Rejuvenated in Atlanta, Josh Smith holds out hope for Dwight Howard
LAS VEGAS -- When last we checked in with Josh Smith in mid-March, he was a young man conflicted. The dynamic forward who spent all eight of his seasons in Atlanta
Changes came, of course, but not the kind Smith envisioned. A new general manager arrived in late June, when former Cleveland GM and San Antonio executive Danny Ferry replaced longtime Hawks GM Rick Sund. A revamped roster came soon after, as Ferry dealt shooting guard Joe Johnson -- and the four years and nearly $90 million remaining on his contract -- to Brooklyn in a money-saving trade that has shifted the Hawks into rebuilding mode after five consecutive postseason berths.
Suddenly, circumstances have changed. And coming off a season in which he averaged 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, Smith doesn't seem so eager to get out of town anymore.
Similar to many other teams, the Hawks are creating financial flexibility with the hope that one of the league's elusive stars will come to Atlanta either via trade or in the next round of free agency. Orlando center Dwight Howard certainly tops that list, and the Hawks -- while looking like longshots at the moment -- have been among the teams in talks with the Magic. They want to acquire the player who grew up in Atlanta and counts Smith as one of his closest friends.
Like Howard, Smith has one year left on his contract (worth $13.2 million). But unlike Howard, Smith isn't set on leaving the team with which he spent his entire career after all.
"It's interesting," Smith said this week in an interview with SI.com. "I think we have a great GM in Danny Ferry, and he has a plan that he's putting together. It looks good. I really am just trying to get to know these guys, to build a relationship and see where the team is going to end up closer to veterans' camp. I'm just excited. We have a lot of elite shooters, and I can see us being a run-and-gun shooting team."
Asked if he still wants to be traded, Smith promptly responded, "No."
That mentality was in full effect in Las Vegas, where Smith visited with new assistant general manager Wes Wilcox near the top of the stands at Cox Pavilion. The two had never met before they sat down together on Sunday. They spoke about everything from the franchise's future to Smith's young daughter, Genesis, and son, Josh, during a friendly chat that lasted longer than half an hour.
The shooters to whom Smith referred are rookie John Jenkins (the 23rd pick in last month's draft, from Vanderbilt), four-year pro Anthony Morrow (obtained in the Johnson deal) and three-point specialist Kyle Korver, the 31-year-old who arrived Monday in a trade with the Bulls. Jenkins, one of the best pure shooters in the draft, has been impressive at the summer league this week. He will play on a rookie-scale deal that could arguably be labeled the anti-Joe Johnson contract (it will pay him about $1 million next season). Korver, meanwhile, has just one year and an affordable $5 million remaining on his deal.
The run-and-gun portion of the program will be handled by new point guard Devin Harris, whose $8.5 million expiring contract was acquired from Utah in exchange for forward Marvin Williams, and newly signed guard Lou Williams, who averaged 14.9 points for Philadelphia last season. All of the additions will give the Hawks' offense a new look after years of relying on Johnson as the first option. In the trade with Brooklyn for the six-time All-Star, Atlanta received a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2013, the Nets' second-round pick in 2017 and a package of players with expiring contracts: Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro and DeShawn Stevenson. Only Lou Williams, Jenkins and two-time All-Star center Al Horford (four years, $36 million remaining) are on the books for the 2013-14 season and beyond.
"I played a lot of years with Joe," said Smith, who spent seven of his eight seasons with Johnson. "I built a relationship with him, like a brother relationship. And to see somebody depart that you've been playing with for so long, it's tough. But at the end of the day, it's still a business and I wish him the best. I definitely wish him the best."
Smith isn't expecting Howard to join him anytime soon, but he certainly welcomes the possibility. The two friends still keep in close contact, whether it's having dinner together or Smith's checking in on Howard to see how he's handling the never-ending trade rumors.
"You never know" about getting Howard, Smith said. "I mean, everybody has a possibility of getting him. To have a guy of that caliber would definitely be awesome. But he has so much going on right now that I don't want to clutter his head with any more of it. I know that he's going through a lot right now with that decision, and it's a long process for him. I don't really bother him about it. I just call him sometimes to check up on him and see what he's doing."
According to Smith, the Hawks haven't told him of any specific plans.
"I haven't heard anything concrete yet," he said. "I'm just getting to know these people, and I think later on the summer or even during the season we'll come together and discuss the plans on going forward with the team."
After a complete roster overhaul, those plans are just getting started. But for now, they appear to include Smith's staying put.