Despite Retaining Smith, Hawks Focus Leaning Toward Blockbuster Offseason

Mike Foster@michaelsfosterCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 22:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks shoots over Jason Thompson #34 of the Sacramento Kings at Philips Arena on February 22, 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

Had Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry shopped forward Josh Smith before yesterday's NBA trade deadline, the Hawks' season, for all intents and purposes, could have been declared over. 

While that statement sounds catastrophic, it's really implies nothing more than an inevitable progression that fans should be pretty excited about. The true motif behind trading Smith had a lot to do with this coming offseason and pretty much nothing to do with the team's success for the rest of the 2012-13 campaign.

You know how that Smith for Pau Gasol trade never came close to a realistic discussion? The truth is, no crop of players Atlanta was going to get for Smith would be better, even as a group, than Smith. In fact, any Hawks fan who didn't do that I-just-tasted-something-sour face, when they heard Milwaukee was the primary partner in the prospective deal, lied to themselves. 

While Smith has always been a polarizing player since beginning his career in Atlanta, the Hawks are still somewhat relevant for the rest of this season because they have kept him in uniform. Smith, center Al Horford and point guard Jeff Teague make up a really nice looking trio. Sharpshooters Kyle Korver and DeShawn Stevenson add to the dynamic well. 

That's pretty much as good as the Hawks could have looked this season. Ferry arrived with a pretty clear goal: blow up the roster; make a big-time acquisition.

The Hawks had a frozen roster since Joe Johnson signed his massive-deal in 2010. The financial shackles that former general manager Rick Sund self-imposed held the Hawks back from becoming a serious contender. Sund could not do much about the fact Atlanta didn't have a true big man to play at the five. Horford and Smith were forced into often having to play out of position, which included putting Marvin Williams (the man classically chosen over Chris Paul) on the bench too much. 

It didn't take long after Ferry's arrival in Atlanta before he realized the team needed to start from scratch. Following the very beneficial trades of Johnson and Williams (giving Atlanta a hand full of expiring contracts in return), moving the entropy-riddled Smith would have been the final move in Ferry's big picture.

Now that picture could even include keeping Smith for more than a few more months. Humor the following. 

That big picture included the 2012-13 Hawks not being very good, or anywhere near interesting. Instead, the Hawks are 30-22 after Friday's win against the Kings and sixth in the Eastern Conference Standings.

And, the more fans look at this roster, the more it looks less like a bunch of movable parts and more like a pretty decent basketball team--for now. We all know it probably won't last. 

Atlanta has overachieved this year, which has shown in very good numbers when it comes to assists and defense (Second and 12th in the NBA, respectively). But, the Hawks still don't have a man at the five, nor do they have much size at all.

This team is currently scraping against its ceiling, and to claim it has a chance of doing anything more than winning a playoff series is brave. Had Smith been traded, that ceiling would have collapsed, but the focus of this franchise is still more focused on what could be a huge offseason. 

This offseason is where the ceiling could finally lift to new heights. When you're in a division that includes arguably the best team in the league in Miami and three of the worst in Orlando, Charlotte and Washington, dreaming of the prospects of a championship roster is much preferred over realizing your blue-collar unit is being propped by cupcake opponents. 

The NBA is a top-heavy league, with San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City carrying the torch, and everyone else simply existing at some time of faux-farm system. 

This offseason will be that window Hawks fans have been waiting for. Al Horford and Jeff Teague will be the only key Hawks with contracts that carry over into next year, leaving Ferry with a lot of cash and options.

Many believe Ferry's number one priority would be going after Dwight Howard, who will be a free agent after the season. While Howard did claim he wanted to be in Los Angeles for a long time, the Lakers have not come close to being the powerhouse they were supposed to be. 

Feelings change, quickly, especially when you're not winning. Atlanta is a small market, but it might be the only small market team that could leverage getting Howard. Atlanta is, after all, Howard's hometown. Howard also made Orlando, a smaller market, a media destination. 

Atlanta could actually sway the feelings over another and create something that would not have been possible had Smith been sent to the Bucks yesterday.

It is just as true that Smith is on the record believing he's a max-contract player. But, again, feelings can change. Just because your girlfriend said she loves you doesn't mean she won't break up with you tomorrow. 

Here's a happier ending, though: What if Smith sucked it up and decided to stay in Atlanta? If Howard decided to give a look at the Hawks, Smith could quickly change his approach.

You don't have to look much farther than a former star of Atlanta to see an example of a player giving in to something other than cash. Michael Vick, who told reporters earlier this year that he would not consider restructuring his deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, did the opposite and took a pay-cut to work with newly hired Chip Kelly.

The prospects of Howard in a Hawks uniform would mean Smith becoming a more dangerous player in his own right. That is, if he played alongside Howard. Horford would also move to his more natural position at power forward. Teague does appear to be a top-caliber point guard in the making. Atlanta could give a new deal to Kyle Korver, who has been the biggest delight to Hawks fans so far this season.

While staying in Atlanta would not mean a max-contract for Smith, it could mean finally being on not just on ultra talented team like the one he's been on in the past, but one that could actually be functional and make serious noise in the postseason. 

All Hawks fans know having a true center has been the biggest gripe since this team returned to playoff contention in 2008. They also all know the only real scenario where Smith would return to Atlanta in 2013-14 would be if Howard suited up in the same jersey. 

Even though the Hawks have been good this year, the fan interest is still medicore at best. This is the offseason where the Hawks could finally receive a boost to put them in the top-tier discussion and add a new-found energy to the franchise.  

Ferry knows this. And, at the end of the day, don't be surprised if  Smith wants to be a part of it too.

Mike Foster is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and has covered high school football and recruiting for the Marietta Daily JournalCherokee Tribune and the Tuscaloosa News. He also served as sports editor for the Kennesaw State University newspaper, The Sentinel, for a year and a half.

Follow Mike on Twitter!


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