According to Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida, star forward Josh Smith has expressed interest in remaining with the Atlanta Hawks beyond 2013. Smith is set to become an unrestricted free agent upon the conclusion of this season.
No matter what it takes, the Hawks must avoid making Smith their next Joe Johnson.
Tomasson reports that Smith "never wanted to leave Atlanta." This comes after months of speculation surrounding a potential trade, specifically to the Los Angeles Lakers in return for Pau Gasol (via ESPN).
The Hawks' offseason acquisitions reportedly played a major factor in Smith's verbal commitment to remain in Atlanta.
“I never said one time that I wanted to leave Atlanta,’’ Smith, whose surprising Hawks [12-6] play Wednesday at Orlando, said in an interview with FOX Sports Florida while in Miami for Monday’s 101-92 loss to the Heat. “It was always rumors and things. The moves that they made [last summer] and the success that we’re having, I am excited about what is going with this organization and I am considering strongly staying here. I haven’t ever had any thoughts that I wanted to leave.’’
“We already have an understanding on what’s going on, especially between me and the GM,’’ Smith said of his dealings with Ferry, in his first season with the Hawks. “I’m not going to tell you (what it specifically entails). It’s an understanding that we have.’’
General manager Danny Ferry followed these comments up with a confirmation of the interest in keeping Smith in Atlanta.
“I value Josh,’’ said Ferry, whose team will have ample salary-cap room next summer. “He’s a good player. We’re clear about that. And he has been clear [with the Hawks] about how he has enjoyed being in Atlanta. ... I value Josh, and certainly you want guys like that in your program.’’
Ferry hit the nail on the head.
Smith is the type of player that you want in your organization. He's a rapidly developing two-way threat with an improving attitude and a progressing feel for the game.
The issue is, not he nor anyone else on the roster is worth Joe Johnson money. Not again.
Success by Depth
Anyone who tells you that this year is a surprise clearly values star power over depth. The Atlanta Hawks are a better team in 2012-13 than they ever were with Joe Johnson on the roster.
And that's no slight on Johnson.
Due to the money previously tied up in Johnson's contract, the Hawks never once had respectable depth. When Tracy McGrady, Willie Green and Zaza Pachulia are your best threats off the bench, you know that to be true.
Oh, how times have changed.
By trading Johnson, the Hawks created their best second unit of the millennium. As a result, they're a much more legitimate contender than ever before.
With sharpshooters Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver and John Jenkins, the team finally has perimeter scoring threats outside of their stars. With Lou Williams, they also replaced Johnson at about one-fourth of the annual cost.
And that's the key.
Anyone Can Be Replaced
In 2011-12, Joe Johnson posted 21.2 points, 4.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds per 40 minutes. He also had a true shooting percentage of 55.7 and a usage rate of 23.0.
Quite impressive numbers.
In 2012-13, Lou Williams is averaging 22.6 points, 5.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds per 40 minutes. He has a true shooting percentage of 56.5 and a 24.3 usage rate.
In other words, Williams is matching Johnson step-by-step in terms of production. The one difference?
Williams is set to make $5.0 million in 2012-13. Johnson received $18,038,573 for virtually the same level of production in 2011-12.
So how does this apply to Smith?
Offsetting the Balance
Should the Atlanta Hawks opt to hand Josh Smith a monster contract, they will return to their previous place in the NBA. A true postseason contender with no legitimate aspirations to win a championship.
In other words, investing Joe Johnson-type money in Smith suggests that he will lead the team to a title. So where would they get the support?
The Hawks can't assume that they will get by on mid-level exception type talent. Smith and Al Horford are standouts, but they're also the type of players who'd serve better in a Big Three than as the leaders of a title contender.
Even with a stellar supporting cast, smothering defense and a reliable head coach, there needs to be something more.
Atlanta must hand Smith the money he deserves, but not so much that there is limited financial room to work with. There will be free agents worth considering that could improve the quality of this team, which is why Smith must consider taking less.
Even if he is handed a max contract, the distribution of those funds cannot be front or back-loaded. They must be evenly split.
If general manager Danny Ferry fails to execute in the proper manner, the Hawks will return to the same place they were before. Highlighted by big names, consistently in the postseason but never considered a threat to take home the gold.
The ball is in the front office's court. Do they really want another Johnson?