Does a Pau Gasol for Josh Smith Swap Still Make Sense?

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Does a Pau Gasol for Josh Smith Swap Still Make Sense?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Just when you think Pau Gasol might be safe, Josh Smith goes and gets himself suspended.

Though it was widely believed the Atlanta Hawks would hold on to the free-agent-to-be in Smith rather than trade him in hopes of re-signing him, their downward spiral and his subsequent adjournment has changed things.

According to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, Smith's agent stopped short of demanding a trade for his client but did express trepidation with regards to where the Hawks were headed:

Josh Smith's agent spoke with Hawks general manager Danny Ferry on Wednesday to discuss what he characterized as "a lot of frustration" with the team's recent spiral, but stopped short of making a trade request.

"As far as moving forward and whatever changes will be made, that's more so management's job to field those calls and make the decisions they feel like are best to move forward," Smith's agent, Wallace Prather, told CBSSports.com. ...

"I do know there are teams interested," Prather said.

Multiple rival executives confirmed that the Hawks have participated in trade conversations with several teams regarding Smith, a 27-year-old game-changing defender when engaged.

I know what you're thinking: The honeymoon in Atlanta is over. And you're right.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The going in Atlanta has gotten tough, so this summer, Smith may just get going himself.

The Hawks were prematurely hailed as legitimate title contenders upon posting a 20-10 record through the first 30 games of the season. With Joe Johnson out of the picture and the team fully vested in Smith, it seemed the latter's return to the Peach State was inevitable.

Six losses in eight games, one suspension and an aggregated 58-point output against the Chicago Bulls later, Smith's return is now bordering on unlikely. We can point to the fact that Smith didn't actually request a trade all we want, but Berger goes on to report Smith does have a list of preferred destinations.

Little good can come from an incumbent player having an essential "wish list." Just ask the Orlando Magic. Or New Orleans Hornets. Or even the Denver Nuggets. Thus, this latest development has all but set the stage for Smith's departure.

Enter the Los Angeles Lakers.

Hollywood's finest is pining for a stretch forward like Smith. Any team coached under the one-in, four-out stylings of Mike D'Antoni would be. And it just so happens they have a star-caliber forward who is out of place in Pau Gasol.

Pick up your phone, Danny Ferry. That's Mitch Kupchak on Line 1.

Or not.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Does a Pau for Josh swap make sense for either party?

I point you to a November report by ESPN.com's Marc Stein, which asserted the Hawks had no interest in dealing Smith for Gasol:

Sources say that the Hawks, at present, have no interest in parting with Josh Smith and Kyle Korver for Gasol. Or even Smith and lesser parts for Gasol.

Positions can obviously change between now and the Feb. 21 trade deadline, but sources maintain that Atlanta has not been enticed in the least by the prospect of parting with the 26-year-old Smith — even as he heads into unrestricted free agency — for the 32-year-old Gasol. The Hawks, for the record, have also been telling interested teams that they value Smith and what he offers as a hybrid forward in an Eastern Conference that’s generally been getting smaller.

A trade with these parameters still makes absolutely no sense for the Hawks today. If they're going to deal their 27-year-old prized forward, it should be for young talent they can build around, not in exchange for a deteriorating big man who may or may not keep them afloat for a year. 

And why would Atlanta want to take on Gasol's albatross of a contract? It would be better off allowing Smith's salary to come off the books and rebuilding from scratch.

For a moment, though, let's throw caution and logistics to the wind. What if the Hawks were willing to pull the trigger on such an accord? What if they were willing to swap Smith (and fillers) for Gasol?

That obviously makes sense for the Lakers, right?

Actually, no.

Smith is a rare talent, but is he worth it for the Lakers?

Smith is a rare talent. His 16.5 points, 8.3 boards and 2.3 blocks per game and ability to stretch the floor would be a welcome commodity in Los Angeles. But only to an extent.

Atlanta's forward is going to be a free agent after this season and will undoubtedly sign a max-level deal with some team. Los Angeles isn't going to—and shouldn't—be that team.

If the Lakers acquire Smith, they'll be obligated to re-sign both he and Dwight Howard to burdensome contracts upon season's end, thus compromising their cap flexibility in 2014, the same year they plan to chase LeBron James.

Should Los Angeles be willing to give that up?

Absolutely not.

Gasol's contract comes off the books after next season, along with those of Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace's. Between those three alone, the Lakers stand to shed $57 million in salary, providing them with the type of financial flexibility they haven't had since Howard was a child. Not the man-child he is, but an actual child.

Smith isn't worth blighting such maneuverability or aspirations, especially when he doesn't stand to resolve any of Los Angeles' issues.

I understand that Smith is younger and more durable, but is he going to have that much more of an impact?

Not as much as one would believe.

Gasol still has some hops of his own.

Defense has plagued Tinseltown since day one. Magic Mike's generally offensive-minded crew ranks 22nd in points allowed per 100 possessions, a showing that mitigates the effect of their sixth-ranked offense. Smith isn't going to change that.

The Hawks defense allows 3.3 fewer points per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor, while the Lakers relinquish 3.8 fewer with Gasol in tow. Better yet, Gasol (per82games.com) is holding opposing bigs to an average PER of 12.8 per 48 minutes compared to the 14.9 mark Smith is allowing.

Sure, Smith blocks more shots, but his overall impact on Atlanta's defense isn't what Gasol's is in Los Angeles.

It is comparable, though. Given that, shouldn't the Lakers pull the trigger on this deal for Smith's increased offense alone? He is averaging 16.5 points to Gasol's career low of 12.2, after all. That alone is enough to warrant a deal.

Or is it?

The Hawks are actually scoring fewer points per 100 possessions with Smith in the game. And for those who believe he stretches the floor more than Gasol, he's shooting just 32.5 percent from beyond the arc; Pau is at 30.4.

Granted, Smith's production is an increase over Gasol's, but it's far from an upgrade.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Both the Lakers and Hawks would regret pulling the trigger on this deal.

Remember, Gasol is capable of more. The 41.6 percent he's shooting from the floor (to go along with his 12.2 points) is a career low. This is only the second time he has shot less than 50 percent from the field in his career and the first time he is averaging fewer than 17 points a game.

Which team does a Pau Gasol for Josh Smith swap make sense for?

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Smith is a different story. His 43.6 percent shooting is right in line with his career conversion rate of 46.3. Better yet, his 32.5 percent clip from deep is the second-highest of his career. So enough about his heightened efficiency. At best, his par is comparable to Gasol at his worst.

By no means am I diminishing Smith's abilities. He's a versatile two-way presence who stands to have an impact on any team he plays for. But given his production and what he would cost the Lakers moving forward, it's simply not worth it.

Not when Gasol has the support of his teammates.

Not when his current ceiling stretches higher than Smith's.

Not when he's Los Angeles-tested and Smith can barely cope in Atlanta.

And most certainly not when his presence now stands to better the Lakers' future more than Smith ever could.

 

*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 16, 2013.

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