The clock is ticking on the 3 p.m. Feb. 21 deadline. It will get louder as each of the next 11 days passes. Smith is a central figure in trade and contract rumors – many false – as he is due to become an unrestricted free agent following the season. The Hawks and Smith vowed not to conduct contract negotiations during the season. Smith has made it clear that he believes he is worth a maximum contract – approximately four years, $70 million from another team or five years, $94 million from the Hawks.
The Hawks organization must determine if it is worth the risk of losing Smith to free agency without getting anything in return at the deadline.
Smith is 179 points shy of reaching the 10,000-point mark for his career in eight-plus seasons spent with his hometown franchise. With three games remaining before the deadline it’s possible Smith could reach the milestone in another uniform. Or not.
“It is what it is,” Smith said. “You have to understand, this is a business first. Once you get that in your head that it’s a business first, it’s never personal, you’ll be pretty good in this league.”
Smith, suspended for a game last month for conduct detrimental to the team, says he pays no attention to the rumor mill and his family does not mention such talk to him because “that is the least of my concerns.”
As much as Smith dismisses the notion of the approaching deadline being reason for distraction, Hawks coach Larry Drew said the date weighs on every player. Drew said he has not spoken to Smith about avoiding the pitfalls of the off-the-court possibilities. Drew is staying focused on what is in his control and that’s coaching the Hawks.
“It weighs on you, no doubt, but you have to be a professional about it,” Drew said. “You can’t let it be a distraction. It weighs on every player because they know what some of the possibilities could be. Not just the guys whose names are mentioned. It weighs on everybody because they know there could be a situation where they have to move elsewhere. You can’t allow it to be a distraction. You can’t lose your focus.”
Smith has average 19.6 points on a .496 shooting percentage over the past eight games. He has scored 20 or more points in four of those games. He has also averaged 10.0 rebounds.
Smith brushed off the notion that he is under pressure playing in front of a home-town crowd after growing up in College Park. During his time in the NBA, Smith has certainly developed his share of fans and his share of detractors in Atlanta.
“You hear the (groans) when he takes a jump shot,” NBA TV analyst and former Hawk Steve Smith said recently. “Why not? If a guy is going to rebound and block shots, let him take a few jumpers. I think he’s even gotten better at that. To me, the biggest thing I would say about Josh Smith is he has been an unbelievable player to shed off the noise and shed off the noise from your hometown. Sometimes you can shut off the noise but to shed off the noise from your own hometown and live in your hometown and walk around in your hometown and still come out and compete, that just shows what he’s made of to me.”
How much longer Smith suits up for the hometown team is a question that will be answered in the coming days, with the trade deadline, or coming months, with free agency.