Breaking Down How the Atlanta Hawks Should Handle the Josh Smith Conundrum

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterFebruary 7, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 06:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks grabs a rebound against Marc Gasol #33 and Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies at Philips Arena on February 6, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Josh Smith is talented. Josh Smith is endlessly frustrating. I would bet on the "talented" fading before the "endlessly frustrating" ebbs. 

Between Al Horford and Josh Smith, the Atlanta Hawks have a choice. While the duo comprise one of the better NBA frontcourts, the pairing isn't optimal. 

Neither player is taller than 6'9'' in socks, and Smith does much of a center's job, in the body of a wing. It's a quirky arrangement, and it fuels a good team. It's just hard to see the combination challenging for a title. 

In Al Horford, the Hawks have invested $48 million through 2016. That commitment, plus the other money they owe, means that getting Dwight Howard in the offseason would be a near-impossibility. 

Josh Smith himself is on an expiring contract, which in theory would make him an appealing trade chip. Had Smith improved his shooting or shot selection, teams might be vying to deal for him, just for the privilege of being able to re-sign him for more money. 

This hasn't happened, though. Josh Smith continues to jack and shank contested jumpers. He's squandered much of his prime with this strategy and it's fair to wonder if he'll suffer a drop-off sooner than the average star.

Smith is, according to Hoopdata, suffering the worst shooting season of his career. He's managing a miserable 29 percent on long two-point shots, a year after he hit 37 percent from that distance. 

It's a wrench in the Atlanta offense, and not just because the shots don't fall. Look at how far the Bulls sag off Josh Smith on this missed jumper. It indicates the lack of space his presence creates for teammates: 

There exists the possibility that Smith could finally iron out this flaw in his game. That possibility is fading rapidly as his prime should last for another two years or so. 

It all amounts to a player that few teams would bring in for the privilege of paying. If there is a franchise odd enough to give Josh Smith max money, I doubt they'll be willing to part with major trade pieces to secure his inclusion on the roster. 

From Atlanta's perspective, keeping Smith doesn't make a lot of sense. He's eligible for a massive veteran's "max" deal that could net him roughly $100 million, and he'll likely seek it. The Hawks would be masochistic to meet such a demand. 

So, the best play would be to trade Smith now, even if the return value isn't all that impressive. If Phoenix wants to deal Marcin Gortat for Smith's services, that's certainly a deal worth considering. If the Hawks can wring a high draft pick from any squad in any such a trade, that's a massive win. 

If Atlanta can't find the proper deal for Smith, letting him walk this season isn't the worst outcome in the world. The team that once gave Joe Johnson a max contract should know that. 

Josh Smith is an intriguing talent, and he could optimize his potential. Few, if any, players have offered his mix of shot blocking, dribbling and passing.

Smith has yet to hone his game into star production, though, and for that reason, the Hawks won't get a star's ransom in trade value. For that reason, the Hawks would be foolish to offer him star money.