Josh Smith is a flawed hero, a player who wants a max contract but can't make the All-Star team, a player with enormous physical talents but a difficult personality, a player who is solid beyond the arc, but can't hit his free throws. And he will not be easy to get, with the limited assets the Nets possess ... and the likely competition.
Smith is 27 and he is durable, missing an average of 5.5 games a year and only two to injury over the last season and a half. With the exception of his free throw shooting, he's having one of his best years and the Hawks are winning with him as their best player.
His scoring average of 17.4 is currently the second highest of his career and leads the Hawks. His three-point shooting average, at 35.4 percent, is the highest of his career, as is his assists per game, at 4.6 per game. His overall shooting mark of 46 percent is his fourth best. Rebounding, at 8.6 per game, is his third best. He's cut down on his turnovers but is still tenth in the league. His shot blocking remains strong at 2.2 per game, good for for seventh in the league.
His last two games before the break showed what he can do when playing at his highest level. In wins over Orlando and Dallas, he averaged 28 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a blocked shot, shot 23-of-35 (65.7 percent) overall and 6-of-8 (75 percent) from three, while playing 75 minutes. He also shot 4-of-11 (36.4 percent) from the stripe and had five turnovers vs. the Mavericks.
Then again, his shot selection and free throw shooting seem to have regressed. His trips to the line are likely to be a career low this season while his three point shots are likely be a career high. And he's hitting only 50 percent of his free throws, down from 72.5 percent two years ago. How does that happen?
Putting numbers aside, he is a great athlete, a good (enough) deep shooter and an emotional player, all things the Nets could use. His athleticism is legendary. He won the Slam Dunk contest as a rookie. Three years ago, Smith became the youngest player in league history to get to 1,000 blocks, after being the youngest to reach 500 and the youngest to record 10 blocks in a game. He is currently 13th in the league in dunks, with 77.
His emotion on the court is as Kenyon Martin-like as his athleticism. He plays with a passion that is often just short of out-of-control. He has seven technicals this year, good (bad?) enough for 13th in the league, down from third last season, when his amassed 11. He is not a dirty player. He hasn't been called for a flagrant this season.
His emotions can be disruptive. He was suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team" in January after being thrown out of practice by coach Larry Drew. His frustrations had been building on the court during a losing streak and boiled over at practice. He apologized in a statement released by the team. "Clearly I am competitive and was frustrated by our recent losses," he wrote. "I understand and respect the team's actions and just want to get back on the court to do whatever is necessary to help my teammates." They won without him, beating the Nets, then lost with him the next night, when he had a miserable 5-of-15 shooting night in Brooklyn.
Shortly thereafter, the trade talk began, with reports that he had turned down a three-year, $37 million deal and wanted instead a five-year max deal that would pay him $20 million plus per season in the last two, when he would be 31 and 32 years old and in his 12th and 13th seasons, dangerous territory. Then, there were reports that the Nets were in the lead as a trade partner, driven more by the Nets' proven record of spending money than the reality of them being able to offer a competitive package to the Hawks.
He would change the Nets' personality and require re-thinking of the "system." His athleticism would lead to a more hyperactive offense, his shot-blocking would add to the defense. His emotion, if under control, could kick start a group that often seems to play without it. He and Joe Johnson could reprise some of their Hawks highlights. And he would sell tickets.
BUT, does Smith become yet another player who needs the ball? In an offense where Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are still working things out, would his arrival make things even messier? In other words, would another star make things better or worse? Would he see himself as a complementary piece or, playing for a new contract, try to prove he's something more? How does he mesh with Gerald Wallace? Can the current coaching staff handle him? And how do they get him?
Adrian Wojnarowski reports Sunday "Bucks, Nets, Celtics, 76ers, Wizards, others" are talking to the Hawks. Whether that's the order of likelihood, or degree of difficulty, Woj didn't say. He did say, "Strong belief he's moved." Others, like Peter Vecsey have said the Nets would almost certainly need a third team to entice the Hawks. According to one report, they're more interested in MarShon Brooks, who grew up in Atlanta, than Kris Humphries. Danny Ferry initially asked for Brooks in the Joe Johnson deal last summer. And the Nets do have seven first round picks and three second rounders available.
It's highly unlikely that the Nets will trade valuable pieces for him without an assurance he will re-sign a reasonable contract that doesn't include the word "max" ... not in his environment, not after spending $347.5 million last summer all told. And that's without an estimated $22.6 million in luxury tax. It is believed, even accepted, that Mikhail Prokhorov will greenlight any deal that brings the team close to his goal of a championship by 2015. But the Nets' front office would have to believe the addition of the talented but emotional Smith, at any price, is going to add or subtract from the team and whether the money is better spent elsewhere.