First thing’s first: a little company policy. During the regular season and the playoffs, I like to keep trade rumor talk to a minimum. Confirmed, popular, or oft-repeated rumors will get a mention and perhaps some brief analysis as to the whys/why nots, but on the whole I like to stay away from the vacuum that is the rumor mill. The offseason is a different beast entirely, and one that gives us the opportunity to leave no stone unturned. I don’t want this blog to turn into a running thread of trade machine quick fixes, but some of these rumors deserve a bit of attention.
That said, the summer is a boring, desolate time. There’s a lot of reading between the lines as fans get progressively more stir crazy. In all likelihood you’ll find me sitting in a corner, twitching, with my eyes glazed over by the time September finally rolls around. The long summer days practically beg for this stuff, and who am I to deny them their most base speculative basketball instincts? As such, I’ll be dipping my toe into the pool from time to time, but still, I wouldn’t expect me to cannonball into the deep end. Though, I must say, I am a wicked cannonballer.
Now on to the juicy stuff.
The big trade rumor flying around…centers on the Hawks’ Josh Smith. Several league sources told ESPN.com that the Hawks have been working hard the past few weeks to see whether they can find a taker for Smith…
The Hawks have had no problem finding teams interested in Smith. The issue is the whopping $6 million trade kicker attached to his contract. The trade kicker essentially would require the team that trades for Smith to pay him the $6 million immediately. In this economic climate, many owners will balk at the payment. “You are going to see very few owners willing to do things like that anymore,” one GM said. “I’m not saying he’s impossible to trade. There are a few owners like Paul Allen, James Dolan, Mark Cuban and maybe Daniel Gilbert who would pay the money. But there aren’t many.”
Josh Smith is a tasty find…for the right price. He can bring a lot to a team, particularly one that needs athletic finishers and help on the defensive end. When you boil down the basic Maverick needs to taglines, Josh Smith makes sense. But diving a little deeper, and there could be some problems. Nothing of cataclysmic proportions, mind you, but problems that may make you hold off on offering your first-born to the Josh Smith altar.
Any deal the Mavs are able to swing involving Smith would likely require some serious talent on our end. Probably Jason Terry and Josh Howard. As much as we’d love to believe that a salary dump would be enough to get it done, this is still a young stud. He’s tremendously athletic and comes with a fairly reasonable price tag (pre-trade kicker) salary-wise. There has been no explosion in Atlanta that would compromise the Hawk’s position in negotiations, and thus it’s fair to assume that it’s going to take somewhere around Smith’s market value to pry him out of Atlanta’s hands. That value is not equal to Erick Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse, no matter how you shake it.
Now, Howard could conceivably be packaged with Stackhouse in a deal that would relieve the Hawks of Josh Smith and Speedy Claxton’s dead weight of a contract. Barring turning Jason Terry into their point guard again, that’s the deal that seems to make the most sense for Atlanta. Even then, this trade is hardly fit to sail. Howard and Smith are hardly on equal terms these days, so much of this trade (and these rumors, for that matter) hinge on Atlanta’s want to rid Mike Woodson of a headache and/or save some money. I’m not about to tell you what Hawks’ ownership and management wants, and I’m not sure that they could either. This development of the Hawks has been mired substantially by failings higher up in the management chain. Mismanagement and confusion are the names of the game. If I were to tell you that I had my thumb to Atlanta’s pulse, I’d be quite the liar. So let’s just say that there are variables at work here that are beyond us.
I’m not concerned about Smith’s position. He started his career as a natural three, and was moved to the four because of personnel and his inability to shoot. If he had to play the three again, I have no doubt he could do so. The biggest questions should dwell with Smith’s place on the court. Not necessarily in terms of position, but rather in regard to the skills he brings to the table and the spots he occupies on the floor. Offensively, Smith has no go-to moves when he’s farther than 1.5 feet from the basket. He doesn’t post up particularly well, he can’t shoot threes or mid-range jumpers particularly well (a gross .349 eFG on jump shots), and to top it all off, he exhibits some generally poor decision-making on that end. Get him the ball in transition, on a lob, or just an open cut to the basket, and he’s money. Otherwise, expect a clank.
On defense, Smith is best equipped to guard forwards. He doesn’t have the quickness to keep up with guards on the perimeter, and though he’s an excellent shot-blocker, that skill is negated when you’re acting as a human turnstyle. So what does this really change about the Mavs’ overall team defense? They have an improved defender on either the opponent’s 3 or 4, but still have limited means to prevent penetration. That said, Smith could be a flat-out defensive weapon against the league’s better small forwards. He won’t shut down LeBron James, but he could certainly be a sizeable road block against the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Hedo Turkoglu, or Lamar Odom. Sometimes the key to a strong defense is to limit the opportunities of the second or third guy on the offensive end. Forcing an opponent’s star to take on more and more of the scoring load likely means a drop in efficiency, which is exactly what the Mavs should strive for. Apart from getting an elite defender at the wing positions or at point guard, the Mavs need to largely make do. Smith would allow them to do that and then some.
My issues with Smith are largely at the offensive end. He’s not simply a non-factor on offense, but has a habit of being a possession killer. Also throw in what he would likely cost the Mavs: the departure of Josh Howard, Jason Terry, or both. Both Terry and Howard are keys for Dallas on offense. The Mavs were able to find offensive success this season largely due to the hyper-efficient nature of Dirk and JET’s games, but from watching the team it appeared that such success was hanging by the slightest thread. Howard gave the Mavs a bit of breathing room with his ability to take over (or monopolize, depending on your perspective) the offense for stretches. Substituting Smith for Howard removes the safety net, and substituting Smith for Terry could make the sky fall. Howard’s inconsistency is manageable when he’s living the small-time life of a third offensive option, but he very well may drown in the responsibilities of being the second guy.
Annnnnd this was entirely too much for a bare bones trade rumor. Definitely a cannonball. Feel free to sound off in the comments, though. What price is too high for Smith? At what point does the offense begin to take a nose-dive?
EDIT: Some extra credit reading, in which SLAM’s Lang Whitaker, who knows a thing or two about the Hawks, tackles the idea of Atlanta unloading Smith.