NBA PM: Spurs Interested in Josh Smith?
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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For the second time in a week’s span, the San Antonio Spurs have been linked to a big name on the trading block. Last week it was Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson and now this week they’ve been mentioned in association with Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith. Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears is reporting that the Spurs are the latest team to try and enter the sweepstakes for Smith.
The Spurs and Hawks, just like the Spurs and Jazz, have a very good relationship based on the fact that Hawks GM Danny Ferry was a long-time Spur. He was on the 2003 Spurs’ championship team and has spent the better part of his post-playing career working in their front office. He was a part of it prior to taking over the Hawks this offseason.
As always, it’s tough to gauge how serious the Spurs’ interest is because typically they play things very close to the vest. If something gets out into the mainstream, it either means someone has done an outstanding reporting job or that it’s no longer something that is being discussed.
However, it’s hard not to think that there could be something there once you start connecting the dots. The Spurs have young talent, draft picks and expiring contracts that they can combine into a package for Smith. Smith, of course, is one of the hot names on the trading block right now because he is going to be seeking a max deal this offseason when he becomes a free agent. Early signs indicate that the Hawks are not interested in giving him a max deal, meaning moving him at the deadline and getting value in return could be their best move.
The Spurs are rolling right now and have never been a team that likes to make major changes midseason. The appeal of adding a guy like Smith could be too much for them to pass up on, though, if they can give the Hawks enough in return. Any offer from the Spurs is likely to center around the expiring contracts of Stephen Jackson, Tiago Splitter, DaJuan Blair, draft picks and one of their young backup point guards in Patty Mills, Nando De Colo and Cory Joseph.
The Spurs could afford to give Smith a max deal this summer, although he would have to really play well through the remainder of the season in order to get that kind of offer from them. Smith would provide the Spurs with a dynamic defensive presence on the frontline to go along with Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan. While he would have to learn a lot on the fly, his ability to greatly impact the game without the basketball would bode well for his success in San Antonio.
As good as the Spurs have been so far, they know based off of the last five years that it is foolish to put too much into regular season success. Winning a championship takes a lot more than winning regular season games does, so don’t expect the Spurs to be shy at the deadline if they see a move out there that can put them over the top.
Damian Lillard Breaks Through Rookie Wall
We’re at the point of the regular season where most rookies typically break. The college basketball season can typically range from 30-40 games over a 5-6 month span depending on a team’s postseason success. In the case of Portland Trail Blazers rookie point guard Damian Lillard, he played 32 games last season from Nov. 11-Mar. 18.
Lillard is roughly four months into his professional career and already has played in 51 games against a competition level that completely trumps what he was facing last year. Yet, Lillard is shining more than any other first-year player in the league. He’s looking like a lock to win the Rookie of the Year award and a future franchise player for the Trail Blazers, who are shockingly 25-26 overall and just two games out of the playoff race in the Western Conference.
HOOPSWORLD caught up Lillard recently to talk about the keys to breaking through the rookie wall that has stopped so many rookies before him and how much he’s looking forward to being a big part of NBA All-Star Weekend 2013.
Andre Smith Transforms Overseas: In two years at North Dakota State Andre Smith established himself as one of the most productive big men in the country, averaging 17 points and nine rebounds his senior year. That was while playing against an independent schedule, which can be quite tough since independent programs are forced to take difficult match ups just to help fill their schedule out.
By the time he completed his career at North Dakota State, Smith had proven himself enough to get the chance to play professionally overseas. He had obviously figured out the game enough to be one of the few players to become a pro, but during his first year overseas he realized just how little he actually knew.
“The first steps of my career were a little bit rough,” Smith said to HOOPSWORLD. “The first job I got was in the first division in Germany. I was there on a tryout with a two-year contract on the line and my first year I just didn’t get it, what it took to be a pro, the mentality you need to have and the lifestyle you need to live. I bounced around. My first year I think I touched the roster of four different teams. I was in Germany for six weeks, ended up in Switzerland for a few months and didn’t like the situation there, didn’t like the situation with the coach and being part time. I went to Poland for a few days and didn’t want any part of that. I went out to Japan, kind of stabilized myself and did a lot of growing. One of the guys who was a big help for me was Matt Garrison. At the end of that year I did a lot of growing and slowly started to become the player I am now after that rough year.
“Here I am this kid, before I was 18 years old I never even left the twin cities in St. Paul, Minnesota. Until I was 18 and left for junior college a few hours away I never even left the state or city. Playing in college we bounced around, but here I am this 22 year old kid. I get off a flight, some guy who doesn’t even speak English picks me up and takes me to the town to meet the town and coaches. He says ‘Here’s your keys, car, you live on the second floor. We’ll see you Monday in practice’. I’m like I’m in Germany, I have these cars, keys and this apartment and I don’t even know how to say hello. That was a big shock to me. Just the regime of being a professional, it was all new to me. In college, I hate to say it but there’s a lot of hand holding. Guys are like, coach I’m late for practice, I overslept in my nap or I was late coming from class and it’s like alright come on. If you’re not at the gym sweating 20 minutes before practice starts you’re late in a lot of coaches’ eyes. That was tough for me also, that mentality of this is your job, take it serious.”
Luckily for Smith, life wasn’t nearly as tough for him on the court and once he got things straightened out off of it, he took off.
“I’m not a high-flying, lightening quick athlete,” Smith said. “I’m kind of a turkey, ground hog if you will. In college I was always doing the x-step. I didn’t get called for travelling too many times when I made the adjustment. The team I played on was a lot of sharing the ball, I get the ball when I get it and I better make something happen. The team concept wasn’t that tough of an adjustment for me because there’s a lot sharing the ball over here.
“My jump shot was the first thing that I realized I had to improve on. All of the fours can stretch the floor over here, shoot the three really well. In college I thin in two years I shot 12 of them and they were like 2 seconds on the shot clock turn and throw it at the rim and end of the quarters, trying to make it kind of thing. That was the biggest thing. Having all the fours as versatile as myself, that was an adjustment. I had to be prepared on a closeout, if I closeout on him and he doesn’t shoot it, he’s just going to pass it. A lot of college bigs are like that, they’re not going to put it on the floor. So I had to be ready to close out well and slide immediately cause the fours were more like threes.”
As Smith recognized who he needed to become on and off the court, he had to do his best to avoid the same kind of distractions that players stateside deal with.
“At the beginning I would say the distractions were the same,” Smith said. “My first year was a little bit of a distraction form me period. Going out in Europe nightclubs you don’t go there till like 1 o’clock. It’s all night long, every night. That was a distraction. You get with some guys who are close to your age and you’re all distracted by the same thing, there’s girls, hanging out having fun, new money in your pocket. Once you figure out this is your job and your body is the only thing you have control of over here, the better you take care of yourself, the longer your career is going to be it’s a lot easier to improve your game over here. You have nothing but time, you don’t have class. Your job is basketball. You go to practice for a couple hours, you play against a high level of talent and you’re forced to come in and get better because you want minutes and keep your job. A lot of guys get cut. It’s a revolving door with some guys. You get better or you don’t get jobs. I would say I’ve improved more in a shorter amount of time in Europe than I did when I started playing in the states.”
Now at 27 years of age with an extensive resume overseas that includes leading the Italian league in scoring last year, Smith finds himself on the opposite side of the spectrum than he was on at the beginning of his pro career. It’s a position that he enjoys being in as much as anything.
“The biggest highlights for me are just the teammates I get to meet and the people I get to play with,” Smith said. “I’ve been on a lot of teams with a lot of young guys and that just seems like it’s the most fun for me. Those young guys, they still love the game for it being a game.”
Just like in college, Smith has played his best against the best. Some of his best performances have come when he was matched up against the NBA’s Danilo Gallinari, Jeff Adrien and Brian Scalabrine. It was in those games that Smith got a taste of what NBA competition is like.
“Playing against Brian Scalabrine last year, he’s the human victory cigar when you see him in the NBA, people say they would destroy him if they played against him and all of that,” Smith said. “I was one of those guys that was like how is he in the NBA it doesn’t make any sense. Getting to lace them up and play against the guy, I had a really good game, but seeing some of the things he does out there. There was one play where he crossed over, I cut him off, he went behind his back, I cut him off, then he did this step back where it seemed like he stepped back 10 feet and took a fadeaway three. And that moment right there was I was like that’s why he’s in the NBA.”
As a much more mature and polished player who can now shoot with range and drive in either direction, Smith has really started to make a name for himself. He was invited to play on the Golden State Warriors’ summer league team, but passed on the opportunity for a contract in Russia worth more than the minimum in the NBA.
While most players dream of being in the NBA over anything else, Smith’s experience overseas has been so beneficial to him that he has become happy where he’s at. That is, of course, unless an opportunity like the one in Russia comes up in the NBA that he just can’t pass on.
“That flame was burning bright and then I got the contract and I tell myself I’m happy overseas,” Smith said. “But, then I watch NBA games, stay up late and think man I can play at that level or come in and help. I see these guys and I’m like I know I can do more than him. If I get another one I’m going to see where it goes, ride it until the end to see what I can do with it. If nothing comes from it I’m established overseas, playing at a high level and I am happy. I won’t be disappointed or saying I should be in the NBA.
“You run into a lot of guys over here, there only mindset is to get to the NBA. They waste a lot of years chasing that and getting paid pennies in the D-League and year after year not getting call ups. By the time they get over here their body is starting to betray them. They’re not as productive as they once were, but teams are like I don’t know if you can play this style of game. They say you averaged 25 in the D-League, but so did five of your teammates cause there’s 200 shots a game. It’s beneficial for me to have that mindset, because I’m not against being over here.”