Pick your poison.
Would you rather have Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, highly motivated, driven to have the best of what will be nine NBA seasons after this one, improving on 2011-12 numbers (18.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 21.1 PER) that were better than anything he had done before and hitting the free-agent market as one of the plums of 2013? Or Josh Smith, gone sideways, cranky over nonstop questions about his contract status, the object of repeated trade rumors and all of that affecting his market value to other teams and also his production for the Hawks?
Hawks management already has made its choice, apparently. It is banking on the former while accepting some risk of the latter by stating that a contract extension this season for Smith is unlikely. Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with Atlanta’s new GM for the paper’s NBA blog:
According to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, Smith and his agents have said he would like to remain in Atlanta.
“I’ve been clear that I value Josh as a player,” Ferry told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He has worked hard this summer and I believe he is going to have great season. I’ve been in contact with his representatives. Josh and his representatives have been clear that he is excited about the direction of the team and wants to be part of the future in Atlanta. That being said, I don’t expect the contract situation to be resolved until next summer.”
Smith’s affinity for Atlanta and history with the Hawks are two reasons Ferry feels secure in an approach different from, for example, the Philadelphia 76ers’ strategy in trying to re-up center Andrew Bynum before next summer. Of course, the newly acquired Bynum – as potentially the league’s second-ranked center – has a whole different market than Smith. He’s new to the Sixers and even though he is a native of nearby Plainsboro, N.J., he has spent the past seven years in Los Angeles. Better to lock in than risk Bynum departing for a glitzier destination.
Smith, of course, also could go. And after Atlanta’s trades of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, a chunk of recent history – five straight playoff appearances, near-All-Star status last season for Smith – could exit with him.
Obviously the difference under the new CBA rules between three more years now (extension) and five more next summer (re-signing with Atlanta) is a big part of this. But a general lack of trust in Smith as a franchise player, that tricky – and nearly decade-old – equation of his skills and (still) his potential vs. leadership, team focus and his worthiness to be a “max” guy are at play too.
If J-Smoove plays his way to such a deal, as the active, intimidating 6-foot-9 force at both ends he can be, the Hawks will likely reward him. If he treats his next contract like a birthright and assumes that he’s due to slot into Johnson’s spot in the payroll, he might end up elsewhere. Next summer or sooner.