NBA AM: It’s Atlanta’s Move With Josh Smith
It’s Atlanta’s Move: The Atlanta Hawks find themselves in much the same place that the Brooklyn Nets found themselves in last season and where the LA Clippers find themselves this season. Hawks forward Josh Smith will hit free agency in July. He will not be signing a contract extension before then, but that has nothing to do with how he feels about the team, the city or the situation. It is 100 percent about economics.
The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows Smith to sign an extension that adds three years to his deal and it’s based off the value of his current contract, which is not a max level deal. If Josh waits until July and becomes an unrestricted free agent he can ink a max deal worth more than $100 million over five-years, similar to what Deron Williams signed in Brooklyn this summer.
The Hawks hold an advantage in a couple of areas; they can offer a five-year deal whereas any other team can offer only a four-year deal, they will have the cap space to add more talent around Smith and Atlanta is home for him.
That does not mean there aren’t any risks associated for the Hawks. Smith has been frustrated at his lack of recognition nationally over the past few years, believing he had the resume of an All-Star but was never talked about that way and has never made an All-Star appearance other than the Dunk Contest.
Smith has also been vocal about wanting a chance to compete for a championship, something he openly questioned could happen in Atlanta.
The Hawks made a number of changes this offseason including bringing in new leadership at the general manager position in Danny Ferry. He shook up the Hawks pretty dramatically this past summer, leading many to believe Smith would be gone at some point too.
Smith has been adamant since the start of the season that he likes what’s going on in Atlanta, and that he and Ferry are on the same page.
It doesn’t hurt the Hawks’ cause that they’re playing some inspired basketball and are currently third in the East, just two games out of first place in the Conference.
It also doesn’t hurt that none of the major market teams will have cap space to lure Smith away from Atlanta as a free agent. The only projected playoff teams with ample space would be Dallas and they already have an All-Star forward in Dirk Nowtizki, the rest of the bunch are either outside the playoff picture or smaller rebuilding markets.
It’s not a lock that Smith re-signs in Atlanta this summer, although all signs point to it happening. The Hawks may have to pull off a major trade to add to the roster to secure Smith’s complete buy-in going forward, but based on what Smith is saying both publicly and privately, Atlanta has the edge on getting his signature a new contract.
IN RELATED: HOOPSWORLD caught up with Josh Smith in Orlando last night and talked with him about his team, his contract and why his team has come together so quickly.
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So What’s Gotten Into Atlanta?: The Atlanta Hawks are sitting in third place in the East and have won eight of their last ten games. They are a game and half behind Miami and just two games back from the Conference-leading New York Knicks.
According to Hawks guard Jeff Teague, this most recent surge from the Hawks is really about a group of unselfish guys.
“We just have great chemistry on and off the court,” Teague told HOOPSWORLD. “I think we like each other off the court, I think it’s easier to play with each other.
“I think we just got good guys. Everybody works hard, everybody likes each other. It’s just a blessing to be around so many good guys who want to get better and want to win and want to be together, nobody cares about who gets the glory or whose in favor or who gets interviewed, we’re just all here and we all want to win.”
Teague was one of the 2009 rookie class players that did not get a contract extension in October, mainly because the Hawks want to be as flexible as possible this summer, meaning Jeff will likely hit restricted free agency. Teague says he hasn’t added any additional pressure to himself this year.
“I’m just trying to go out there, every opportunity I get, to make something happen,” Teague explained. “Guys look to me to go hard and run the team, try to do my best and try to get better. It’s easy with a group like that, everybody can do something well, everybody can contribute to help the team win.”
The Hawks have a pretty manageable schedule for the balance of 2012 – Charlotte, Washington, Detroit, Cleveland, Indiana and Houston are on deck. The Warriors, The 76ers, the Thunder and Chicago are the only playoff teams in the mix.
The Hawks find themselves in third place in the East and their schedule says if they stay healthy, they may stay there.
Kevin Love Isn’t Going Anywhere: Despite the scathing quotes Minnesota’s Kevin Love gave to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Timberwolves have been adamant that Kevin Love is not available in trade and that he is not a player they are considering offers for.
There is no doubting that there is some bitterness about how things have played out in Minnesota and the history Love has with organization paints an unflattering and cloudy future. But, the Wolves stance is simple – winning cures everything.
Love was asked about his comments and unlike most athletes, who get killed for a moment of honesty and then deny the quote or backtrack, Love confirmed his quotes and said he stands by what he said, but did point out that the Yahoo article did leave out his thoughts about the Minnesota fans.
“A lot of athletes these days say the right thing and aren’t outspoken,” Love said to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. “I’m not going to say I have anything to apologize for. I said what I felt. I didn’t mean to alienate my team, my coaches, the organization or more importantly the fans.”
Love said in the past he’s had issues with how the Wolves have assembled teams around him, but is pretty happy with this incarnation.
“I do believe this is the closest-knit team that we’ve had,” Love said. “The coaching staff has been great and we have a chance to make something very special this year and for years to come. The acquisitions we made this offseason I’m very happy with. As far as the state of the team, I think we’re fine.
“I just need to move forward and hopefully this thing won’t keep coming up. I’m done talking about it really from here on out after today. I’m hoping we can just move on and winning will take care of everything.”
The Wolves are hoping to get star guard Ricky Rubio back in the coming weeks, and from there believe they can make a hard push in the West once they are somewhat healthy.
Love signed a four-year $60 million contract extension last January that locks him into Minnesota through the 2014-15 season. Love has a player option for the 2015-16 season, which he is unlikely to pick up.
The Wolves believe if they can get into the thick of the playoff hunt every year going forward then most of Love’s issues can be smoothed over.
The Wolves’ stance is that Love is their franchise player and that he’s not available in trade. However, with such a public outcry it’s hard to imagine that is going to remain the case if the Wolves don’t make the playoffs or start to really struggle over the next two seasons.
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