HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Josh Smith for Pau Gasol trade rumors are apparently on again on the eve of the NBA Draft, per The Los Angeles Times.
Rekindling a rumors that began some 18 months ago, the Times is reporting that the Hawks “aggressively tried to trade” Smith for Gasol after the Lakers were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.
Smith worked out last summer in Los Angeles, when the rumors bubbled up again during the lockout. This is another twist for two players who seem to always find themselves in the middle of trade rumors in recent months and years.
From all indications, it sounds like the Lakers are openly shopping Gasol one way or another, same as they were at the start of the 2011-12 season, with Smith potentially being their desired target:
In separate activity leading up to Thursday’s amateur draft, the Lakers are also open to trading Gasol to a team with a high first-round pick because they covet Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Atlanta holds the 23rd pick and cannot help in that area.
No deals were imminent for the Lakers, who hold only the 60th and final pick in the draft. They have not had a first-round pick since taking Javaris Crittenton in 2007.
Last season, Smith averaged career-highs in points (18.8) and rebounds (9.6) for the Hawks. He is only 26, five years younger than Gasol.
If the Lakers struck a deal with Atlanta, they would lose the height advantage that made them one of the longest teams in the NBA — Smith is 6 feet 9, three inches shorter than Gasol — but would instantly become more athletic.
Smith is an incredibly active defender and has career averages of 1.3 steals and 2.2 blocked shots. Two years ago, he became the youngest player ever with 1,000 career blocked shots.
He has one more year on his contract for $13.2 million and becomes an unrestricted free agent in June 2013 unless he signs an extension. The Lakers would also benefit financially from a deal involving the two players: Gasol has two more years and $38.3 million on his contract. It is unclear which player would accompany Smith to the Lakers in such a scenario.
The Hawks have an interesting draft-night dynamic to work through with outgoing general manager Rick Sund and his replacement, Danny Ferry, both expected to be in the Hawks’ war room Thursday night.
Sund was well aware of Smith’s trade demand of over a year ago and the Hawks never acted on it. So there is little reason to believe that Ferry will do anything three days into his tenure.
For a player who was supposedly unhappy with the Hawks, Smith put together his finest professional season in his eighth year in the league. In addition to his career highs in points and rebounds, Smith also averaged 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals. He finished the playoffs as the league leader in rebounds (13.6) and the Hawks’ leader in assists (4.8).
Gasol’s stock has dipped in the eyes of many with back-to-back playoff outings that saw him struggle mightily, last year in a sweep at the hands of the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks and this season in that series against the eventual Western Conference champion Thunder.
Strangely enough, both Gasol and Smith were drafted by the Hawks. Gasol was third pick in the 2001 Draft and was traded to the Grizzlies, while Smith was the 17th pick in the 2004 draft by the hometown Hawks.
They would rank, technically, as two of the Hawks’ three best draft picks (along with Al Horford, No. 3 in 2007) of the past 11 years.