A lot of sorting out to be done over next week

Buddy Grizzard —  January 31, 2013 — 20 Comments

Utah Jazz radio voice David Locke tweeted last night that, “People in the NBA have told me the Rudy Gay deal is the domino that starts the dealings.” The Atlanta Hawks could be another team looking to deal, as I previously speculated. As the player movement gets sorted out, Hawks management must also sort out its relationship with Josh Smith.

Prior to the Hawks’ loss Sunday to the Knicks, ESPN writer Chris Broussard tweeted that, “Josh Smith’s reps will speak with Hawks’ GM Danny Ferry this week about Smith’s future in ATL.” According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz, Smith has already drawn a “line in the sand,” declaring that he feels worthy of a max contract. Schultz also quoted Smith as taking issue with the organization for leaking details of his recent suspension to the public.

The timing of the suspension was important, coming as it did just before All-Star reserve selections were made and Smith was once again left out. Former AJC Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham reported that the Hawks’ failure to promote Smith for an All-Star selection was among the reasons he wished to be traded last year.

Let me be the first to state that Josh Smith is, unequivocally, a max player. Think about players who have signed max contracts, a list that includes Brandon Roy, Gilbert Arenas, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Elton Brand, Rudy Gay, Rashard Lewis, Carlos Boozer, Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert. It’s hard to argue that Smith isn’t a more productive player and better risk than any of those players. You can argue that Smith doesn’t deserve to make as much as Kevin Durant or LeBron James, but market forces have determined otherwise. Smith will get a max offer this summer from someone. Book it.

Meanwhile Smith feels less wanted because the Hawks signed Johnson, Al Horford and Marvin Williams without making them test free agency. As you will recall, the Hawks allowed Smith to sign an offer sheet with the Memphis Grizzlies before matching. The Hawks won’t have the right to match if Smith signs with another team after this season. Thus, unless a trade is imminent, the time has come for Hawks GM Danny Ferry to publicly state that he will do whatever it takes to keep Smith in a Hawks uniform. A total commitment to keeping Smith with the team is the only hope to counteract what has happened in the past to make Smith feel that he was a lesser priority.

The Hawks need to do this for purely pragmatic reasons. Johnson was 28 when he started the first season of his current, 6-year deal, and will be 34 when he starts the final season. By contrast, Josh will be 27 when he starts the first season of his next contract, which will be limited to 5 years under the new collective bargaining agreement. Seeing the money the NBA has thrown at lesser players, Smith’s next contract will be a comparative bargain. Therefore, Ferry needs to do whatever it takes to get Smith signed, since Smith’s next contract will be a dramatically more tradeable asset than Johnson’s contract.

As Smith himself said, per Schultz, “There shouldn’t be any hesitation.”

Another thing that needs to be sorted out is the feelings of Hawks fans and Josh Smith for each other. Although I believe that Smith deserves every groan he hears when he winds up for another long jumper, fans may want to look at the history of the Orlando Magic for an object lesson on keeping star players around. When Shaquille O’Neal was being courted by the Lakers, the Orlando Sentinel ran a poll asking readers if Shaq was worth the money it would take to keep him. The majority of respondents said Shaq wasn’t worth keeping.

Although the Sentinel’s George Diaz insists it was the Magic’s lowball offer, not the lack of fan appreciation, that convinced Shaq to leave, I can’t imagine the poll helped. By the same token, I hope Smith will realize that the vocal minority of fans who think he’s not worth keeping are just that: a minority. Any fan with a basic understanding of basketball appreciates that Smith impacts the game at both ends in a way that a mere handful of players can approach, much less match.

While Hawks fans and management are sorting out their feelings about Smith, the mid-pack playoff picture in the East will do quite a bit of sorting over the next week as well. Following are the schedules for the next seven days for the teams presently ranked 3rd-through-6th in the East:

Chicago Bulls

@ BKN Friday
@ ATL Saturday
@ IND Monday

Brooklyn Nets

vs. CHI Friday
vs. LAL Tuesday
@ DET Wednesday

Indiana Pacers

vs. MIA Friday
vs. CHI Monday
vs. ATL Tuesday
@ PHI Wednesday

Atlanta Hawks

vs. CHI Saturday
@ IND Tuesday
vs. MEM Wednesday

Among these, only Brooklyn will avoid playing multiple teams in playoff position in the East. This week of games should tell us a lot about all of these teams, especially the Hawks. As HawksHoop’s Bo Churney noted, Atlanta’s opponents are all among the top-ranked defensive units in the league. Churney added that winning two of the next three “would give the Hawks a nice boost in national recognition.” I couldn’t agree more, and it all starts with the Bulls, presently the hottest team in the east, winners of eight of the last 10.

Whereas the Hawks once occupied 3rd place in the East and status as the conference’s surprise team, the Bulls have since supplanted them. Last off-season, the Bulls experienced a lot of turnover on their bench, losing Omer Asik to the Rockets in free agency and trading Kyle Korver to the Hawks for cash. One player the team obtained whose impact cannot be overstated is former Hawk Kirk Hinrich.

Although Hinrich is only averaging seven points per game, he has doubled his assists since last year in just over two more minutes per game while only seeing a minor uptick in turnovers. Hinrich’s solid-if-unspectacular play has been a stabilizing force for the Bulls and helped the team stay near the top of the East while Derrick Rose recovers from injury. If Rose is able to return at even 80% of his previous ability, the Bulls become instant contenders.

Hinrich will face former teammate Jeff Teague Saturday, whom Churney noted has been on fire in the wake of Smith’s suspension and the loss of Lou Williams for the season to injury. Churney noted that Teague has played over 36 minutes per game during that span while averaging over 19 points and 8 assists. Color me unsurprised, since I’ve been complaining all season that Teague was underutilized and wrote in December that he could put up numbers worthy of All-Star consideration if given five more minutes per game.

Teague could help the Hawks gain ground on the Bulls and regain some of the respect the team lost by falling in the standings. And he’ll have a chance to do it against the player that kept him on the bench early in his career, a player the Hawks traded two first round picks for because it lacked confidence in Teague’s game.

Buddy Grizzard

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20 responses to A lot of sorting out to be done over next week

  1. I’m sorry, but there’s NO-WAY Josh Smith is a max player. Is he as good, if not better, than most, if not all, of the players on your list? YES, definitely. But I gotta ask, how many of those guys are NBA Champions? none. How many of them (Gordon & Hibbert shouldnt count as they just signed their contracts 6 months ago) were eventually let go by the team that signed them to their max contract? ALL OF THEM. Oh, and I won’t bring up the fact that each of those players has earned at least one all-star selection. If anything, that list of players proves that the Hawks should NOT sign Smith to a max contract, as each of those players contracts were eventually seen as hinderances to improving their team to contender status.

    I happen to really like and appreciate JSmoove’s game. Its not the jumpshots that make me groan, its the attitude, and the effect it has on the rest of the team. The post about Jeff Teague’s emergence since Josh’s suspension was spot on. I look at the home&away against Brooklyn a few weeks ago for my example. Smith out, Horford in – Teague has a big game, Horford has a big game – Hawks win. Smith in, Horford out – Teague has a big game, Smith has a big game – Hawks Lose. You can blame it on it being a road game, but that shouldnt matter if JSmoove is a max player as you suggest.

    Jsmoove is a good player and probably a great third option on a contending team, but there’s no way you can be a max player or a contending team when your “best” player averages 15/8 for his career. I’m not saying I don’t want Josh back, but I’d let him walk for nothing before I give him max money.

  2. The new CBA offers another hard line in the sand. Teams may have been willing to offer a certain type of player a max deal simply to keep him in the past. But with the new CBA (and specifically the onerous luxury taxes), I wouldn’t assume that will continue to be the case. Can the Hawks afford 3 double-digit annual salaries in the future? Maybe, but possibly not two max deals (along with another $10M+ deal). There is little doubt that the Hawks will need a bonafide number 1 scoring option in the immediate future and that player likely will earn close to (if not) max money. Josh has been a prominent member of a team that has peaked… and he has earned ~$12M/year. What changes by giving him a 30-35% raise? Especially when that raise puts the team closer to a more punitive luxury tax with the new CBA. Ferry should consult an accountant before offering a player a max deal.

  3. So Michael, you’re advocating a complete demolition and rebuild? Because if they Hawks let Josh walk for nothing rather than signing him and possibly trading him later on for assets, you’re basically saying a total rebuild is the only path. I wonder how many people are going to say “we should let Josh walk for nothing” then spend the next 20 years complaining that the Hawks got nothing for Josh, just as they got nothing for Nique.

  4. No, I’m not saying “we should let Josh walk for nothing.” Definitely not. Only that if those are my ONLY two options, signing him for max money or letting him walk, then I let him walk. My ideal scenario is that josh signs for less as we pull in a scorer in free agency who can actually be the focal point of the offense and keep josh as our defensive anchor. Not sure how realistic that is tho. So I’m all for trading josh smith, but only for the right deal. Not mad at the phoenix proposal, depending on the draft picks and expiring contracts we get with gortat. If ferry makes good use of the draft picks in that deal, we could come out like bandits (big if, I know). We should be getting value for josh asap is my point, either at the trade deadline, draft night, or sign & trade this offseaon. Thats the only scenario I see where it makes sense to give josh max money.

  5. ‘Unequivocally’ a max player? Please. Not even close. LeBron is ‘unequivocally’ a max player as he produces at a high level, wins games, allows his team to compete for a championship every year, puts butts in the seats.

    Josh does none of those things. Josh is no more a max player than Hibbert. Just because Indiana foolishly overpaid doesn’t mean we should make the same mistake. We can let Josh walk and easily find other player(s) to match his production.

    How do I know? We just did it with JJ. We traded Joe Johnson for table scraps and haven’t missed a beat. Josh will be the same way, and we can use the money we don’t pay him to sign a player at a position we need help in: SG, SF or Center.

  6. How can a player who, in 9 seasons, never avg 20 ppg, never avg 10 rpg, never avg a double-double, never led his team in assists be considered a max player?

    Josh Smith is:

    33rd in scoring
    22nd in rebounds
    41st in assists
    41st in steals
    7th in blocks

    Buddy, I’ve read a ton of your stuff on other sites, but making a statement like in favor of a 15 ppg scorer causes you to lose a ton of credibility.

  7. Jamaaliver, thanks for reading. I’d rather have people read me and call me an idiot than not read me. That being said, which of the following players do you think was more worthy of a max contract at the time they signed it than Josh will be at the end of this season:

    Brandon Roy, Gilbert Arenas, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Elton Brand, Rudy Gay, Rashard Lewis, Carlos Boozer, Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert

    That’s my point in saying that you can argue that Josh doesn’t deserve to make as much as LeBron, but the market says otherwise. NBA owners, the guys who sign the paychecks, have determined that lesser players than Josh are worthy of Max money. So which of these guys is better than Josh?

  8. “We can let Josh walk and easily find other player(s) to match his production.”

    Dallas didn’t find it easy to replace Chandler when they let him walk for nothing. The fact that the Hawks haven’t “missed a beat” without Joe Johnson is more a function of Johnson’s declining skills and the fact that his absence gives more possessions to efficient players. Take away one of the top 4 players from last year’s team and you might be surprising. Take away two of those players without bringing in comparable talent and you’ve got a lottery team.

  9. The problem here is the perception of who is worth a max contract.

    I think most people agree that the biggest contracts should be reserved for the best players, or the guys who can be the best player on a title team. However, since there is a maximum amount of money those players can make, it complicates things.

    If there were no max, LeBron would be making $50 mill a year and we’d have no problem with Smoove getting 18-20. But since the max is at 18-20, you get this argument that Josh and LeBron shouldn’t be making the same amount of money, as one is obviously better than the other.

    Any key part of this is the salary cap/luxury tax line. Under the current rules, a team can sign three players to max contracts, still be under the salary cap, and then still have plenty of room under the luxury tax line. Since the NBA has always been about having 2 or 3 stars on a title team, GMs won’t balk at signing that 2nd or 3rd star to a max deal to get them. This is why they have no problem tossing that kind of money at “2nd tier” stars like Josh. They know that, even if it becomes a bad contract, they’ll still have some room to operate around it.

    While my opinion is that Josh shouldn’t be a max player, the circumstances and the market have valued him as one. Obviously, I don’t have an issue with Josh saying that he’s a max player, because he just wants to get as much money as possible; just like anyone else would want.

    I think the only way to fix this system is to allow the max contract to be higher per year, or have some provisions that only certain players can receive the big contracts. (All-NBA nods, MVP awards, or something) For example, if LeBron was allowed to make $25 mill a year, the contracts on 2nd tier stars should go down, because you’d have to work harder to build around LeBron. (in theory, obviously) Of course, this might not work, as GMs would probably still keep throwing money around as much as they can.

  10. Buddy, none of those guys desreve to be MAX salary players. We can’t makethe same types of mistakes that lackluster franchises like Portland, New Orleans, Orlando, Washington has made.

    The new CBA penalizes teamswith too much money tied up to mediocre, disappointing players.

    Heck, 3 of those players have been amnestied, essentially paid to go away because they were no longer wanted by their teams.

    Josh is not a more efficient player by any means. See: his turnover rate and FG%.

    If you think Josh is a MAX player, you must also think AL is a MAX player. Their stats are ridiculously similar.

  11. Well, first tell me if you think Al Horford is a top 30 player or a top 40 player. If he’s top 30, he is absolutely one of the most underpaid players in that range.

  12. I don’t believe in rankings like that. Kobe, LeBron, Durant, CP3 are top tier MAX players.

    Johan Petro is a low level fringe player lucky to be in the league.

    Everyone else falls in the middle.

    My personal belief in these matters is based on value.
    Josh wants $18 million for 17/9/4/2/2
    But if we can get two players to combine for that production for less, that’s the way to go.

    For example, Joe is making $20 million this season to avg 17 ppg. We signed Lou for $5 million and he was avg 14 ppg. Clearly a better value. There are obviously other factors that go into play. (Size, defense, play making, etc.) But aside from the top 5 players in the league, any player’s production can be matched elsewhere.

    JJ Hickson makes $5 million and avg 12/10. A value replacement or Smoove? Which leaves $18 million for an upgrade at SF, SG, Center.

    I love AL; I consider him the face of the Hawks. But the day he considers himself an irreplaceable MAX player, is the day we sever ties.

    Indy made Roy Hibbert a Max player. Poor decision. They could be getting identical production from Jason Thompson for a fraction of the cost.

    Again. There are currently 32 players who provide more scoring. 21 players who provide more rebounding. 40 players who provide more assists and steals.

    The goal is MAX value for players in the 2nd and 3rd tiers.

  13. Clearly a hot-button topic with the fans here.

    I do agree that Josh will get max money from someone, but I highly doubt it will be from us. And I think a lot of the argument from a lot of people isn’t whether he’ll get the money, but if he deserves the money. Of course he’s as good or better than some of the guys with max contracts, but perhaps they didn’t deserve them either. I’d have a hard time with handing out max money to someone who doesn’t crack the top 50 in PER.

    I have been a big supporter of Josh in his time here, but I don’t see any way Ferry makes this happen (regardless of whether you think that’s a good thing or not), meaning we try to deal now for picks or rookie-contract players or let him walk and try to use the cap space on D12 or others to build for the future. It’s a very tough situation, but I feel by him making that statement that there is extremely little chance of seeing him in a Hawks uniform come opening night next season.

  14. Even Danny Ferry doesn’t think he’s a MAX player….

  15. According to whom? Per David Aldridge on NBA.com, the Hawks have already offered him the max deal he is presently eligible for, which would be about $16m per over three years. According to DA, “sources indicated Friday afternoon that the two sides have not had any discussions about the full five-year deal.”

    http://www.nba.com/2013/news/02/08/josh-smith-trade-offers/index.html

  16. Buddy,

    I can find two players to combine (heck, exceed) Josh’s 17/8/4/4/2 for less than $16 million. Yes, a starter and a backup to add depth to our depleted frontcourt. And I guarantee they’ll shoot better than 50% from the field.

    Value, Buddy. It’s about value. BTW, Broussard reports Hawks already told Josh’s agent we won’t offer a MAX deal. Thus all the trade speculation.

  17. Jamaaliver if I’ve got to pick between David Aldridge and Chris Broussard to decide who has more reliable information, I think you know which way I’m leaning.

  18. My Buddy!

    This is a well written blog article and I am really enjoying the comments allbeit after the trade deadlone has passed. Very good discussions re: Mr. Josh Smith.

    I for one am just glad Josh is still here. My favorite Hawk for sure.

    [Nice formatt and, no squiggly lines to decipher while they try to trick the robots.] LOL!!!

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