Former Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith.
Photo: AJC file photo
Photo: AJC file photo

Ex-Hawk Smith, eyeing NBA return, receives warm welcome as part of Big 3

Josh Smith knew Atlanta would treat him well. 

In June before a BIG 3 game, the former Hawks forward stepped into Little Caesars Arena to a chorus of boos from fans in Detroit — a city where he also played. 

But in State Farm Arena Sunday, fans embraced him, remembering fondly the nine years he spent with the franchise. To him, it’s a reminder of how his career has ebbed and flowed, and how he hopes to restart it for another NBA franchise in the near future. 

“I've done so much for the city and so much and for the community, so it's expected to get a warm welcome from these fans,” Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was a great nine years for me playing here. It's an amazing organization. I played with some great players and teammates and I had some really good coaches.”

Smith, who plays for Bivouac (1-2), scored 20 points in a loss to the Triplets (3-0). It’s Smith’s first year playing in the BIG 3, a professional three-on-three basketball league created by rapper-actor Ice Cube in 2017. Smith’s former Hawks teammate, Joe Johnson, scored 26 for the Triplets. 

Smith said he’s adjusting to the differences of this league, saying it’s more physical. It’s also a way for him to prepare for a potential NBA comeback.

Smith told Peachtree Hoops on Saturday he’d be interested in joining the Lakers or L Clippers, teams who added high-caliber free agents this offseason. Among other things, he said he’d add veteran leadership. 

“I'm still young,” said Smith, 33. “I still have a lot of left in the tank, and I have a lot of knowledge to pass on to these young guys.”

The Hawks drafted Smith, a College Park native, as the No. 17 overall pick in 2004 out of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. In nine seasons with Atlanta, he averaged 15.4 points, playing at both small forward and power forward. He averaged a career-high 18.8 points in 2011-12, and led the Hawks to six playoff appearances.

But they never advanced past the Eastern Conference semifinals. In 2013, he signed a four-year, $54 million contract with the Detroit Pistons in free agency. That marriage failed, though, as he wasn’t a good fit schematically.

Detroit waived him in December 2014, and since then he’s bounced around the NBA, playing for the Houston Rockets, the Clippers and the New Orleans Pelicans. 

He appeared only in three games for the Pelicans in 2017-18 season, and hasn’t played in the NBA since. 

In 2014-15, Smith averaged 14.8 points for Houston in the Western Conference Finals, trailing only behind James Harden in points per game in that series for the Rockets. He said he’d be open to filling any role a team would want for him.

Aside from spending time with his four children, Smith said he works out everyday to keep in NBA shape. In the meantime, he said he’s enjoying his BIG 3 experience and will keep his ears open for all opportunities. 

“It’s about knocking on the door and somebody’s gonna answer,” Smith said. “I just have to keep doing it the right way. I have to keep being a professional and things should work out. It’s a work in progress.”

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