NBA PM: Could Josh Smith be the First Domino?
HOOPSWORLD has tracked the Josh Smith situation all season where there was always a directive underneath the surface that the Atlanta Hawks would be open to dealing him and that Smith wanted out.
Through much of the year, even after Al Horford was lost for the regular season, the tension mostly percolated underneath the surface.
Recently the Hawks have really struggled with the weight of losing Horford. Despite Smith putting up some of the best number of his career, the forward is reportedly demanding a trade.
According to Michael Cunningham of the Atlantic Journal Constitution, Smith has let the Hawks “know he wants to be traded” by the March 15th deadline.
Smith has just one year left on his contract after this season at $13.2 million. He’s averaged 17.1 points, 9.8 boards and two blocks a game in 39 starts with the Hawks this year.
Cunningham cites sources indicating Smith “believes he needs a fresh start with a franchise where he can better reach his potential on and off the court.”
One gripe includes the Hawks not doing enough to lobby for Smith to make the All-Star team. He’s also doesn’t believe the franchise is committed to winning a championship.
Whether or not Smith has grounds to make those claims is subjective. Certainly with Horford, the Hawks would be among the top teams in the East although not quite on par with the Chicago Bulls or Miami HEAT.
Perhaps most significant in a potential Smith trade is his relationship with Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. The two have been life-long friends, dating back to preschool.
While Josh wouldn’t be a determining factor for Howard, he may make an acquiring team the favorite to land Dwight (if the math adds up).
In fact, the Magic would been interested in making a deal for Smith with the hope that Howard would be likely to extend his stay in Orlando with the Hawks forward.
Orlando’s best piece to offer is Ryan Anderson who makes just $2.2 million but will be a restricted free agent next year. That wouldn’t be enough salary by itself but Magic can also offer other pieces including J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, Daniel Orton and others.
It’s difficult to say what would make the Hawks trigger a deal and if what Orlando could be offering would near enough.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in need of a point guard and have inquired about Kirk Hinrich. Would the Lakers do a Pau Gasol package for Smith and Hinrich?
LA would probably prefer Jeff Teague but a Smith/Teague package would probably be unrealistic as the Hawks are fond on their young, inexpensive guard.
To date, Howard hasn’t given the Lakers enough of a sense that he’d commit long-term to their organization if acquired. Smith might paint the Lakers in a different light to Dwight.
Atlanta would like to move off of Marvin Williams’ salary as well but the Lakers would probably look to send out a small forward like Metta World Peace or Luke Walton in an expanded deal.
The difficulty for the Hawks would be taking on Gasol’s salary at about $19 million when they’re been slightly over the luxury tax line all season. The penalty for being in the tax by a small margin isn’t nearly as severe as it was in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The Hawks might have a problem taking on Pau if his salary keeps the team at or above the tax for the next two seasons.
The New Jersey Nets are another active Howard suitor. It might be a feat for the Nets to come up with enough pieces by the deadline to acquire both Smith and Howard while retaining Deron Williams.
Mehmet Okur and Kris Humphries combine to make $18.9 million but Humphries can block any trade he doesn’t like as a player signed for one-year with Bird Rights.
Can the Nets come up with enough for the Magic with an injured Brook Lopez, emerging shooting guard MarShon Brooks and what is expected to be a 2012 lottery pick?
The number of moving pieces to land both pieces might be better suited for the offseason where teams aren’t limited to 15-players on the roster.
The future isn’t clear for Smith, just like it’s not clear for Howard, the Magic, the Lakers, the Nets, etc.
The Boston Celtics are another team linked to Smith. They too could be in the running over the coming week. Don’t put it past the Celtics to make a run this summer if Howard is still available, even if they’re not currently on his list of destinations.
If the Hawks take his trade demand seriously, he could be the domino that finally gets players moving before the deadline.
Trade Deadline: Most Likely to be Moved
The NBA Trade Deadline is just a week away but so far this season, there’s been exactly one midseason swap.
In early January the Memphis Grizzlies acquired Marresse Speights from the Philadelphia 76ers for Xavier Henry and a pair of second-round picks. That’s it.
Naturally the speculation has run wild with the usual players: Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Monta Ellis, etc. but nothing but a couple of role players have found new homes.
It’s difficult to say how the Orlando Magic situation resolves. The Boston Celtics have improved their level of play over recent weeks and may be more inclined to stand pat. The Los Angeles Lakers have stalled, again. The Phoenix Suns are clear they won’t deal Nash unless he requests a trade and that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
With all that in mind, which players are likely to be traded?
Ramon Sessions: Sessions impressed in a bigger role when Cleveland Cavaliers star point guard Kyrie Irving sat with injury. The Cavs wouldn’t mind keeping Ramon as a reserve but since he is armed with an opt-out on his $4.6 million next season, this is probably his last year in Cleveland.
Given the number of teams projected to have cap space this summer, Sessions is expected to opt out and look for more than the Cavaliers will pay for a reserve.
This may be the best and only opportunity for the Cavaliers to cash him out.
The question is return. A team like the Los Angeles Lakers can provide salary relief and draft considerations. To date, LA has been reluctant to send out a first-round pick.
It remains to be seen be seen if another squad will be willing to offer more. Naturally, the Lakers have other irons in the fire so Sessions remains a fallback option.
Surprisingly, not many teams are necessarily in need of a point guard (especially one who may leave in a season) so the options may not be as wide-open for the Cavaliers as they would hope.
Raymond Felton and/or Jamal Crawford: The Portland Trail Blazers believed they had put together a solid contender this offseason but the backcourt acquisitions of Felton and Crawford have been relatively disappointing.
Felton and Coach Nate McMillan just haven’t meshed. Raymond came into camp out of shape and is shooting just 38.3% from the field.
Crawford has raised his field goal percentage to 40.2% and has contributed, but at 19-20 in the Western Conference, the Blazers have to decide if it’s worth pushing for a playoff berth or hitting the lottery in a talent-rich draft.
Jamal’s in a similar position as Sessions, armed with a player option this summer and a wealth of teams with cap room likely to pursue. Banking on a sign and trade is a difficult prospect so if there’s a solid return for Crawford, the Blazers may opt to make it.
Felton’s in the last year of his contract. Based on his performance so far this season, Portland may just not be the right place for him.
The big question is return. Crawford has been linked to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers. Felton may be an option for the Lakers. The asking price is significantly higher for Crawford than Felton.
It may be a stretch to assume both Felton and Crawford are dealt but then that depends on who is offering what . . .
Michael Beasley: The Minnesota Timberwolves are beyond unlikely to re-sign restricted free agent Michael Beasley. In fact, he’d only be restricted if the Wolves make him an $8.2 million qualifying offer and that too would be a stretch.
Beasley was a capable contributor last season but the team won just 17 games. Now he’s a bit player and the Wolves are 21-19.
While he was the second pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Beasley was traded by the Miami HEAT to the Wolves for just a second-rounder but that was the major machination that led to the acquisitions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
The Wolves would like a first back but given that Beasley’s qualifying offer is so high, teams are generally reluctant to give up much to acquire the scoring forward.
Beasley has been linked to the Lakers and Celtics.
LA can take in Beasley with their trade exception but to date have been reluctant to do so, given their greater need at point guard.
The Celtics are still deciding their fate but recent play suggests the team may keep their core together and just try to add in a player to boost scoring like Michael, giving up Jermaine O’Neal and possibly a first-rounder.
Chris Kaman: The Indiana Pacers are sitting on a boat-load of cap room and are fifth in the Eastern Conference. They have an All-Star center in Roy Hibbert but does it hurt to add a former All-Star center to the mix to bolster a playoff run?
The New Orleans Hornets have openly shopped Kaman. The return wasn’t close to what the team/NBA had initially hoped but as the deadline creeps near, just getting off of Chris’ remaining salary for some minor considerations may make sense to the Hornets.
Of course as HOOPSWORLD’s Steve Kyler wrote earlier Thursday, Mike Dunleavy is part of a prospective (and leading) ownership group and Dunleavy may be partial to his former player with the Los Angeles Clippers.
That might knock Kaman down a notch on the likely scale but that remains to be seen . . .
Others: Some of the other names who are reportedly available in trade and in the “more likely” column would be J.J. Hickson of the Sacramento Kings and O’Neal from the Celtics.
The Houston Rockets have a number of players on the block including Courtney Lee, Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn, Terrence Williams and Jordan Hill but it’s unclear exactly how the Rockets cash out some of their younger assets.
The Charlotte Bobcats would love to deal Boris Diaw but he may last past the deadline only to be the top buy-out candidate. The Milwaukee Bucks have been trying to dump Stephen Jackson but thus far no suitors given the $10 million he’s due for next season.
Go through the list of teams and there are many players who could find a new home but by next week? The bigger movement may happen over summer . . . unless the big guns come off their positions (Magic, Lakers, Celtics, Warriors, etc.).
Clippers Raising Prices
The Los Angeles Clippers announced Thursday that they’ll be raising season ticket prices for next season by an average of 15%.
“We studied this pricing strategy thoroughly, and we have developed a plan mindful of its impact on our fan base, while enabling us to compete at the NBA’s highest level,” stated Los Angeles Clippers’ President Andy Roeser.
“Our goal is to continue to provide one of the most attractive entertainment options in Southern California,” Roeser said. “As this most exciting season continues to unfold, our first priority is to thank our fans for their tremendous support. In the midst of a franchise-record sell out streak, we think the best is yet to come.”
The Clippers have dramatically improved over the past season with the emergence of forward Blake Griffin and the acquisition of All-Star point guard Chris Paul.
Last check, the team has sold out all 17 of their home games this season, a trend that isn’t expected to slow throughout the season.
The Clippers also note that more than half of the price increases (over 9,000 seats) will be by 11% or less.
LA is in the middle of a difficult March schedule, falling to 23-15, ahead of the Lakers by just .5 percentage points for the Pacific Division lead.
The Clippers will next visit the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @jfleminghoops, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNBA, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.