Miami–Even as Josh Smith is having a strong season for the Hawks he has let the team know he wants to be traded as the March 15 deadline approaches, according to people with knowledge of Smith’s thinking.
And the reasons for Smith’s dissatisfaction with the team now have to make the Hawks wonder if they will be able to sign him to a contract extension next season.
By the end of last season Smith wanted out of Atlanta because he believed he was singled out for unfair criticism by coaches and media. Those concerns have died down for the most part this season but now Smith believes he needs a fresh start with a franchise where he can better reach his potential on and off the court, according to one of the people with knowledge of Smith’s thinking.
The person said one of Smith’s complaints is that he believes the Hawks didn’t do enough to promote him for selection to the All-Star team, which he thinks contributed to lesser players being voted to the team by Eastern Conference coaches. Smith, an Atlanta native who has played his entire eight-year career with the Hawks, also would like to play for a franchise he believes is more committed to winning a championship.
As the trade deadline approaches, the Hawks have taken calls from teams interested in acquiring Smith—Golden State is among the teams who have inquired. But the Hawks so far have given no indication that they intend to part with Smith, who likely would command a high price in a trade.
Smith, 26, is under contract through next season, after which he can become an unrestricted free agent. If the Hawks don’t trade Smith and can’t alleviate his concerns by then, they face the real possibility of him signing with another team in the summer of 2013 because there figures to be a strong market for him.
I asked Smith about all of this last night before the Hawks played the Heat but he declined to comment. This is the third season in a row he’s been at the center of trade rumors.
“I really don’t pay any attention to it,” he said. “I just go out there and play the way I play and not worry about anything else. I know this is a business. Whatever happens, happens in the long run. But I know as long as I’m with the Hawks, I have to put my best foot forward.”
This season Smith is averaging 17.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.5 steals. No other player in the league can match those numbers across all categories. It’s that all-around productivity that makes the Hawks reluctant to part with Smith.
Smith’s value as a defender at the basket becomes obvious when Hawks opponents drive to rim when Smith goes to the bench.
“People look at the offensive end but defensively he changes the game,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said recently. “He is one of the few players I think that can play a defensive game and impact the game even if his offense is not on that night.”
The main knock on Smith’s game is his shooting.
After making 39 percent of his long two-point shots last season, a mark that was right at the league average, Smith is making just 31 percent of those attempts this season while attempting nearly two more per game. However, he’s attempting more shots per game at the basket and fewer 3-pointers than last season and his free-throw rate is up slightly.
Smith’s free-throw percentage has plummeted to a career-low 57.7 percent this season after he made a career-high 72.5 percent in 2010-11. His free-throw percentage has improved over the last 20 games or so.
Smith said he’s improved his free-throw shooting by taking his time at the line and expects his jump shots to start falling more often as the season goes on.
“It’s a long season but it came to you real quick,” he said. “They are throwing games at us left and right. If you look around the league most people’s percentages are down more so than usual.”
Smith’s emotional demeanor on the court has drawn fire from critics and has caused friction with teammates at times. But Jerry Stackhouse , an Atlanta resident who had developed a relationship with Smith before joining the Hawks this season, said Smith has grown in that area and Smith’s ability makes it difficult for the Hawks to trade him.
“His talent, that’s what you can’t give up on with Josh,” Stackhouse said. “It’s easy to say, ‘All right, let’s just move him.’ And then he goes and clicks at the next stop and you’ve got to look at that every night and you had it in house. That’s kind of the dilemma with Josh. You know you are going to get some uneasy moments from time to time but, for the most part, he’s really about winning. He wants to win. He’s competitive. I relate to that.
“How he handles his emotions and frustrations, sometimes he rubs people the wrong way and bruises them. But I think he’s happy-go-lucky. He thinks, ‘It was just heat of the moment’ and we can move on from it but he can bruise people. I think he’s learning that. He is learning to control his emotions a little better and it’s good for our team. The better Josh Smith is, the better the Atlanta Hawks are.”
Smith said his emotion fuels his performance but he’s made an effort to tone it down in the past couple seasons. He said he’s especially done so this year as injuries to Al Horford and Joe Johnson have increased the team’s reliance on him.
“I’m definitely an emotional player but I’m kind of bottling it up, understanding the importance of what my team needs and just trying to stay positive and have constructive criticism when possible,” he said. “Now I’m at the point of my career where I can voice my opinion a little bit more and it will be recognized more than back in the day [when] it got drowned out more so than anything else.
“[Teammates] know that I have good intentions, no matter how it’s delivered. I am saying stuff because I want to win games. It’s not nothing personal or to try to hurt or bash any one of my teammates or anyone else.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat