DALLAS – Don’t think Josh Smith is just waiting to bolt Atlanta, the only city he’s known for the vast majority of his 27 years. He has a wife there, two young children, a home, good friends and one very personal chauffeur.
“I love driving to the games with my father, each and every home game,” Smith said Monday night after he continued to grab the attention of general managers across the league with a 26-point, 13-rebound, six-assist performance to push the Hawks to a road win over the Dallas Mavericks. “Every home game, my dad drives me to the arena. He gives me his assessments after each and every game. With the exception of myself criticizing my game, he’s the next person in line.”
Pete Smith won’t find much to criticize in the 105-101 win. His son went 10-for-15 from the floor, canned a season-high-tying four 3-pointers on five attempts, including a huge one with 1:29 to go for a 99-94 lead. OK, so he did have five turnovers and missed a pair of late free throws before making two with 22.2 seconds to go.
“I have to wait for his texts,” Josh Smith said. “I know he’s probably texted me two or three times, a long paragraph about whatever he feels like I did, but it’s always something. It’s all good. That’s my dad.”
And that’s hard to leave. But if Smith is traded, he is ready for that, too. It is Atlanta general manager Danny Ferry‘s call to make by the Feb. 21 trade deadline. The Brooklyn Nets, according to reports, are pushing the hardest.
“I will say there is a lot invested,” said Smith, who has gone on a tear over the last nine games. “I was born and raised there, spent my whole childhood and my whole life there. I will say it’s a big investment.” But, Smith continued, “Once you understand as a player that this is a business and you don’t take anything personal, you kind of worry about just playing basketball.”
After dropping three of four, including an 11-point home loss Friday to New Orleans, Atlanta improved to 28-22 with Monday’s win. The Hawks are searching for the spark that sent them to a 20-10 start as they’ve fallen to sixth in the East, two games behind third-place Indiana (and just one game in the loss column).
The Hawks are positioned for a sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs in Smith’s ninth season, but the question is if this team is built to make a legitimate run at the Miami Heat for the East crown.
“I’m not sure; that’s going to be interesting,” center Al Horford said. “It’s one of those things that can be frustrating, because when you see the potential of our team in a game like tonight it makes you wonder. So it’s going to be one of those things that management is going to have to make a decision and see what they feel like.”
Monday’s win showed both the potential — five players scoring in double figures and three with 20 points or more, plus dominant board work — as well as the flaws. The Hawks also had 18 turnovers, many careless, and showed an inability to maintain leads.
For Ferry, the decision will have ramifications well beyond this season’s potential. He can trade his 6-foot-9, 225-pound leading scorer and second-leading rebounder and acquire players to build around; or risk losing Smith for nothing to the highest bidder this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If he remains, Smith said he’ll give full consideration to re-signing with the Hawks.
Of course, further complicating the decision is the Dwight Howard factor. Howard, like Smith, is from Atlanta. They’re the same age and good friends. Ferry unloaded Joe Johnson‘s contract on Brooklyn last July to create cap space to sign Howard to a max deal.
To convince Howard, it would make sense for Smith be there.
“I don’t know, it might be an enticing thought process for [Howard] to be there if I’m there,” Smith said. “You never know. This league is unpredictable, players are definitely unpredictable, so you never know what future lies ahead of us.”
Smith said he and Howard have not talked recently and have never discussed their futures in much detail.
“You know, he’s going through a rough stretch right now, so I like giving people their space when they’re going through situations so they can be able to just try to work it out,” Smith said. “Whenever he needs my advice I’ll be there for him. We haven’t really necessarily talked about anything as of right now, so I’m pretty sure he’s just trying to get back healthy, trying to get his timing back. I’m just trying to focus on what I’m doing as far as getting better as a player and trying to be as successful as possible for this team.”
The next move belongs to Ferry.