Generally I don’t raise my eyebrows at NBA trade rumors too much. This time of the year, you usually get so many names tossed into the ring that after a while, it all becomes a bunch of white noise. It seems like about 75% of the rumors thrown out there are generally unrealistic anyway, so it can sometimes be kind of tough to take them seriously. None the less, it can sometimes be fun to dream.
We’ve already heard the rumors about Rasheed Wallace, Charlie Villanueva, Shaq, Antawn Jamison, and even Carlos Boozer. This morning, it was a new name that really caught my eye and made me sit up a little bit. The name being thrown into the rumor mill this time was the Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith.
ESPN’s Chad Ford first mentioned this rumor in his Draft Buzz column [ESPN Insider link] yesterday afternoon. He wrote,
The big trade rumor flying around (if you’re already tired of the Shaq-to-Cleveland talk) centers on the Hawks’ Josh Smith. Several league sources told ESPN.com that the Hawks have been working hard the past few weeks to see whether they can find a taker for Smith.
The Hawks have some financial issues coming into the summer. Two key players, Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams, are free agents. So are a few others on the roster — Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia and Ronald Murray. Although the Hawks would like to keep those players, they can’t afford to pay all of them. That has opened the door to the possibility of trading Smith, who, although talented, has a reputation as a difficult player to coach.
The Hawks have had no problem finding teams interested in Smith. The issue is the whopping $6 million trade kicker attached to his contract. The trade kicker essentially would require the team that trades for Smith to pay him the $6 million immediately. In this economic climate, many owners will balk at the payment.
“You are going to see very few owners willing to do things like that anymore,” one GM said. “I’m not saying he’s impossible to trade. There are a few owners like Paul Allen, James Dolan, Mark Cuban and maybe Daniel Gilbert who would pay the money. But there aren’t many.”
Any time a deal is financially motivated, you can count on the Cavaliers potentially being buyers as Dan Gilbert is one of the few NBA owners still willing to take on salary in his attempt to build a Championship team around LeBron. But how serious is this rumor? Well, if you want Hawks answers, why go anywhere else than to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s own Sekou Smith. In his Hawks Blog last evening, he wrote,
ESPN.com’s NBA Insider Chad Ford claims the big rumor of the day is that the Hawks are shopping Smith (I’ve had two Hawks sources insist to me this afternoon that they aren’t shopping Smith or anything like it, but what else do you expect them to say?), hoping to find a taker for their 23-year-old power forward (the one with the $6 million trade kicker and the love-him-or-hate-him debate stuck to his profile).
Normally, I’d take my garbage extinguisher and put down a silly, Hawks-related rumor before it starts burning. But not this one.
Even if the Hawks haven’t formally chatted up teams about the prospect of trading Smith, I know it’s been discussed internally. And here’s another warning, all those wanting to vote Smith off the island better be careful what you wish for. Aside from this being a win all the way around for Smith (if anything were to happen he’d get the $6 million, a move to a potentially better situation and he’d rid himself of all those folks groaning every time he does anything other than dunk or block a shot), it’s a huge gamble for the Hawks. There’s no way you move a player as young and talented as Smith without getting someone equally young and talented in return.
And Ford is absolutely right about one thing, there are plenty of teams that would love to snatch him away from the Hawks and plant him on their frontline for the next five to seven years and see just how much better he’ll get in that time.
I say this after having numerous conversations last summer and all season long with scouts and executives from teams around the league wondering just how good Smith might be if he played in another system (no one has ever seen him anywhere but in a Hawks uniform).
So while it doesn’t sound like the Hawks are definitively shopping Smith at the moment, they certainly seem to be open to thinking about it. If they are considering it even in the slightest, than Danny Ferry better be jumping on the phone and finding out just how serious/desperate they are to shed Smith’s $10.8 million salary this season.
Before anyone gets too excited about this, though, we should note the money quote from Sekou Smith above: “There’s no way you move a player as young and talented as Smith without getting someone equally young and talented in return.” I’m not sure you can really find anyone other than LeBron that fits that description on the Cavaliers.
The key to this trade would be Atlanta’s level of desperation. Having Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, and Flip Murray all being free agents, and still trying to bring Josh Childress back home is a lot of money to have to spend for sure. Marvin Williams has a $7.335 million qualifying offer which I imagine will be accepted. At that point the Hawks will have $48.22 million already locked up. If the Salary Cap comes in at the reduced $57.3 million mark as the league projected back in February, that would leave the Hawks with a little more than $9 million to sign their free agents. The Hawks can use Bird Rights on Bibby and Pachulia if they wanted to in order to go over the cap, meaning that signing everyone could be possible, but for a team that doesn’t want to go into luxury tax territory, it could be tricky. That’s where shedding Smith’s contract could come in handy for them.
If they are desperate to trade Smith to save the money, they could get better players in return from teams other than the Cavaliers, but how many teams are willing to take on the $6 million trade kicker? For the Cavaliers, it’s a no-brainer. They are already over the cap and heading back into luxury tax realm again this year anyway, and so if Dan Gilbert is willing to spend the money, and all indication are that he is, then the trade kicker is really pretty irrelevant to the Cavs. The Cavaliers could also have a nice trade asset in the form of Ben Wallace should he decide to retire. If he retires, the Cavaliers could trade his whole $14 million contract to the Hawks, who could turn around and buy out Wallace and thus save the money up front on his contract.
A Smith for Wallace deal wouldn’t work one for one, obviously, but perhaps if Atlanta truly wanted to move Smith, Ferry could come up with a creative package. Perhaps he could pull off another miracle 3 team trade. Or perhaps something along the likes of Josh Smith and Speedy Claxton (another player the Hawks are rumored to be looking to move) for Wallace and JJ Hickson. This would allow the Hawks to save the money they are looking to dump and they would also get a young player in Hickson with the potential to grow into a good player.
For the Cavaliers, this would be a move that would instantly improve the lineup on both sides of the ball. We all saw first hand in the Atlanta series just how imposing and intimidating Smith can be on defense. And while he had, at times, a somewhat poor offensive series against the Cavaliers, don’t be deceived….Smith is an excellent offensive player who would give the Cavaliers a serious post scoring presence that they so sorely lack. For all the open outside shots that Smith missed against the Cavaliers, he was able to completely shred the Cavaliers’ interior defense in that series, and he was still the Hawks’ leading scorer in the playoffs this year. Smith is a player who has extreme quickness and athleticism, has pretty solid post moves and can blow by defenders in getting to the hole on drives, can block shots, is an adequate rebounder, and knows how to score. He makes questionable mental errors from time to time, but some people implied that Mo Williams was a bit of a head case and un-coachable when the Cavaliers traded for him last summer, and we saw how quickly LeBron and Coach Brown were able to gel with him. Given a new team to play with, one with strong leadership and a high level of chemistry, it would be incredibly intriguing to see how Smith’s game could blossom in Cleveland. He’ll be 24 next season, and he’s signed to a reasonable amount through 2013, giving the Cavaliers another long term piece to the puzzle and further adding to the stability of this roster. For a player who has had a +15 PER in every season of his career and over the last 3 years has put up 16.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.43 blocks per game, he would certainly be an exciting addition in the wine and gold.
A lot (and I mean, a LOT) of factors would have to work out just right for there ever to be a scenario where the Cavs and Hawks could get serious about trade talks for Josh Smith. As has been pointed out, the Hawks would certainly be looking for a great deal of young talent in return, and that is something the Cavaliers don’t have to offer. But if we allow ourselves to dream for one minute, we can hope for a scenario where the Hawks decide to keep Bibby, Williams, Pachulia, and Murray and bring Childress back from Greece. If that happens, and the Hawks have to get rid of Smith’s salary, then the Cavaliers could eventually become a player after all other options have been exhausted. One can hope, anyway.