No trade winds swirling and no swift headlines for the Atlanta Hawks, who were dangling their burdensome yet talented forwardabove the hungry teams that were willing to take a chance on acquiring him as the trade deadline came and passed. With no assurance of loyalty to anyone at this point, Smith wasn’t worth the efforts of teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks. But a plan worth suspecting could assure that Smith’s loyalty is to a future dynasty, fully in control with a certain fellow ATL-lien all ears for it.
With both Smith and Los Angeles Lakers center andentering free agency this summer, could a possibility be that the two players conjoin in Atlanta to fuse a dangerous young trio with star center/power forward Al Horford? Howard, who was born and raised in Atlanta, played with Smith for a city AAU team in 2003. Holding their respective teams hostage, Howard and Smith are well positioned to hold Atlanta above the rest of the Eastern Conference and possibly the entire league for years to come, with a storyline too good for either to pass up.
There’s not much need to delve too deeply into the debacle that is the current Lakers season. Questions have surrounded and hounded Howard all season long, aimed directly (from critics, players and above all else, Kobe Bryant) his devotion to the purple and gold and his heart as a competitor. Skeptics should place a keen eye to what I’m about to respond with, in regards to today’s players towards the casual fan: It’s their business, your entertainment and not their business to entertain you. Howard doesn’t have to do anything but play for the contract he signs, the management that pays him, the coaches that monitor him and the teammates that battle alongside him. He has done just that, injured and all. From a business perspective, Howard can leave Tinseltown if he doesn’t feel welcome, if he doesn’t feel at home. Atlanta is home for Howard. That’s where it seems he’ll feel welcome and where the Hawks feel like they have a shot at a championship. That good feeling trumps the sales pitches of the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, teams that're also maneuvering for a big free agent frenzy.
Smith has done nothing but play hard for the Hawks when the team appeared to play things easy. He certainly is a coveted player throughout the league and anyone would be happy to have. With a well-rounded statistic arsenal (17.3 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game, 4.2 assists per game, 1.3 steals per game, 2.1 blocks per game) second onlyin this league and should pave way for a new deal and a chance to create a big splash in recruiting his friend Howard to return to his hometown. But Smith's temperment with the franchise's inconsistent seasons has convinced him to ask for a trade, one that the Hawks both refused and failed to accomplish. Smith and Howard are eyeing max contracts, but much like the defending NBA champion Miami Heat saw its impending stars James and make financial “sacrifices” for the sake of chasing a ring, this trio might need to make the same amends under a cap-stingy collective bargaining agreement to make this work. James and Bosh took less money (laughable for the working class, considering how much these studs normally make) to join Dwyane Wade to form what is now the premier unit in pro basketball. Howard, Smith and Horford could certainly take notes.
Horford, already one of the game’s most underrated and underappreciated talents (should’ve made the East All-Star team this year), would like nothing more than to find his talents rewarded with a move to his proper position (power forward) and a fighting chance against their powerful division rival in South Beach. Already a high-percentage scorer (at least 49 percent from the field every season), Horford won’t need long to be able to play with a paint-dweller like Howard. His chemistry with Smith already has significant impact (the Hawks are nothing this season if Horford and Smith don’t flourish together) and Hawks coachis no Mike D’Antoni. And that may sound negative in Drew’s case, but that’s sweet music to Howard’s ears. D'Antoni can coach Howard, but not to a championship with his guard-centric system. Drew has catered his team to play inside-out a strict similarity to how Howard's former coach, , operated with him during their years in Orlando, despite the highs and eventual lows.
Brooklyn could very well still be the top destination for Howard, but Atlanta should be sitting pretty. It’s no slow market and has a future for Howard. The skill set and All-Star emergence of centercomplicates Brooklyn’s plans, while Smith’s influence simplifies Atlanta’s. Howard’s future with the Lakers would only come based on the potential money he could make. An aging roster and a clouded sense of direction is standing before him; a younger roster and renewed faith from a southern fan base that craves excitement will stand for him. Many could grade this possibility across the board, but a plan that could brood for these three players and this city sets up to get an A, notwithstanding two fingers pointed down.