The End of the Josh Smith Era in Atlanta
Whether it generates the proper amount of mainstream attention or not, the Detroit Pistons walked away with one of this year’s marquee free agents by agreeing to terms with power forward Josh Smith on a four-year, $56 million deal.
The move represents the latest chapter of change for the Atlanta Hawks franchise, a redirection from its recent past and the ushering in of a new culture.
On the other hand, Smith’s arrival to Detroit is being hailed as one which will bring their franchise back to the levels of respectability from years past.
With Hawks president of basketball operations and general manager Danny Ferry calling the shots, the team now has just one player, former All-Star center Al Horford, remaining under contract from its 2008 roster that started the club’s current streak of six consecutive playoff appearances.
Gone are members of the previous Hawks’ core consisting of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams to go along with Smith, a core former general manager Rick Sund went all out to protect year after year. Unrestricted free agent center (and valuable reserve on those teams) Zaza Pachulia is also gone after he agreed to a three-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. No doubt, the Hawks are in the winds of change.
But let’s focus on the Josh Smith era…
Outside of former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Mike Vick, you can make a strong argument Smith was the most polarizing figure in Atlanta sports history.
When it came to evaluating Smith at the local level, the general consensus was one of a complicated love/hate relationship with no in-between accepted from the masses. Hawks fans either loved Smith or hated the forward while often times interchanging these varying positions on a season to season (even week to week) basis.
But, let’s be clear, Smith absolutely played hard every single night he put on the Hawks uniform.
In his nine seasons in Atlanta, Smith accumulated over 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,400 blocked shots. There was a slam dunk title, All-Defensive team selection, player of the week awards, run-ins with coaches, disputes with local media and of course those six straight playoff appearances.
However, it was this past season where Smith showed some of his best professionalism.
As one of the marquee free agents in this year’s class, Smith controlled his message about this summer with the precision of a career public relations official.
The questions about his impending free agency came in waves from every media outlet Smith came across throughout the season, but the veteran never once became a distraction for Ferry’s front office as the club decided to handle the veteran. Even during the week leading up to the trade deadline, with his name rampant in rumors, Smith controlled the message, his message, smoothly unlike some players who have struggled the past few years in this regard.
At the end of the day, the writing was on the wall well in advance of Friday’s news of former Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap joining the roster on a two-year deal that Smith likely wouldn’t be donning a Hawks uniform this fall.
Change will likely be a good thing for Smith in this instance.
Heading to Detroit, to a team with talented young bigs such as the emerging Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, could be the change of scenery that finally escalates Smith into the realm of All-Stars.
The change will be also good for Ferry and his future vision for the franchise as well.
Ferry routinely spoke highly of Smith and his game and those sentiments were genuine.
But at the end of the day, Smith’s presence on the roster and the polarizing aspect of his presence was probably too much to bear for Ferry while attempting to move forward into the Hawks’ next chapter.
Smith is no longer a Hawk and the fan reaction, like mostly everything during his career in Atlanta, is split with an excess of passion on full display.
Regardless of whether you like, love or loathe Smith’s game the fact remains he gave his all to the franchise and was an integral part of keeping the team relevant on the national scene the past six seasons.
Now Smith heads into the unknown, having to navigate a new city and become part a rebuilding franchise, while seeking to find his fresh start in this unfamiliar terrain. The same words can be said about the Hawks’ upcoming journey without him. Because in many ways, Smith and the Hawks will forever be linked together in a story of what ifs, what could have been and ultimately the success that was achieved.