By Ben Golliver
Josh Smith is a pseudo-star seeking a big contract and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has no problem handing out big contracts. Could this be a match made in heaven?
The Brooklyn Nets are aggressively pursuing a trade for Atlanta Hawks star forward Josh Smith, league sources told ESPN.
As the NBA's Feb. 21 trade deadline nears, Brooklyn is proving to be one of the most active teams in the league. As reported by ESPN.com on Friday, sources said the Nets also are talking with the Charlotte Bobcats about a Kris Humphries-for-Ben Gordon trade. While the Nets certainly want Gordon, sources said acquiring Smith is their higher priority. A trade for Smith would seemingly kill a deal for Gordon, because Humphries is one of the players being discussed with Atlanta.
The Nets are willing to give up Humphries and second-year shooting guard MarShon Brooks for Smith. But it almost certainly will take more than a Humphries-Brooks combination to pry Smith away from Atlanta, and one source said the Hawks want Brooklyn's first-round pick.
Earlier, The Point Forward looked at the reported Humphries-for-Gordon trade proposal in detail.
Smith, 27, is averaging 16.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals per game this season. He's seeking a five-year contract worth $90+ million, a price the Hawks are reportedly unwilling to play.
Humphries, 28, has been seen his playing time cut this season. He's averaging 5.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in 19.6 minutes after having a career year in 2011-12.
The deep-pocketed Prokhorov showed that he plays by his own rules last summer when he doled massive contracts for Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Humphries, and agreed to trade for Joe Johnson, who brought with him a gigantic price tag. Offering Smith a max contract would (and should) make many owners blink. Prokhorov is almost assuredly not one of them.
There are two obvious questions raised by this scenario. First: Does Hawks GM Danny Ferry want to compromise his salary cap space this summer by taking back Humphries, who will make $12 million next year? Second: Are Smith and Wallace the ideal complements for each other at the forward positions given that both will expect to play major minutes?
The primary goals of a Smith trade for Atlanta should be maximum asset acquisition and total flexibility. By those standards, this wouldn't be a disaster. If the Hawks can scrape off enough minor assets -- whether it's Brooks and/or picks -- getting stuck with Humphries isn't the worst thing in the world. Humphries becomes an expiring contract next season, making him a trade chip, and he showed last season that he will produce if given minutes. He's not worth $12 million a year, but the Hawks, who have very clean books heading into the summer, will have room to pay him and a need at power forward if they move Smith. This is an offer worth keeping in their back pocket as they explore Smith's market value over the next 10 days. It doesn't offer a long-term resolution but it could net them some assets and a hole-plugging fix.
Brooklyn's plan seems to be winning at any cost and Smith would fit that plan perfectly, for good and bad. Adding Smith to the fray -- and then re-signing him near his max-level demands -- would ensure the Nets will pay enormous luxury taxes for the foreseeable future. There will be cascading costs, too, as the new elements of the luxury tax system kick in next year. But acquiring him would solidify a starting lineup full of name players -- Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Smith and Lopez -- and should help Brooklyn's defensive numbers. Going forward, it would give the Nets one more star-type player to offer in future trades, which could be the bigger goal here. Assemble enough quasi-stars and perhaps you eventually combine some combination of them to land a truly elite talent? If not, you simply pay out the nose for a talent-rich team that's a lock to make the playoffs every year. The Smith/Wallace fit is questionable. Their skillsets overlap a lot -- good two-way players, good motors, limited range on offense, some questions with consistency -- and neither is a traditional three or a traditional four, which will lead to some mismatches. Still, it would qualify as a major success if the Nets are able to flip Humphries before the deadline for a player who fits better in the short-term and going forward, as both Gordon and Smith would. Finding a way to make things work between Smith and Wallace would be a better problem to have than letting Humphries continue to languish in a reduced role where he's unable to deliver on his contract. Brooklyn should continue its reported pursuit full steam ahead.