If it was Josh Smith’s last night as a Hawk, it was a forgettable one. Not because Smith played poorly or sulked about calls or wasn’t engaged, as has sometimes been the case for the mercurial forward, but because his play on the court was an afterthought in a Hawks loss.
The Miami Heat dominated the fourth quarter with Ray Allen and Shane Battier taking turns torching the Hawks from deep. The Heat outscored the Hawks 40-17 in the quarter, coming from behind to win the game 103-90.
But once the game had been played and the scoreboard read all zeros, all anyone could talk about was whether Smith, a College Park native, would still be in Atlanta after Thursday at 3:00 p.m. EST, the NBA’s trade deadline.
“It’ll be a relief from all the questions I have to keep answering,” Smith said of the looming trade deadline. “It’s everywhere. I just stay to myself and just focus on basketball. We’ll see.”
Defensively, Smith played about as well on Wednesday night as he has in his Hawks career. He started the game at small forward in a lineup Coach Larry Drew put together specifically for him to guard the NBA’s best player, LeBron James.
Smith turned in a solid performance, ending James’ streak of seven consecutive games with 30 or more points. The three-time MVP finished with 24 points and 11 assists, but worked for everything he got and often looked to pass when Smith was guarding him.
“I thought he did a really good job. He will take the challenge against LeBron and did tonight,” said Drew. “Overall, he had a really solid game.”
If Smith’s days in Atlanta are truly over, Wednesday night’s loss to the Heat illustrated the brilliance, aggravation and everything else that the former Atlanta basketball standout’s time in Atlanta has been.
Smith came up just short of a triple double. He finished with 10 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. But it came on an abysmal shooting night where he was 0-4 from three point rage, shot 38 percent from the floor, didn’t get to the free throw line once and forced up very bad, very ugly jumpers time after time from long range that made the crowd at Philips Arena audibly distressed.
There is no sound in basketball quite like the collective gasp/groan that emanates from Philips when Josh launches a three.
Fans have learned to take the good with the bad from their star. But his coaches and teammates were nothing but complimentary of him throughout the trade talk and it genuinely seems like no one within the Hawks team wants to see number 5 playing for anyone else.
“We love Josh and I think Josh loves Atlanta,”point guard Jeff Teague said during All-Star weekend.
His coach seems almost pained when the subjects is broached.
“I haven’t thought about that,” said Drew about the prospect of Smith being traded. “I’ve turned myself away from that. Right now he’s still a Hawk and we’ll see what happens.”
But there’s a reason that every year around the trade deadline Smith’s name is circulating in the rumor mill. He’s been…to call it inconsistent would be putting it nicely. To call it disappointing might be oversimplifying. What he hasn’t been is the superstar Hawks fans were hoping for.
Smith came into the league straight out of Oak Hill Academy, by way of Powder Springs’ John McEachern High, and Hawks fans had reason to be excited about the local boy done good. Taken with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2004 draft, Smith quickly become a star in Atlanta.
He won the Slam Dunk Contest during his rookie year in 2005 and averaged just under 10 points, 6.2 rebounds and almost 2 blocks per game that year. He was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
In his first NBA season, he finished second in the NBA in total blocks, 4th in blocks per game and averaged 15.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.1 apg, 3.1 bpg and 1.0 spg after the All-Star break. His contribution helped the Hawks double their win total of 13 wins from the previous season to finish 26-56.
The hits kept on coming from the man dubbed “J Smoove.” During the 2006-2007 season, Smith averaged a career high in blocks with 2.9 per game and increased his points-per-game total from 11.3 to 16.7.
In February 2010, Smith became the youngest player (at 24 years old) to block 1000 shots. That same year he was awarded the Jason Collier Memorial Trophy for his work in the community and was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team.
When new general manager Danny Ferry shipped Joe Johnson to Brooklyn and Marvin Williams to Utah before the start of the 2012-13 season, it was J Smoove’s show and it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride.
Smith has upped his game and become the unquestioned leader and best player on the team. He’s averaging 18.8 points per game and 9.6 rebounds, both are the highest of his career.
He led the team out of the gate to a surprising and impressive 20-10 start, but they have fallen back to earth since and fallen hard. During the rough stretch the Hawks have been, going 9-13 and falling into the seven spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Smith’s struggles have been the focal point.
He was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team” on January 16 for a pivotal game against the Brooklyn Nets and the team went out and won without him. They are 3-0 when he doesn’t play this season and they score more baskets, generate more assists and hold opponents to fewer points.
Not that it means anything, but Smith was -8 for the game on Wednesday. Al Hordord handled the inside scoring almost entirely by himself, putting in 27 points on a much more efficient 12-of-15 shooting night.
If it is all over, for better or for worse the 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks were Josh Smith’s team. And if the rumors are true and the Hawks enter an era that does not include one of the most exciting, engaging and enigmatic players in Hawks history, fans can say that it wasn’t always pretty, the team didn’t always win, but if nothing else these eight years have been fun. A lot of fun. Thanks to J Smoove.