(It’s trade talk Thursday. For Part I on the Thrashers, click here.)
There were few secrets about the Hawks going into this season.
We knew they overpaid for Joe Johnson but management felt his scoring couldn’t be replaced. We knew Al Horford made the All-Star team as a center but he would be so much better at power forward. We knew Josh Smith could be either the most dominant player on the floor or a complete pill, depending on the week, or the game, or the moment.
Here’s what we didn’t know for certain: Could Jeff Teague be an adequate replacement at point guard, since it had become apparent that Mike Bibby’s 32-year-old legs turned to linguini last season? The answer right now is no.
New Hawks coach Larry Drew has done an admirable job this season, steering the team to a 29-17 record despite several injuries and bringing a new philosophy to the offense. But unless the Hawks have a floor leader up top running the offense, they’re probably not going very deep in the postseason again.
This is when we come back to the issue of whether it’s time to change the look of this team. It’s not going to be at center because there just aren’t many good ones. So that means trading Josh Smith for a point guard.
Forget trading Horford, who’s the Hawks only universally embraced player. Forget trading Johnson, who makes too much money. That leaves Smith, who on some nights looks like he finally has arrived and on other nights looks like he doesn’t get it and will never get it — like Wednesday in Milwaukee.
The Hawks blew an 11-point lead by allowing the NBA’s worst offensive team (the Bucks) to score 34 points in the fourth quarter. Smith was the biggest problem. He had two offensive fouls and was one for six from the floor. He missed three three-point shots. Why did he even take three three-point shots?
It would be great if general manager Rick Sund could somehow swing a deal for a take charge point guard who simply would look at Smith waving his arms in the corner, laugh and then look in the other direction and give the ball to someone else. But the Hawks don’t have that leader right now. The two best candidates who could help this team likely require dealing Smith in a trade: Denver’s Chauncey Billups — not the Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony, as rumored, because he’s a scorer and doesn’t fit what the Hawks need – or Phoenix’s Steve Nash.
Billups is 36 and Nash is 34. They’re old. But either would far exceed the three-headed monster of Bibby, Teague and Jamal Crawford (a terrific scorer but not a true point). Billups or Nash also would give the Hawks a couple of years to either develop Teague (if they still believe he can be developed) or draft somebody else to develop.
When asked about Teague, Drew admitted, “I had hoped he would be further along. So we’ve had to go with what’s been good to us. Mike is up there in age but he’s still been pretty productive.”
Drew said he’s resting Bibby enough that he’s not overly concerned about the player wearing down in the second half and in the postseason. When asked about defenses breaking down the Hawks, he said, “It does start [at point guard], but most of our breakdowns on top will be off the pick and roll. … From a breakdown standpoint, it’s certainly the head of the snake for us. We have to have ball containment. But that’s true with everybody on the perimeter.”
The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 24. Will Sund act? He never publicly discusses his plans (or sometimes even general thoughts) on the roster. But he is, by nature, deliberate. He doesn’t do things quickly. He doesn’t have a reputation for being real proactive. So it’s debatable whether a Smith deal would be seriously explored.
Also key: Hawks ownership always has been a big Smith fan, and believes he carries marketing value.
If Sund can make a deal for a point guard without trading Smith, great. The expiring contracts of Crawford ($10 million) and Maurice Evans ($2.5 million) have some trade value. But this team needs more than a Band-Aid at point guard. It might be time for a makeover.
By Jeff Schultz