Larry Drew promised a shake-up, and by suspending Josh Smith, the Hawks made one. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
After an embarrassing 39-point loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday in which his team scored just five points in the second quarter and 20 in the first half, Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew promised to "shake things up" with his flagging squad, saying that making "some changes within our lineup" would be his "first line of business when we get back to Atlanta."
Well, we'd say this checks both the "shake-up" and "lineup change" boxes — Hawks general manager Danny Ferry announced Wednesday that the team had suspended star forward Josh Smith for one game and fined him an undisclosed amount for "conduct detrimental to the team." Smith will serve his suspension on Wednesday, when the Hawks host the surging Brooklyn Nets, winners of seven straight and eight of nine under interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo.
From a Hawks team statement on the suspension, shared by InsideHoops.com:
“Josh and I discussed the issue and he understood and accepted this course of action. We are confident that he will respond positively, learn from this experience and come back with a renewed sense of purpose to the team moving forward,” Ferry said. [...]
Statement from Josh Smith on his suspension
“Clearly I am competitive and was frustrated by our recent losses. I understand and respect the team’s actions and just want to get back on the court to do whatever is necessary to help my teammates. I apologize for letting them down and apologize to our fans for not being available for tonight’s game.”
After the Hawks released their statement, Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Smith was thrown out of the team's practice session on Tuesday. He appeared very frustrated during the Monday night loss in Chicago, earning a technical foul for "whipping the ball" at referee Ken Mauer after making a rare layup during the 58-point debacle.
The suspension and fine comes amid a poor stretch of play for Smith, who's averaging 15.6 points per game on 41.9 percent shooting, making just over a quarter of his 3-point tries (yet still taking three per game) and shooting a woeful 48.4 percent from the free-throw line over the past month. In the final season of his five-year, $58 million deal — the vaunted "contract year," in which many players do their darnedest to put their best foot forward in the hope of eliciting the largest possible offers from prospective suitors in free agency the following summer — Smith is playing some of the least productive ball of his career, shooting more 3s per 36 minutes than ever before despite making less than one-third of them, turning the ball over more while dishing fewer assists than a year ago, posting his worst field-goal percentage in six years and grabbing his lowest share of available rebounds in five years. And now, apparently, he's ramming heads with his head coach to the point where the Hawks felt the need to cool his heels for a game.
"I'm disappointed that it came to that," Smith said of the suspension, according to the Hawks' Twitter account. "After tonight's game, we will embrace Josh again. My focus right now is on the team and the organization."
Reserve center Zaza Pachulia told Vivlamore that he'd start alongside Al Horford in Wednesday's game against the Nets, which will mark the return of Joe Johnson to Philips Arena after seven years as in Atlanta. The Hawks traded the 31-year-old Johnson to Brooklyn during the offseason in exchange for a handful of expiring contracts and a lottery-protected 2013 first-round draft pick as part of a salary-structure overhaul undertaken by Ferry after his June hire. After a slow start to his Nets tenure, Johnson has come on of late, averaging 20.1 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field and from 3-point land during Brooklyn's seven-game winning streak.
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