The annual Josh Smith trade rumors are swirling (ESPN.com link requires registration), and they make less sense than ever. The Hawks are getting close to something good, but they must negotiate a summer in which four of their top eight players are free agents of some stripe. Josh Smith is under contract through 2013. He’s not the immediate problem.
On the contrary, he’s a massive part of the solution. He’s a very good player bordering on greatness. He’s 23. He has already had his free-agent summer. He’ll be the best player on this roster in two years, and that’s even if Joe Johnson sticks around. Josh isn’t the guy you move. He’s the one you keep.
Last month Rick Sund, the Hawks’ general manager, said: “I like our club. The only reason I say that is that there’s still growth from within.” Of Smith in particular, Sund said: “I think Josh is going to continue to get better — every year he’s gotten better.”
And he has. And he should continue to do so for at least three more seasons. That’s a good thing. So why are the Hawks, if the rumors are to be believed, shopping Smoove?
Beats me. How many power forwards could you plug in for Smith and render the Hawks better overnight? David West of New Orleans? Maybe, and that’s a big “maybe.” Anderson Varejao of Cleveland? Nope. Kenyon Martin of Denver? Too old. (Same with Kevin Garnett.) Tim Duncan? Dirk Nowitzki? Sure, but I doubt their teams would do those deals.
Chris Bosh, you say? Now that’s a teaser. Bosh is better than Smith at this moment, but Bosh also becomes a free agent next summer. Bosh-for-Josh would gamble four more years of Smith for what could be one-and-done of Bosh. Me, I wouldn’t do it. (Go ask the Braves if they’d make the Teixeira trade again.)
If the Hawks are looking to package Smith with an eye toward improving their draft position, they’re nuts. There is no player in this draft — not Blake Griffin, not Hasheem Thabeet, not Ricky Rubio — who’s superior to Smith today, and there might not be one who’ll ever be better. This is not a LeBron draft. This is Andrea Bargnani draft. Nobody’s going to get well overnight on June 25th.
Speculation also holds that the Hawks need money to keep their aforementioned free agents. If Smith is the price for re-upping Mike Bibby or Marvin Williams, that’s a price not worth paying. Smith is more than just another Hawk. He’s the key to this team’s future. I’ll put it this way: If the Hawks trade him for anything less than Kobe Bryant, they lose me.
And now for the good news: I’m pretty sure they won’t. The trade kicker in Smith’s contract — the acquiring team must pay him $6 million on top of his salary — makes it cost-prohibitive for any prospective suitor, especially in today’s marketplace.
It’s part of the GM game to dangle players and see if there’s interest, and Sund has been a player for a long time. But if I know Sund — and I think I do, a little — I believe this is all smoke. I think Sund knows what he has in Smith. If he doesn’t, he should give me a call. I’ll tell him.