Josh Smith can play with passion, but we don't know who will be the beneficiary of that passion in 2013-14.
Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are the true standouts in the free-agency class this offseason, but Josh Smith leads the group of players just behind them, the ones who could potentially earn a max deal.
And just like CP3 and D12, there are a number of potential landing spots for Smith, including, but certainly not limited to, his old stomping grounds in Atlanta.
The prep-to-pro forward has long been one of the NBA's more infuriating players. He's an incredible physical talent capable of truly stuffing the stat sheet on a nightly basis, but he frequently struggles to put it all together. Although he's been snubbed from All-Star teams in the past and commonly fails to get much recognition as an elite player, Smith possesses a whole lot of skills.
Many suitors are going to come calling for Smoove's versatile play during the offseason, and your guess is as good as mine when it comes to where he'll end up.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
Atlanta Hawks fans, for the most part, don't want to admit that Josh Smith returning is a possibility. They'd much rather wait for him to come to Philips Arena in a different uniform so they can let out derisive laughter instead of groans when he inevitably clangs a long two-pointer off the iron.
It is indeed possible, though.
For all we know, general manager Danny Ferry could be planning on retaining No. 5 well into the future, blown away by his potential and new head coach Mike Budenholzer's ability to make him realize it. As evidenced by the number of trades the Hawks have elected to turn down, Smoove is a valuable player because of his ability to put it all together at some point in the near future.
While it seems like Atlanta has grown tired of the mercurial forward, anything can happen when you have more cap space than any other team in the Association.
Ferry could very well elect to bring back Smith, an unrestricted free agent, and Jeff Teague, a restricted free agent, before building around the trio comprised of those two and Al Horford. With money to spend on free agents that would fit Budenholzer's system—one that would have to be more interesting that Larry Drew's stale offense—he could maximize the talents of those leading contributors.
Based on the events of the past, this seems like a small possibility. Atlanta has shopped Smoove too many times to be strongly considering whether or not to give him a max or near-max contract.
That said, even a small possibility means that the Hawks do indeed qualify as a potential free-agent landing spot.
Dirk Nowitzki needs help in Dallas, especially after O.J. Mayo inevitably opts out of his contract in search of a larger payday.
The big German is still capable of carrying a heavy burden for the Mavericks, but he needs a second star to join forces with him. Josh Smith could be that guy.
Smoove and Dirk would form quite the intriguing frontcourt pairing, especially if the Mavericks chose to go the non-traditional route and abandon the notion of positions. Allowing the two to be the biggest players on the court would spell trouble against teams with a true center, but it would also maximize the offensive potential of this team.
Neither Smith nor Dirk is a traditional player. Dirk may very well have the sweetest jumper of any seven-footer in basketball history, and his one-legged fadeaway isn't just nearly unblockable; it is unblockable. Smith loves shooting jumpers as well, but he's far less effective.
In fact, Smoove thrives when he's at the rim or driving to it. He can display point-guard instincts with the ball in his hands, to the point that upgrading at the 1 would be more of a luxury than a necessity for the Mavericks. Between these two forwards, enough offense could already be created.
Nowitzki's presence on the perimeter would force Smith closer to the basket, and Smith's presence in a Dallas uniform would give Dirk's career a little more longevity.
This would be a mutually beneficial move for the two standouts.
This move would only work if Andre Iguodala opted out of his contract, utilizing his early termination option to become an unrestricted free agent and pursue one more mega-contract before he turned 30. If Iggy remains a member of the Denver Nuggets, you can strike the team off the list of possible destinations for Josh Smith.
Even if Iguodala does depart, though, it would take a little creativity to land Smoove. The Nuggets would likely have to complete a sign-and-trade with the Atlanta Hawks to make this happen, giving up one of their many big men or wing players in the process.
But, just for the sake of argument, let's assume that Smith does end up in the Mile High City. Talk about a perfect fit.
Everything about the Nuggets indicates that they'd be a great landing spot for the oft-shooting forward. First of all, they are rather averse to long two-pointers, and that would quickly be drilled into Smith's head.
Denver attacks the basket relentlessly. Period. End of story.
Additionally, the Nuggets play great defense. It often gets overshadowed by the high-powered offense run by former head coach George Karl, but Denver ranked 11th in defensive rating during the 2012-13 campaign, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Smith's abilities would only help out in that regard. He's a fantastic defensive player who relentlessly racks up blocks and steals with his incredible athletic ability.
And speaking of that athleticism, Smith would fit in perfectly with the up-tempo style of play. He's a menace in transition and loves to get out and run. Only the Houston Rockets played faster than the Nuggets this season, and even that could change with Smoove in town.
I'll let one tweet sum up my feelings on this one.
Obviously, I meant to say "get" instead of "great" there.
General manager Daryl Morey would indeed have to do a bit of work clearing the books, but it's absolutely possible. Moving Thomas Robinson and getting rid of some non-guaranteed contracts (James Anderson, Patrick Beverley and Carlos Delfino qualify there) would be necessary and worthwhile.
Putting aside the finances—they're tricky, but do still allow for the possibility—acquiring Smith would push this Houston Rockets squad over the top. During the 2013 postseason, they looked like they were one piece away from truly competing, and Smith could easily be that piece.
Power forward is the biggest weakness in Houston, although the team has a number of intriguing young players. Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and James Harden are cemented into the lineup, and the Jeremy Lin/Beverley combination at point guard is a servicable one.
The playing styles fit perfectly as well. Smith's defense would help negate the porous play of the backcourt, just as Asik currently does, and he loves playing up-tempo basketball. No team played faster than Houston last season.
With Smith attacking the basket and shoring up the defense while running up and down the court at break-neck speed, the Rockets would be true contenders.
In fact, I'd say acquiring his services should be even more of a priority than going after Dwight Howard.
With only $43 million committed for the 2013-14 season, the New Orleans Pelicans have plenty of money to spend this offseason. It's just a matter of convincing guys to come play for them.
Josh Smith offers an intriguing possibility, but he's not the greatest fit with the team.
While he'd allow the Pelicans to run out a frontcourt comprised of himself, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, he'd also be cutting into the minutes of the other two forwards. New Orleans can't play small ball all the time until Davis bulks up a bit more, seeing as he struggled guarding big men during his rookie campaign.
Playing Smith at the 3 would also inevitably lead to more perimeter shots from him, and that's something no one in their right mind would want. Well, except Smoove, but I'm not entirely sure his head is screwed on straight when he decides he's a three-point marksman.
The money and the hole at small forward make this a potential landing spot for the Oak Hill product, but let's not spend too much time here.
The rest of the NBA should be very scared of this possibility.
While the Atlanta Hawks never gave Josh Smith the discipline necessary to blossom into the player he could be, the San Antonio Spurs would stand for none of his shenanigans. Gregg Popovich might bench him the first time he shot a long two-pointer, regardless of whether or not the ball dropped through the net.
Pop would glean everything he could from Smith's incredible athleticism. In the Spurs' system, he'd be absolutely devastating, particularly alongside a brilliant point guard like Tony Parker.
I say this without a hint of sarcasm: After a year or two in San Antonio, Smith could look like an MVP-caliber player. He's always had the sort of potential, but the thing resting between his shoulders perennially prevents him from making the All-Star squad, much less competing for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
Of all the possibilities in this article, the Spurs and Houston Rockets present themselves as the best landing spots for Smith.
San Antonio only has $41.7 million committed for the 2013-14 campaign, so general manager R.C. Buford could potentially reel in two of Smoove, Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili. Signing all three may push the team a bit too far over the cap.
This landing spot hasn't been talked about much yet, but expect that to change once the Spurs' offseason begins.