When NBA front offices change figurative horses midstream, replacing a somewhat successful general manager even after a few playoff runs, all the holdovers tend to update their resumes. It’s hard to tell from the outside what the new GM thinks of the team he’s inherited, whether that be in regards to a team’s coaching staff, or the playing roster.
Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry made quite clear what his intentions were early in his stewardship, dealing overpaid shooting guard Joe Johnson for pennies on the dollar in his first offseason, while refusing to comment on the future of former Hawk coach Larry Drew, or free agent to-be Josh Smith. Ferry’s motives were obvious and sound: He’d ride out the last year of both Drew and Smith’s contracts while working with a playoff-level roster, then choosing carefully when it came time to re-sign the mercurial longtime Hawk forward once his contract lapsed.
Ferry’s decision on that was pretty darn clear, too. Smith is now a Detroit Piston, and Josh confirmed on Monday that the Hawks didn’t even broach the idea of engaging in re-signing talks while chasing down other free agents last July. From Chris Vivlamore at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“No, there wasn’t,” Smith said when asked if there was a contract offer. “During free agency, during that period, there were a lot of guys out in L.A. that were meeting with various teams. I was one of those guys. That’s where I work out in the summertime as well. The only time I saw the Hawks during free agency was when they came to one of my workouts just to say hello. I think they were meeting with Dwight Howard that day. They never came in or sat down with me during the free agency period to offer me anything.”
Smith, as you’ll recall, was once thought to be in place as Howard-bait should the big man consider signing with Atlanta. Josh and Dwight were AAU teammates and remain friends, but despite some sizable cap room last summer, Atlanta did not have enough money under the cap limit to make competitive offers to both players.
Danny Ferry, because he’s Danny Ferry, said all the right things in response to Smith’s recollections:
"As it relates to his returning to the Hawks I spoke to Josh during the season, both before the trade deadline and after, about where his head was regarding his future here as well as our intentions," Ferry told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I also had steady and open communication with his agents Brian Dyke and Wallace Prather during the season as well as during the summer. Although we both decided it was best to move in different directions, I wish him well. Josh was obviously a very important part of several good seasons for the Hawks and he did wonderful things in the Atlanta community."
It could be possible that the Hawks will finish with a worse record than the 44-38 showing they came through with under Drew and with Smith last season, even though the team is currently on pace for 50 wins. That’s not the point, though. Ferry was brought in during the 2012 offseason, charged with doing something with a roster that could not get over the hump even with Johnson, Smith, and Al Horford already on board. In building with solid rotation parts around Horford – shooters like Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Lou Williams – Ferry has built a team that could be better than the sum of their parts. Especially when rookie coach Mike Budenholzer eventually gets his reps in.
And though we’re not trying to pile on, especially while aware of the three-week sample size in place currently, Smith’s time with the Pistons has been an abject disaster so far. Due to his fantastic all-around production, and the fact that he’s soon to be hitting his prime, Smith’s four-year $54 million contract is a reasonable rate for the forward, but it might not be the best fit with this Piston roster. Stuck (probably) out of position at small forward, Smith hasn’t jived with second year center Andre Drummond and big forward Greg Monroe. While all three have the potential to get along swimmingly, everyone’s looked out of place thus far for the 3-6 Hawks. Especially defensively, an end that the Pistons rank last in the NBA at.
Worse, the move to small forward has encouraged some of Smith’s worst habits. Despite shooting just 31 percent, well below the NBA’s average mark from long range, he’s chucking up nearly six three-pointers a game.
Smith’s first visit back to Atlanta will be on Wednesday, and he’ll get a heaping dose of Hawk colors as the Pistons then return to Detroit to take Atlanta on again on Friday. With only wins to the struggling Wizards, Kings and (supposed to be struggling) Celtics to their credit Detroit has a whole lot to figure out, all while attempting to make the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Josh Smith hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2007, as the Hawks made routine first and second round stops throughout his recent time there. We’re only nine games in, but it’s still clear in many ways why Atlanta passed on bringing their hometown product back for a third contract. At least Josh got a “hello” out of them.
- - - - - - -