“I feel like I’m a max player,” [Josh] Smith said Friday.
And yes, that is the first time he has said that.
“I feel I bring a lot to the table. I have a lot of versatility. For what I do and what I give this ball club, I feel like I’m worth it.”
The Hawks have given one max contract in their history. It turned Joe Johnson into a very rich man (six years, $123.6 million) and the Hawks into a punch line. So which way do you think the wind might be blowing on this?
Granted, in the new collective bargaining agreement, Smith's max deal would be nearly as high as Johnson's: about $94 million over five years. But it still could give the organization reason to balk.
Smith again: “There shouldn’t be any hesitation. I’m Josh Smith, I’m not anybody else. I ‘m not Michael Jordan, I’m not LeBron James, I’m not Brook Lopez. I’m Josh Smith. You can’t look at what might’ve happened with another person. Let’s say Joe. You can’t say, ‘I’m skeptical of giving another person that’ because of whatever they feel like happened."
If you were waiting for the line in the sand, there it is.
Smith's comments came after the shoot-around Friday morning. He is central to trade rumors. He recently was suspended for a game. If he appeared distracted that night against Boston, it could be understood. Instead, he reaffirmed his importance. The Hawks, down by as many as 27 points in the second quarter, staged one of the most improbable comebacks in franchise history and beat the Celtics 123-111 in double overtime.
At the center of the comeback was Josh Smith. While the Hawks couldn't manage this sleight of hand without Kyle Korver's eight three-pointers, Smith dented Boston at both ends of the court: 17 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, two blocked shots. His defense on Paul Pierce (4 of 13), particularly in the second half and overtime, buried the Celtics.
"Josh played big," Drew said later. "It just shows the talent that he has."
Of course, talent has never been the issue.
The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 21. This much we know: If general manager Danny Ferry really wanted to trade Smith, he would've done so before the season. He managed to trade Johnson to Brooklyn. Relatively speaking, trading Smith would be as difficult as fingerpainting.
Smith has lived with trade rumors for more than two years. But there's a greater sense of urgency to them now because his contract is expiring and Ferry, in the middle of a rebuilding project, might not want to overcommit to one player.
Until Friday, Smith had been saying the right things about his future in Atlanta. But now he seems less committal.
Asked if he had a preference, he responded: "No. I don’t know. I don’t have a preference for anything right now, except to try to make the playoffs."
The one game suspension Jan. 16 didn't sit well with him. But what upset him more was that word of Drew throwing him out of practice, following an argument, leaked out publicly.
"You have blowups and disagreements but in most championship-caliber organizations they keep it internal," he said. "They don’t try to broadcast a situation, as far as putting a player out there. That’s a problem."
Drew actually praised Smith, saying, "He's showing a level of leadership I haven’t seen before."
Of the argument, he said, "Josh is an emotional guy. We were losing and emotions were high. I was pretty testy that day as well.”
I’m predisposed to liking Smith. His skill set aside, few athletes are as passionate or care as much as him. Flaws? Sure. But he has come a long way. He has matured. He's 27 now with a wife, two young children and a third on the way.
“Kids mature you," he said. "You look at things from a different perspective."
He's not the same kid. He understands his future may be elsewhere. If the Hawks believe this decision will come down to something other than money, they're mistaken.