Josh Smith Should Fit into Atlanta Hawks' Long-Term Plans

Martin Bater@@MartinBaterSPContributor IIOctober 1, 2012

BOSTON, MA - MAY 10:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts to a call in the second half against the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 10, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 83-80. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Atlanta Hawks will make their preseason debut this Sunday against the Miami Heat, and as the training camp lights get brighter in downtown Atlanta, so does the focus on Josh Smith.

The million dollar question seems to be whether he is a good fit for the long term on a revamped, Joe Johnson-less team. In my mind, the answer is yes.

When I saw Smith interact with his teammates during media day, I saw someone who didn’t seem to have his head elsewhere.

Smith walked around the gym happily shooting some baskets, posing for pictures with Al Horford, hanging out with fellow Georgia native Lou Williams and talking some soccer with Zaza Pachulia while he pondered the possibility of sharpening his Spanish skills.

Smith is considered by many to be one of the Hawks’ pillars of success for this season, but whether that pillar is there to stay is something that has been unclear for quite some time now.

This is true even for Smith himself. The 26-year-old forward wanted to be traded less than a year ago, but now he seems to be excited about carrying a franchise on his shoulders.   

As things stand right now, Smith said on Monday during the team’s media day that he is on the same page with the team and that his lone focus is on making the playoff (h/t Zach Dillard, Fox Sports South).

What changed between then and now? He certainly has not gotten a contract extension, at least not yet.

Well, it may just be that “J-Smoove” likes the fact that he will be absolutely indispensable for the Hawks in the short term, and that might work in Atlanta’s advantage in the long term as well.

Hawks head coach Larry Drew has made it clear that he wants this year’s team to play an up-tempo style of basketball, but that at the same time he will emphasize the importance of playing defense as well.

That is easier said than done, but it is doable with a versatile player like Smith on your roster.   

In order to be aggressive and run on offense you need to get the rebound on defense first, and Smith certainly can do that after leading the team with 13.6 rebounds per game last season.

When it comes right down to it, Drew probably envisions the 2012-13 Hawks looking something like this.

The College Park native can also run the floor with ease, be one of the 10 best shot-blockers in the NBA (something that will come in handy with a below-average defensive team overall) and also guard anyone from Dwyane Wade to Dwight Howard.

All of these factors would seem to suggest that Smith certainly should be a good fit in Drew’s system for years to come.

As the summer of 2013 nears, it will be up to Smith to decide whether he wants to take on the responsibility of carrying a franchise to the promised land or follow the trend and join forces with other stars elsewhere.      

One other possible destination for Josh Smith as a free agent is Boston, but I doubt that the Celtics would be a much better option for him than the Hawks would.

First of all, the Celtics will probably have to rebuild once Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett leave. That rebuilding would take place around Rajon Rondo, so if Smith is so eager to carry a franchise on his shoulders, the Celtics most likely aren’t that team.

Rondo is one of the best point guards in the NBA, but what else is there going to be in Boston once KG and Pierce are gone?  

The Los Angeles Lakers could be another interested party in the Josh Smith sweepstakes.

At first glance, it makes sense. After all, the Lakers have the pieces to possibly trade for him this season (ahem, Pau Gasol). Smith is also friends with Dwight Howard, so that in turn could persuade Howard to stay in L.A.

However, the “carrying a franchise on your shoulders” question comes into play once again. Does Smith really want to take a backseat to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Howard?  

Josh has an arsenal of capable point guards in Atlanta with Devin Harris, Lou Williams and a promising Jeff Teague alongside him on the Hawks’ roster. They may not be at Rondo’s level, but they are no scrubs either and can put up points in bunches.

Smith also has the possibility of building something meaningful alongside Horford, one of the Eastern Conference’s best centers and his teammate since 2007.

It all would depend on how much he would covet just getting the ring more than the way he would become a champion and be remembered in the first place.

Then again, LeBron James had that same dilemma a couple of years ago and he seems to be doing just fine nowadays.

Even if the Hawks aren’t necessarily contenders this year, I believe that GM Danny Ferry will realize that trading Smith isn’t the answer.

Maybe, just maybe, Smith will decide to truly take the burden of a title-starved franchise on his shoulders and become its face for the rest of this decade.