s not that he’s shown no leadership ability at all. He might have been the most frustrated player when the Hawks bogged down in isolations last season, and I still vividly remember him imploring his teammates to share the ball during that stirring W at Utah.
Smoove won’t be 25 until Dec. 5, but he’s much older in NBA years. He’s a grizzled vet, an established guy in the league. Now he’s a team captain.
“This is my seventh year, man,” he said. “I’ve been through the ups and downs. I have experienced it all. I just want to get deep in the playoffs so I can say I’ve experienced that [too].”
L.D. is counting on Smoove to help lead the way.