In his first few weeks as general manager, Danny Ferry has managed to exorcise the Hawks’ franchise of two mistakes (Joe Johnson for his contract; Marvin Williams for the assumption he had a pulse), acquire nine new players through trades and the draft and live in three different Atlanta hotels.
On Wednesday, he exhaled and we had breakfast (in a hotel).
“I really haven’t lived in Atlanta yet,” he said. “When I’ve been in town, I’ve spent most of my time on the 19th floor [at the Hawks’ downtown offices]. But I’ve enjoyed the challenges.”
The new Hawks haven’t played a game. Yet, Ferry enjoys a level of popularity that Pete Babcock, Billy Knight and Rick Sund never attained. Locating a Russian billionaire to assume $90 million of your team’s payroll can do wonders for a general manager’s Q score.
At least in the short term — and assuming Dwight Howard isn’t walking through that door – there’s really only one major decision left for Ferry to make in the short term. And that’s: What to do with Josh Smith? The likely answer for now appears to be nothing.
Smith, tired of being singled out for blame when things go wrong and yearning to compete for a championship, told the Hawks last year he wanted out. But much has changed since then. Ferry replaced Sund. He arrived with a “more objective view” of where the Hawks were. He was given autonomy to make needed changes.
Ferry will tell you that he “didn’t come in looking to” trade Johnson, but the opportunity presented itself (and he pounced). But Smith is a different story. Ferry likes him — a lot.
“He’s a really good player,” Ferry said. “I love his ability to pass the ball. I love his ability to make game-changing plays defensively. I love his competitiveness. If I was out there playing, I would want Josh on my team.”
But does Smith want to be here? He wasn’t available for comment Tuesday, but Ferry said he has met with him twice.
“He’s excited for next season,” he said. “We haven’t really gone in that direction with him [on roster plans]. But we’ve talked about how we’re going to play. We’ve talked about other players. His ideas, my ideas. I’m just trying to establish a relationship.”
Smith has only one year left on his contract. While he reportedly has softened his stance on a trade request, he publicly has given no indication yet that he’s looking to re-sign here. He is coming off the best season of his career (18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds), taking on more responsibility after Al Horford’s injury, even with the occasional “Josh” moment.
“All players have strengths and areas where they have to get better,” Ferry said. “All of them are praised and criticized.”
Ferry has a vision for the Hawks next season, and Smith is a part of that. They’ll run more. They’ll have to, given the lack of size. They’re a guard-heavy team, with moves that brought in Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Louis Williams, Kyle Korver and rookie John Jenkins.
“The ball will be in Devin Harris’ hands a lot and Jeff Teague’s hands a lot. We’ll have space for them to attack the rim. We’ll play through Josh a little more. We’ll use Josh and Al to pick-and-roll or post up. We’ll be fun to watch.”
I know. It’s July. Every plan is perfect. Nobody has lost a game yet.
But isn’t it nice to see a general manager with a vision, one who is willing to make the bold move, not the easy one?
Will the Hawks compete for a title next season? Not likely. But Ferry knew when he took over things had to change. The Hawks weren’t going to improve from the one- or two-round playoff team with the core they had.
Actually, Ferry believes, they were going to get worse.
“It would’ve been very difficult for them to get better — as a matter of fact, it would start to turn in the other direction very quickly,” he said. “They had very little [payroll] flexibility, and to maintain status quo would’ve meant being a high-tax team, for a team that wasn’t going to be good enough.”
It remains to be seen how good the Hawks will be next season. But it appears Smith isn’t going anywhere. That would be another offseason surprise.
By Jeff Schultz