Before Josh Smith started his summer vacation, he was asked about the possibility of signing a contract extension with the Hawks.
“I can’t get extended,” Smith said. “They didn’t give me the money; I had to go get it. That’s something I have to play it out and see how it goes from there.”
Two things stand out about that statement. The first is that Smith, who presumably got the info from his agent, is wrong about his contract not being eligible for an extension.
I looked at Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ and could see no reason why Smith is not eligible for an extension. It’s been at least three years since he signed the deal, it’s never been renegotiated and it doesn’t include an opt-in. I checked with Coon and he confirmed the Hawks can extend Smith’s deal (they actually have been able to do so since August).
But the more interesting aspect of Smith’s statement is his allusion to having to “go get” his contract. He’s referring, of course, to the offer sheet he signed with Memphis in 2008, which Atlanta subsequently matched. (The Hawks can thank the Grizzlies for being able to keep Smith with a reasonable deal.)
It bothers Smith he had to create a market for himself to get a satisfactory contract from the Hawks (though at least he didn’t have to leave the country like Josh Childress). Smith’s feelings were amplified when Al Horford got an extension before becoming a restricted free agent. So add that 2008 contract dance to Smith’s list of grievances with the Hawks.
The question now is whether Smith can be persuaded to sign an extension with the Hawks. My educated guess is Smith won’t do it. The Hawks may be able to make Smith feel more appreciated with their public comments, but what can can do about Smith’s main gripe, that they aren’t committed to winning a championship?
It seems unlikely the Hawks will even spend the full mid-level on a free agent. Remember what happened after Smith, Horford and Joe Johnson called on the Hawks to make some major moves during training camp? The Hawks ended up signing an assortment of minimum-salaried free agents, with two of those players on non-guaranteed deals.
Nor do trades look like a very promising way to placate Smith. Any deal that involves sending away Horford could leave as many holes as it covers. If trading Johnson is possible, it almost certainly means taking back another burdensome contract.
Zaza Pachulia and Jeff Teague are assets because they are productive players with reasonable contracts. But those are also good reasons to keep them. As for Marvin Williams, there hasn’t been a market for him for going on three years now.
The irony is that one of the best ways for the Hawks to bring in a major piece is to trade Smith. His production, experience and expiring contract make him an attractive target. So does the sense that he’s still yet to fully reach his potential, though that’s a reality that cuts both ways for the Hawks.
Are the Hawks beyond hoping Smith can become a superstar for them? How much is he worth? If the Hawks don’t think they can persuade Smith to commit beyond next season, do they aggressively try to trade him before the deadline or risk losing him for nothing next summer?
I’m genuinely interested to see how all that plays out. The Hawks have a recent history of overvaluing their own players. Michael Gearon Jr. does have a deep appreciation for Smith, even if Smith doesn’t think Gearon or his partners have done enough to show it.
For his part, Smith deflected questions about his standing trade request, noting that he could be fined for talking about it. But he didn’t sound as if he expects to be traded in the offseason.
“All I know is I have one more year on my contract so I will definitely be here,” he said. “I just have to go into the offseason to better myself and do whatever I have to do to help this ballclub. I was an Atlanta Hawk after the trade deadline and I’m one now, so I have to look at some of the things I can do to help my basketball team win ballgames, especially in the postseason.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat