Hawks fans knew this point was likely coming. Smith is a free agent at the end of the year. Atlanta's management was going to be faced with the decision of whether it would re-sign him in the long term.
Apparently, that option has been taken off the table.
TNT's David Aldridge reported the Hawks aren't going to offer Smith a max contract, which would keep him in Atlanta for the next five years. Aldridge wrote:
The Hawks met with Smith's representatives this week and reiterated -- as they initially offered at the beginning of the season -- that they would be willing to give Smith a three-year deal for around $47 million, according to sources. This is the maximum of what they can currently offer under the new rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Smith turned down the offer, however, saying he preferred to play out his existing contract and get a longer deal this summer.
ESPN's Chris Broussard tweeted that there's a slightly better than average chance Atlanta trades him before the Feb. 21 deadline:
At this point, it's best for both parties that Smith have a new destination sometime this year.
By not moving him now, the Hawks are risking getting absolutely nothing for him upon his departure. He's made it clear he won't sign a three-year deal. He wants the max contract.
Sure, there's the possibility of a sign-and-trade deal, but the haul from that would be much more negligible compared to a trade during the season.
Even though teams know Atlanta would be desperate to move him, the market would still be pretty strong. Smith will be in demand enough to warrant a potential suitor parting with either solid draft picks or players.
As the sixth-best team in the Eastern Conference, there is the temptation to keep him and make one last real run in the playoffs. Jettisoning Smith would no doubt make the Hawks a much worse basketball team.
He's the kind of Swiss Army knife who does a little bit of everything on the court. Few players in the league would be able to replace all of the things he can bring to a team.
Regardless, trading him is the best move for Atlanta.
As the team has discovered over the last couple of years, there's a definite ceiling for the Hawks with the way they're currently composed. They were consistently in the playoffs, but the best they could do was possibly advance to the conference semifinals.
Unlike the Joe Johnson trade, offloading Smith would almost certainly mean the Hawks would slip to the fringes of the East, possibly missing out on the playoffs.
Trading Smith might hurt in the short term, but Atlanta could be able to receive a solid big man or the young talent necessary to fuel postseason success in the future.
Of course, any discussion of Smith and the Hawks has to include how difficult he's been to handle at times. He clashed with Mike Woodson and has also had issues with Larry Drew.
Smith was fined and suspended earlier in the season for "conduct detrimental to the team" (h/t Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today).
If he continues to be a disruptive presence, teams might value him much less in the offseason, so the Hawks would get less for him in return.
Danny Ferry is between a rock and a hard place here. He's going to be second-guessed no matter what decision he makes regarding Smith. Trading the forward might be the unpopular move, but it's the only one Ferry should make.