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Ball Don't Lie

Josh Smith is a very, very good player that is receiving way, way too much attention

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Josh Smith is as tired of this as we are (Getty Images)

The NBA is one day ahead of its trade deadline. The featured prize is Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith. And I just don’t get it.

Smith is an unrestricted free agent this summer. He is a fantastic athlete with superb all-around skills and drive, and he’s had the misfortune of having to work through dozens of trade rumors that date far prior to the five-year deal he signed with the Hawks as a restricted free agent in 2008. Smith has never made an All-Star team, but in two seasons prior to this one he probably should have made the squad. He has never made it past the second round of the playoffs, but this probably isn’t his fault. At age 27, he is about to enter his prime.

He is on the record as stating that he wants a maximum contract, but Jason Collins would say the same thing if you asked him as much. This is what we have in place, when it comes to Josh Smith.

[Related : Arguments against trading Josh Smith]

What’s compelling is why so many different teams are rumored to want to have Josh Smith in place, even if those rumors might be just Hawks officials trying to leak news in order to trump up his value in the hours before the trade deadline.

On Atlanta’s side, it’s hard to fathom just why they would take in salary that moved beyond this season in order to garner some assets in preparation for Smith’s potential free agent departure. Should the team decline DeShawn Stevenson’s option for next season, the Hawks are set to owe under $20 million in salary next season as it heads into restricted free agency negotiations with point guard Jeff Teague and banger Ivan Johnson. If the team signs each player to reasonable rates and negotiations don’t drag on, the Hawks could have around $30 million in cap space to work with this summer.

They’d also have just five players on the roster. And they’d have to renounce Josh Smith’s rights. The team would also have to decline to make a deal for Smith that would add salary for 2013-14. Perhaps my basketball compass is tilting me too far in a certain direction, but I don’t understand why this is such a bad thing.

Luring free agents away from their incumbent teams – squads that are able to offer Bird Rights contracts to players involving terms that the Hawks cannot top – is a tough sell in the modern NBA. And, as Houston’s Daryl Morey struggled with for a few seasons before dealing for James Harden, swapping in a superstar via trade is still a tough gig even with loads of cap space and while working with nearly 30 teams that are wary of the luxury tax. There’s no guarantee, considering the weak free agent class of 2013, that the Hawks will be any better in 2013-14 than the 47-win pace they’re on right now. Especially when you consider the fact that Lou Williams may miss nearly all of that season as he recovers from an ACL tear.

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Is that a reason for the Hawks, or any other team, to commit to Josh Smith? Judging by rumors, it appears as if this is the line of thinking that several NBA GMs are working their way through. Again, my own tastes may be clouding this take, but I can’t help but think Smith stays in Atlanta after Thursday, and that any team dealing for the forward would be making a big mistake.

Because, let’s face it, this summer Smith is re-signing with whatever team deals for him on Thursday. Not only will he be able to make more money with his new squad, but whatever team wins his services this week will feel a need to bid against itself and better the hypothetical terms it thinks cap-mindful outfits in Dallas or elsewhere will be offering. The rush to deal for Smith as if he is a franchise-level star will extend itself into summer, when teams will press themselves to pay Smith as if he is that sort of player. It’s happened time and time again, the new’ish Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t change that urge, and trade deadline-slash-free agent classes like these are why we have lockouts.

Some years LeBron James is on the market, looking to move. Sometimes, a star point guard will force his way into a trade. Other years, an obvious franchise player will be stuck on a franchise that is in the midst of a rebuilding process. This trade deadline, and the upcoming free agent season, will not feature any of these instances. All it has is Josh Smith; lest you think Dwight Howard is turning down less money to play outside his adopted hometown of Los Angeles this summer.

[More coverage: Clippers end Kevin Garnett trade talks – for now]

Unless the team finds a deal that involves expiring contracts and/or draft picks, the Atlanta Hawks should hang on to Josh Smith. He may only be making half of his free throws this year, and he may take terrible shots at times, but he also works his tail off despite all the trade rumors, and he remains an All-Star level player. The Hawks have a legitimate chance at making the second round of the playoffs, and they can decline to overpay Smith this summer and utilize the subsequent cap savings as a result.

Other suitors wouldn’t be trading for Smith as a rental – because they’d likely end up overpaying Smith this summer as an overreaction, and Josh isn’t going to turn down less money from other free agent suitors. Dealing assets now for the chance to pay Josh Smith over $20 million a year in a few years? I don’t care that you’re paying an All-Star type through his prime. It’s too much.

Josh Smith thinks of himself as a max-level player, and I have no issue with that in the slightest. I do have issue with teams agreeing with him. These are the seasons that teams regret. Why they can’t see this, in the face of endless optimism about why teams think this time will be different, is beyond me.

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