Josh Smith might be the best player not named Dwight Howard or Chris Paul on an expiring contract this season, but until last month, he seemed destined to remain in Atlanta past the trade deadline, and perhaps longer. That all seemed to change January 16th, when the Hawks suspended Smith for a game and fined him an undisclosed amount. That same day, we heard that agent Wallace Prather met with Hawks GM Danny Ferry about Smith's frustration with the team's play, and Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reported the team had discussed its power forward in trade talks with other teams. Since then, the Smith rumor mill has cranked into high gear.
There's little consensus on just where Smith will end up once the dust settles after February 21st. Hoops Rumors readers were nearly split down the middle when we asked a couple of weeks ago whether he would be traded. Reports that seem to indicate the team is leaning toward trading the 27-year-old are juxtaposed by others that suggest the Hawks don't want to deal him away, even if they have a good read on where to send him should they feel compelled to part ways. Complicating matters is the 15% trade kicker on his $13.2MM salary that any team acquiring him would have to pay. Though the ninth-year veteran is an intriguing talent, trade partners are apparently skittish about taking him on considering he could leave as an unrestricted free agent in the summer, especially since he feels he's in line for a maximum-salary deal.
Smith, who has never been an All-Star, doesn't fit the classic profile of a max player. His scoring and rebounding numbers (16.9 PPG/8.5 RPG) have fallen off after last season's career highs (18.8/9.6). His 45.1% field goal percentage is his worst since 2006/07, and his free-throw shooting has plummeted to 49.7%, far beneath his previous low for a season of 58.8% in 2008/09. He's also averaging 3.1 turnovers per game, close to another career worst. He's blocking shots more often than he has in the last five years, and he's dishing out nearly a full assist more per game than his career average. Still, this season has hardly been the kind of resume-building walk year he probably imagined.
There have been conflicting reports on whether the Suns are going after him, with a package centered around Marcin Gortat and expiring deals. Whether or not Phoenix has interest, I'm not sure Gortat, whose numbers are also off this season, would entice Ferry to sacrifice the team's ample cap space for 2013/14. Gortat is due $7.7MM in the final year of his deal next season, and though acquiring him would leave the Hawks open to pursuing the ballyhooed free agent class of 2014, it seems they'd encounter plenty of competition for that bunch.
The Bobcats and Rockets also apparently have interest in Smith, and Houston is especially intriguing, since the soon-to-be free agent reportedly counts the team among his favored destinations, along with the Grizzlies and Mavs. Rockets GM Daryl Morey seems perpetually motivated to make a splash, but his team isn't flush with the kind of expiring deals that Ferry would likely want in return for Smith.
As Marc Stein of ESPN.com wrote this weekend, the Hawks are reluctant to compromise this summer's cap space, which could allow them to sign a pair of max players. They're poised to make a run at Howard and Paul, though it's unclear if either of them would leave their respective teams in Los Angeles, much less sign with Atlanta. Still, when Smith got married, Howard served as his best man, and Smith has spoken fondly about reuniting with his former AAU teammate. That connection would only be meaningful to the Hawks if Smith is still around, and there's no guarantee he will be past July 1st. Trading him away would ensure he won't there to recruit Howard, however, so my guess is that unless a team bowls Ferry over, the GM will be content to ride it out this season with his athletic forward, and willingly accept cap space as consolation if Smith signs elsewhere.