Ball Don't Lie

Josh Smith sticks with the Atlanta Hawks, as sanity prevails

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Josh Smith is heading back to the Hawks' bench, again (Getty Images)

Thursday’s trade deadline came and went, Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith did not come to anything but a delicious conch salad, and he never went anywhere. There were talks, to be sure, but the Atlanta Hawks decided to hang onto their all-around forward for the rest of the season, in spite of the legitimate chance that Smith could bolt from Atlanta this July as an unrestricted free agent for absolutely no compensation.

And it was the best move the Hawks could have made. No team was willing to offer a prized youngster or significant first round draft pick for Smith, even with the knowledge that whatever team dealt for Josh would have the best chance to re-sign him this summer due to NBA rules that give a huge advantage to incumbent teams attempting to retain their players. There just weren’t a lot of obvious packages that combined all of what we presumed and hoped Atlanta was looking for – an asset or two, along enough expiring contracts to make it worth adding that asset’s salary to Atlanta’s potentially slim 2013-14 payroll.

[Related: Breaking down the moves from the 2013 NBA trade deadline]

So what do the Hawks do? They dive into what too many observers have termed a worst-case scenario. And I’m having a hard time figuring out why this is a worst-case scenario.

The Atlanta Hawks will get 30 more games of Josh Smith, plus his work in the postseason. Smith has been dealing with trade rumors for years, and despite an iffy shot selection and some hiccups between him and various coaching staffs, he has still managed to provide great effort and consistent production for the Hawks in spite of those rumors. For Smith to pout or act disappointed that he didn’t become a member of the Bucks or Nets would involve a significant change in attitude, and though we’ve disagreed with Josh’s play at times over the years, it’s hard to see Smith switching course right now.

Especially with so many options in front of him. Several teams will have significant cap space this summer, and though the NBA has put restrictions on sign-and-trades that send players to teams that are paying the luxury tax, Smith has myriad options that could still pay him a max or near max salary for a team that wants to pay Josh through his prime. On Wednesday we called this a bad idea; but that’s for that hypothetical team and nobody else involved.

[Source Veteran forward Kenyon Martin to join Knicks]

For the Hawks, and for Smith? This was the best move all-around. Atlanta doesn’t have to worry about Monta Ellis (a potential trade return, from Milwaukee) opting in to his contract for next season. The team doesn’t have to worry about finding helpers to replace Smith’s all-around production between now and the team’s NBA TV-televised first round loss. Atlanta will either have significant cap space this summer, a chance at sign-and-trade goodness, or an opportunity (though we submit that this is a long shot) to convince Smith to stick in his hometown and work for terms that dip below max figures.

For the latter to happen, potential suitors would have to approach Smith with lowball offers in July. And considering the fact that this is the NBA, and NBA front offices apparently stay blind drunk and optimistic beyond belief between July 1and Labor Day, we’re not betting on that sort of outcome. It’s a slim free agent class, Smith is 27 and someone you can talk yourself into, and he will get paid.

In all, though, it seems like the best move for all involved. There’s no point in trading for someone you can sign in July. No point in dealing someone that currently helps your team to a borderline All-Star level degree, and possibly taking on more salary as a result. And no point for Josh to burn bridges when there’s still a season to play for the only NBA team you’ve ever known.

It may have been a boring trade deadline day, with no superstars on the move, but it appears to have been a more intelligent trade deadline day. That, after years and years of crazy, is welcome news.

(Even if it was super boring.)

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