NBA Teams That Must Go All-in on Josh Smith During 2013 NBA Free Agency
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The truth will set in for teams quickly this offseason.
Once teams are notified of those two elite players' destination, many will set their sights on the 27-year-old forward from Atlanta.
Smith just completed his ninth season in the NBA, all of which have come with the Atlanta Hawks. He averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game this past season. He played in 76 games, shooting 46.5 percent from the field.
Smith has been durable throughout his career, playing in 94 percent of possible games. He was a part of six playoff teams in nine years, racking up 52 postseason games.
He made the second round during three of those years.
The knocks are obvious at this point. Smith takes a fair amount of bad shots. In year nine of his career, he jacked up 2.6 threes per game, the most of his career, making only 30 percent. A 65.4 percent career free-throw shooter, Smith randomly hit only 52 percent from the line in 2012-13.
Smith has also had his share of troubles off court and dealing with extra-curricular activity on it. Over the past six seasons, Smith has averaged north of nine technical fouls, consistently among the league leaders. He was suspended and fined by his own team this past season, and has had run-ins with the league before as well.
With all that baggage, Smith is still incredibly talented and as unique a talent as you'll find in the NBA.
The question is, who is willing to load that baggage onto their team plane for the foreseeable future?
The Atlanta Hawks have invested a lot in Josh Smith over the past nine years.
They built around him, but did so peripherally with Joe Johnson getting top billing ever since Smith's sophomore year.
This past year was the first time it was truly Smith's team.
They wound up doing what they had been during years past: finishing in the middle-of-the-pack and being eliminated early in the postseason. However, it seemed a bit different.
They didn't have Johnson's contract or game clouding over them. The Hawks were a talented young team with a future.
Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Lou Williams are all under 27 and budding stars in the league. Smith is the same way, but maybe a year or two more advanced. That quartet represents something promising for the Hawks' future.
Atlanta has a chunk of money coming off the books from older players in Devin Harris and Zaza Pachulia. They can use that extra cash to re-sign Smith and possibly extend Teague.
Granting Smith a long-term contract, gives him the opportunity to enter the rarefied air of guys like Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. After nine years in one place, Smith has an opportunity to be a life-long Hawk.
Atlanta should give him the opportunity to play his whole career just 20 minutes from where he grew up.
They shouldn't do this for sentimental reasons, though. They should do it because it makes basketball sense.
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The Philadelphia 76ers got burned.
They brought in the potential max-contract guy in a trade that sacrificed a team that had a decent playoff run the year before.
That guy never played a basketball game for them.
With Andrew Bynum most likely out of the picture, durability has to be high up on the 76ers' free-agent wish list. As does a guy who can fit their developing fast-paced, run-and-gun pressure defense system.
Josh Smith is raking in the checkmarks at this point.
In nine years, Smith has missed more than 10 games just once, playing 69 in 2008-09. He has broken 80 three times and ran a full 66 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12.
Smith is tough and durable, willing to sacrifice his body for 48 minutes every night.
When it comes to super athletic players who run a fast game both on offense and defense, Smith is at or near the top of the list. He has an all-around skill set that fits what Philadelphia has been trying to do.
Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner form the basis of a team that wants to move on offense and get in your face on defense. Smith would be an excellent running mate in the frontcourt. While those two have suffered trying to egg along the likes of Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, Smith provides a different level of athleticism.
The 76ers have money going out the door with Bynum and Nick Young finishing out contracts.
The concern lies in Thaddeus Young, a similarly sized player who manned the power forward spot a lot last season. The move would push him to the small forward spot and leave Smith at power forward.
That would still allow Philadelphia to play their desired small-ball, but with a much greater athlete and talent on the floor with them, instead of riding the bench with a suit and new hairstyle.
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Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks won't give Josh Smith two looks once the free-agency period begins. Their eyes will still be admiring the contours of Dwight Howard's triceps and Chris Paul's court vision.
If and when those two guys are locked up, targets will be transferred to the next tier of Al Jefferson, Andre Iguodala and Smith.
The Mavericks have the ability to sign anyone, thanks to a series of expiring contracts. However, Cuban and Donnie Nelson are usually smart with the money and won't throw too much after an unworthy cause. Sometimes this is them to a fault (see J. Kidd, T. Chandler).
The big issue with adding Smith is how he fits positionally.
Dallas has a pretty good power forward on its roster, (a guy named Dirk Nowitzki), so Smith doesn't fit there. Alongside Nowitzki in the frontcourt has been Shawn Marion for quite some time.
Marion holds an option to terminate his $9.3 million contract this season, and hit the free-agent market just like Smith.
Unlike Smith, Marion just turned 35 and is in the twilight of his career. It is possible Marion terminates and looks for a mid-level exception elsewhere, which would give him long-term security.
In that case, Smith makes perfect sense as a big name and big talent to put alongside Nowitzki. This would place Smith with a true veteran leader and possible superstar. That is something he hasn't really had in his career.
At just 27 years old, it can make a world of difference, having that experience and calmness guide you.
If the Mavericks can't get their top-two choices, Josh Smith isn't exactly a settlement.
Los Angeles Lakers
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The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the few teams that make enough money each year to do almost whatever they want in free agency. It is simply up to the players, or occasionally David Stern, to decide if they want to play there.
For Josh Smith, Los Angeles is the opportunity he wants to become a bigger star. In his mind, that may be the place and the team that finally gets him some of the respect he feels he deserves.
The fit makes basketball sense, but perhaps not fiscal sense. To bring in Smith, the Lakers will most likely use their amnesty clause. Whether it is on Kobe Bryant ($30 million), Pau Gasol ($19 million) or Metta World Peace ($7.7 million), is up in the air.
World Peace also holds an early termination option.
They are well over the cap right now, and will pass the tax level pretty quickly if they re-sign Dwight Howard. However, amnestying one of those guys or looking for a trade partner willing to take one of them could leave room for Smith.
Smith is an immediate upgrade on the wing for Los Angeles.
Especially this late in World Peace's career, Smith is every bit the defense presence he is, and perhaps more intimidating on a shot-altering basis. He also provides much better rebounding and offensive variety.
He has the versatility to play the power forward spot as well, something the Lakers crave after giving Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison, both free agents, so much run last season.
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No team will be attacking the power forward market this offseason with the ferocity of the Houston Rockets. They've got the money, the playing time and most definitely the drive to pursue big names and star talents.
With three medium contracts most likely coming off the books this summer, highlighted by Francisco Garcia's $6.4 million team option, the Rockets have a surplus of cash ready to ride.
By the end of the year, the Rockets were starting the likes of Greg Smith and Donatas Motiejunas at power forward. In their playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, they started three guards and Chandler Parsons. Needless to say, power forward is a spot they will be looking to fill this offseason.
Josh Smith fits a lot of the Rockets' current characteristics.
This is a very young team, (they may not have a single member over 30 next season), if Garcia and Carlos Delfino are gone. Smith is 27 and fits the mold of a young team perfectly.
At the same time, he would instantly become their most experienced player.
The Rockets scored 106 points per game last season, so they are a team that won't need Smith's offense like the Atlanta Hawks have. That frees him up to chose shots more wisely, with one of the greatest power forwards ever, Kevin McHale, on the sidelines coaching him.
Smith can help the Rockets become legitimate.
Now they are simply a high-scoring team of young guys who won't win in the playoffs. If Smith could join them and push their defense from No. 28 in the league to a near average level, they could really have something in Houston.
San Antonio Spurs
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A team that may wind up just as desperate to fill the power forward position as the Houston Rockets is the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio is viewed as a very deep team in the frontcourt, and they are. Except, of the five guys they have playing power forward or center, only Tim Duncan is back for sure next season.
Boris Diaw has a $4.7 million player option, Tiago Splitter has a $5.8 million qualifying offer, Matt Bonner is guaranteed only $1 million of his possible $3.9 million deal and DeJuan Blair is a free agent. In terms of star power and offense, Manu Ginobili is also a free agent this summer.
The Spurs have a serious chunk of change ready for the 2013 offseason. They'll have even more if any of their current bigs leave the nest. That means shopping hard for the possibility of David West, Paul Millsap or even Josh Smith.
If there is a team out there capable of convincing Smith to come play for less than a max contract, it has to be the San Antonio Spurs. After years of postseason flops, the consistent success of the Spurs has to attract him. As does a firm coaching situation and a chance to play with two or three well-developed stars in the league.
From the Spurs' perspective, Smith fits the slightly tweaking philosophy that has been taking precedent in San Antonio. In other words, Smith is much more Kawhi Leonard than Duncan. Smith makes them much younger and more fearsome in the athletic department, improving transition defense and fast-break opportunities.
Smith can help the Spurs transition into a new era, while maintaining the talent level the franchise has grown accustomed to over the past two decades.
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Few teams will have a more unknown offseason this summer than the Boston Celtics. This seems odd though, as few teams have as many players under guaranteed contracts next season as the Celtics.
Outside of Paul Pierce's non-guaranteed $15.3 million, and a couple minor deals, the Celtics have the opportunity to bring the whole cast back next season.
That appears to not be the plan, however, as Danny Ainge will most likely look to shop Pierce and Kevin Garnett in an effort to get younger.
Ainge's biggest concern over the past few years, while weighing the options of breaking up his core, has been falling into lottery territory and abandoning the fans the franchise gained with the recent string of success.
If Ainge sticks to that concern of sacrificing cap room to stay afloat and in contention, Josh Smith is a natural stop-gap. A team with Smith and some decent players is making the postseason in the Eastern Conference.
A team with Smith, Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green on it, could potentially do more than that.
There is already a rapport between Smith and the hardest-headed Celtic, Rondo. The two were together as roommates at Oak Hill Academy, before Smith's path took him to the NBA and Rondo's to Kentucky. That immediately alleviates the big concern over Rondo getting along with any new star brought to Boston.
The Celtics' biggest issues last season, which they are looking to cure this summer, included interior scoring and rebounding. Smith averaged nine boards per game over the last two seasons, which is essentially Green and Brandon Bass combined.
In the open court, Smith can still be as breathtaking as the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest.
Next season, it would be a treat to watch him throw down precision passes from Rondo.