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After watching the Atlanta Hawks somehow sleepwalk through a triple-overtime loss to a Wade-less and LeBron-less Heat team, one thing is abundantly clear: this team cannot progress as currently constructed. A team that was once a young up-and-comer and pushed the ’08 Celtics championship team to seven games is now one of the oldest in the league.
More importantly, it’s also a team that exerts about as much effort as a Beyonce and Jay child-naming brainstorming session. Plainly put, there’s no point keeping this current squad together. You don’t keep a core together for second round exits. Well, you shouldn’t, anyway. So who goes? Joe Johnson is about as movable as a pre-Weight Watchers Charles Barkley. Ditto for Marvin Williams. Horford and Teague are building blocks. That leaves the man who perpetually finds himself at the center of Atlanta-based trade talks, Josh Smith.
One quick note: Because ESPN’s trade machine is temporarily down, we were not able to link the trades like we did last time with the DeMarcus Cousins piece. Just know that we did our best to make sure all of the deals work salary-wise under the new CBA.
Orlando trades Dwight Howard (17.8 mil) and JJ Redick (6.5) for Josh Smith (12 mil) and Al Horford (12 mil)
Why it works: For Orlando, this is a chance to avoid a Melo-drama like the world saw last season while also adding two cornerstone pieces for the rebuilding process. Dwight has said there’s a chance he might stay after all, but is “might” really good enough when one side of that coin involves losing far and away the best center in the NBA and getting nothing in return? The deal is very close to even in terms of salaries and cap space. For Atlanta, this is a chance to be a title contender. Sacrificing two impact starters will be no problem when they are getting back the best defensive player in the NBA. While the Hawks weren’t on Dwight’s original list of teams, he was born in Atlanta, and one has to believe he could be convinced to approve a trade to his hometown.
Why it doesn’t work: Atlanta has been exceeding expectations thus far in the shortened season, and management could very likely see no reason to upset the chemistry the team appears to have. Smith and Horford have both been effective contributors to their early success, and Horford especially is known for being a great teammate and widely liked in the locker room. Trading both when the team is doing so well could cause unrest among other players. The Magic, on the other hand, might want to hold out for a better offer. They have long been known to covet the package of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum from the Lakers, and if Los Angeles hits a rough patch before the trade deadline they might be hoping to force the hand of Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.
Portland trades Gerald Wallace (10.65 mil this year, 11.4 mil player option next year) and their 2013 1st round pick for Josh Smith (12 mil)
Despite having just acquired Wallace last year (and flying in the face of his consistent energy and effort), Portland seems to be, well, in GM talk, “listening to offers” for the versatile forward. After 12 years in the league, the 29-year-old who once carried a negative reputation is now a strong veteran presence in the locker room…something the Atlanta Hawks are sorely missing. With 30-year-old Joe Johnson making 18 million this year (plus $20 mil next year, $21.5 the year after, $23 the year after that, and uh, you know, $25 in 2015), the decade long wait for Josh Smith to mature might reach a premature ending. While Wallace is probably a statistical downgrade in most ways, a steady scorer with a level head has literally never played starter minutes on this Hawks team. With Wallace only signed for a year (or two if he picks up his option), even if things don’t work out at all, the fallout would be minimal.
It’s not too difficult to see how Portland justifies letting go of Wallace in this trade. They trade a solid all around player in Wallace for one of the top defensive players in the league in Josh Smith (3.5 combined blocks & steals per game for his career!), who is 3 years younger, and maybe more importantly, has been in the league five fewer years. While Smith is undeniably a head-case, there are those who believe that you can get away with having one of these per team. I’m declaring Jamal Crawford to be past head-case status, clearing the way for Smith in Rip City.
Phoenix trades Marcin Gortat (6.7 mil), Shannon Brown (3.5 mil) and Jared Dudley (4.2 mil) for Josh Smith (12 mil) and Zaza Pachulia (4.7 mil)
Atlanta would shed Pachulia’s slightly inflated contract and save $2.3 million this season and $7 million next season assuming it doesn’t re-sign Shannon Brown. Meanwhile, they finally add a legitimate, rim-protecting center in Gortat (27), which would allow Horford to slide back comfortably to power forward. For a team with such lackadaisical chemistry – they are basically basketball’s Oasis at this point, minus the success – the addition of Dudley, one of the best glue guys in the league, would certainly boost morale, at least on paper. (I say on paper because who knows how great he’d feel about trading in Nash for Joe Johnson.)
Since Phoenix appears to be staunchly set on wasting the last few years of Nash’s career, they could at the very least give him a running mate who’s a poor man’s version of Amar’e in Josh Smith, rather than the homeless, crazy-eyed version they have in Hakim Warrick. For Smith, playing with Nash in an up-tempo offense would do wonders for the 26-year-old’s game that is beginning to look as though it’s peaked.
New Orleans trades Chris Kaman (14.3 mil, expiring) for Josh Smith (12 mil)
Tell me why Atlanta wouldn’t roll the dice on one year of Kaman. They’d be getting a legit seven-footer with a low-post game, which would (again) allow Horford to play the four. Plus, if it turns out Kaman is still Kaman despite being in a contract year, they could simply let him walk this summer and find themselves about $10-11 million under the salary cap. This would allow them to make a run at…crap, there really isn’t anyone out there beside Howard and Deron Williams. Still, for a team that pays a player (Johnson) who makes CEO’s jealous, cap flexibility should be a priority. Plus, I’d argue that maintaining this team “chemistry” should be the last thing they want to do. Why cap yourself out for a second-round exit and half-full arena?
New Orleans would get back another young player to build around, something they should be looking for if they have any intention of keeping Eric Gordon. With Smith (26) and Trevor Ariza (also 26) they would suddenly have one of the most athletic forward tandems in the league. They’d be an Okafor trade away from having something intriguing. By the way, I’m yet to hear a convincing justification for trading away Darren Collison before last season when they knew Chris Paul would at the very least test free agency. The man put up 19-9 (in 37 games) when Paul was out with an injury! What are the qualifications to be a GM, again? Oh, right, strong networking skills.
By Michael Levkowitz, Thomas Johnson and Ben Dowsett