Who's Positioned to Win the Josh Smith Sweepstakes?
Because he'll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, it's practically a foregone conclusion that Smith will be playing somewhere other than Atlanta next year. But along with that near certainty, there are a handful of tricky questions attached to his future.
For example, will he leave town via trade or will he walk away and leave the Hawks with nothing in return? And if he does end up being dealt, what team would want to assume the risk that he'd leave it without re-signing?
Perhaps most importantly, which version of Smith would any potential suitor be acquiring in a trade? The malcontent with terrible shot selection, or the defensive force with stunning athleticism? Both sides of the 27-year-old's Jekyll-and-Hyde personality have been present at times this year.
Even though it's hard to know for sure where he'll end up and who he'll be when he gets there, a few front-runners for J-Smoove's services have emerged in recent days.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Almost as quickly as the Philadelphia 76ers got tossed into the Josh Smith sweepstakes, conflicting sources yanked them right back out.
Chad Ford of ESPN.com (access required) said on Feb. 13 that Philly was a player for Smith's services, writing, "look for the 76ers, who have been dangling both Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner to other teams, to be a potential landing place."
And then John Mitchell of the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted a source on Feb. 14 as asking: "Why would the Sixers be interested in making a deal for a player who can walk at the end of the season and leave them holding nothing but the bag? I don't see where that makes sense for them."
Truthfully, it's difficult to imagine how Smith would fit in Philly. But it's interesting to imagine the Sixers acquiring him and then retaining both his and Andrew Bynum's services.
That'd create a core of Smith, Bynum, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young. The Sixers could do a lot worse than that.
4. San Antonio Spurs
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports wrote in his power rankings that, "the Spurs are among the teams with interest in Hawks forward Josh Smith, a source told Yahoo! Sports. Keep in mind, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry was previously with the Spurs."
Any time the San Antonio Spurs pop up in trade talks involving players like Smith, two thoughts simultaneously follow.
1. Why would a tight ship like the Spurs want to bring in a boat-rocker like Smith?
2. Are the Spurs so disciplined and dedicated that they could get Smith to realize his full potential?
Overall, it's extremely difficult to imagine Smith fitting in with the Spurs, who really only ask their wing players to defend and shoot corner threes. Granted, we know that J-Smoove is capable of the defense part, but there aren't enough Tums in the world to ease the ulcer his shooting would cause coach Gregg Popovich.
Considering San Antonio already has a young, inexpensive wing duo in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, there's no way the ill-fitting Smith ends up alongside Tim Duncan.
3. Houston Rockets
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Sure, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey told Sam Amick of USA Today:
I think (the time between now and the deadline) is going to be quiet. Of course a year ago, if you would've said, "James Harden—what about him?" I would've said, "No way. They won't trade him." You never know. You stay opportunistic. But I would guess that this trade deadline is going to be quiet.
But with an organization as savvy and innovative as the Rockets', almost nothing's out of the question.
Houston could easily just wait for Smith to hit free agency, thereby saving whatever assets it would have to trade to get him before the deadline. Technically, signing Smith this offseason would still qualify the Rockets as the winners of the Josh Smith sweepstakes, but we're really after his likeliest trade destination here.
And it sounds like the Rockets are little better than a long shot at this point.
2. Dallas Mavericks
USA TODAY Sports
The Dallas Mavericks are currently paying a whole bunch of guys who'll come off the books next season. Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison (just to name a few) are all nearly certain to walk away this summer.
Whether that means the team will make a play for Smith this year is still in doubt. Conflicting reports from CBSSports.com's Ken Berger and ESPN.com's Marc Stein on Feb. 14 showed just how cloudy the situation is:
Mavs NOT after Josh Smith but PG clearly been big worry in Big D. Trade targets, Cuban said Monday, must be worthy of "top three" on roster— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 13, 2013
Who knows what'll happen?
One thing is for sure, though; the Mavs have the money and the bold strategy to make a real play for Smith.
1. Brooklyn Nets
USA TODAY Sports
For a couple of reasons, the Brooklyn Nets feel like the team with the best chance to reel in Smith.
First of all, they've got a clear track record of acquiring big-name players who are overpaid, like Smith's former teammate in Atlanta, Joe Johnson. And when those players aren't already overpaid, the Nets have made sure to take care of that themselves. (See Deron Williams and his $20 million-per-year contract.)
The Nets are deep into the luxury tax—with over $89 million already committed to next year's salaries—but based on the way they've been spending since owner Mikhail Prokhorov took the reins, that doesn't seem to be a big concern.
According to Sam Amico of FoxSports.com, if Brooklyn can get a third team involved to take on Kris Humphries' salary and throw in a few picks, the Hawks would be more than happy to send Smith away.
Deep pockets, a desire to be relevant and recklessness all combine to make the Nets the most likely team to land Smith before the trade deadline.