Hawks need Smith but can't break the bank

July, 22, 2008

I'm just returning from a much needed vacation to Louisiana. That's right, the bayou. And I didn't even go to New Orleans. I spent a week visiting family in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Church Point, and eating gumbo, po' boys, boudin, shrimp creole and, for breakfast, beignets.

'Twas nice.

Back in the day, I'd return to the NBA and find things quiet this time of year. But now you've got trade rumors and free agent upheaval keeping everyone busy. Where'd the offseason go?

First, I'll address Atlanta forward Josh Smith. Smith lost his leverage against the Hawks when Philadelphia signed Elton Brand and Golden State signed Corey Maggette. Now, he's at the Hawks' mercy.

But contrary to some opinions, they are showing mercy. According to sources, they are offering Smith a six-year deal worth $60 million.

Smith wants $12 million a year, and I can't blame him for wanting as much money as possible. But I think the Hawks are being fair.

With no competitors on the market, they could lowball Smith. They could offer him the same five-year, $45 million deal they offered last year, and no one could better it.

Smith's options are limited. Sign-and-trade opportunities are sparse because Smith will be a base-year compensation player, complicating matters financially, and his qualifying offer of $3.1 million isn't that high because he was just the 17th pick of the 2004 draft.

What Smith has to realize is that the Hawks have to protect their future. If they want to keep their young talent together, they can't break the bank for Smith. They're going to have to pay a lot of other folks too.

Mike Bibby's contract expires after this season, and the deals for Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams expire the following year. That's not to mention Al Horford, who'll be deserving of a big raise in a few years.

Plus, while Smith has blossomed into a potential All-Star, he hasn't led the Hawks anywhere yet. A 37-45 record is nothing to brag about, whether you took the champs to seven games or not. Atlanta is far from a playoff lock this season.

And Smith should consider himself blessed. Perhaps he should get a little bit more money, but he could also be in the same position as Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor, who probably wish they had taken deals worth at least $10 million annually last summer.

As for Atlanta's other free agent, Josh Childress, I'm told the Hawks are offering a five-year deal that begins at slightly more than the $5.5 million mid-level exception. So he's looking at a deal that could approach $7 million annually.

That's much more than any other NBA team is willing to pay him. He hasn't gotten a mid-level exception offer from another team, so the only leverage he has is overseas, where he's considering a three-year, $20 million offer from Olympiacos in Greece.

Three years, $20 million versus five years, roughly $34 million. What's the difference, other than more security with the NBA offer?

Both Smith and Childress should return to Atlanta.


• Detroit has offered to trade Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince twice, only to be turned down both times. Denver didn't want to part with Carmelo Anthony, and Houston refused to give up Tracy McGrady. Houston is dead set on building around McGrady and Yao, unless someone knocks them off their feet with an offer for T-Mac. Detroit isn't really shopping Billups and Prince, but obviously, they are willing to trade them for a big-time superstar.

• The Ron Artest to the Lakers talk is more media- and fan-driven than it is Lakers-driven. A source close to the situation told me, "L.A. hasn't decided that it needs to go out and get Ron. It's not really committed to making a Ron Artest trade. It would take Kobe really pushing for this deal to give it a really good chance of happening.'' Kobe and Artest are friends, and Kobe wants Artest in L.A., but after last summer's PR disaster, his front office forays are over. Chances are Artest will start the season in Sacramento, and if the Kings struggle, he could be moved before the February trade deadline.



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