Friday, March 9, 2012

Dig This Groove: Don't Trade Smoove!

Even within the context of a compressed and grueling 2011-2012 NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks have been especially susceptible to the injury bug. Al Horford is gone until the playoffs, Joe Johnson has missed significant time, and seemingly half our role players have been posting various ailment-related DNPs in the box scores of late. The sole bright spark in the midst of this chaos, the turbine that continues to power playoff hopes even as things are crumbling, has been Josh Smith.

Smoove has become a one-man arsenal of aggressive versatility recently, averaging 23.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.5 Blocks, and roughly 3 dimes and 1 steal over the last five games, and playing his usual ferocious defense. He is submitting these sublime performances for three reasons: first, there ain't anyone else healthy on the Hawks who can produce right now, so he's filling the gaps as best he can. Second, Smith is unquestionably playing with an Everest-sized chip on his shoulder after getting snubbed from the All-Star Game, and it's fueling his spree of sheer ballitude (shut up, it's a sorta-word) like a NOS feed pushing a modded-out street racer. And third: he could do this all the time if he so chose.

Unfortunately, this is also the Josh Smith who takes so many ill-advised long jumpers, which he can't hit but insists on jacking up anyway. This is the same guy who might as well be phoning it in from Thailand some nights he's so checked out. And now, it's the same guy who wants out of Atlanta.

A few days ago, Smith let it be known that he would very much like a trade before the March 15 deadline. This is both thoroughly unsurprising and perfectly understandable. The Hawks are mired in the perpetual make-the-playoffs-and-get-crushed-by-a-superior-team doldrums. They play a sluggish isolation style that minimizes the effectiveness and beauty of Smoove's game, which is flying up, down, and around the court and demolishing anyone in his path. Oh yes, and Josh Smith is the only player I've ever seen get booed by his home crowd every time he takes a shot more than five feet from the rim. I can see where the man might want a change of scenery.

Over at the bastion of internet awesomeness known as Hardwood Paroxysm, Noam Schiller wrote about the possibility of a Josh Smith trade, and that post included the following:

"Of course, [a trade] fits with us just fine. We hate Josh Smith in Atlanta, and we fully understand if he hates it as well."

Dear Noam, I am a huge fan of your work, but please, please shut up. Atlanta absolutely cannot trade Smoove. I might be the only one, but I most definitely do not hate him. I love Josh Smith; I treasure him, in fact. Because think about it: Josh Smith is almost all we have.

We're not getting out of this maddening, middling mediocrity until the financial albatross that is Joe Johnson's contract comes off the books. (And maybe not even then because the ASG ownership is a walking debacle and a waking nightmare.) Not only is Joe the most overpaid "star" in the game, he's also by far the least entertaining. I have never vehemently disliked watching a good Hawks player before, or any Hawks player, really, but I really, really, hate watching Joe Johnson play basketball. He is the most thoroughly "blah" twenty-a-night guy of all time. Then there's good ol' Al Horford, who when healthy is so very good at his job, but it's all dirty work and grind, the kind of thing you deeply appreciate but can't really admire. I love the man, but he'll never be the recipient of breathless superlatives. Jeff Teague's emergence has been ... uh ... nifty. Yup, nifty is about the right level of adjective for that. Nothing less, nothing more. Zaza Pachulia has one of the most enjoyable names to pronounce in the history of the game, but he's precisely adequate as a basketball player. T-Mac is fun when he gets cooking, but he's so old that it's a rare occasion at best.

Ivan Johnson is, well, freaking awesome. Give him more minutes, Larry. Please.

And then there's Smoove, who is the only player on our roster capable of owning the term "awe-inspiring." Yes, he's monumentally frustrating at times. Yes, those 19-footers make me alternately cringe and scream at the television. But I've reached a place of acceptance with Josh, because when he rams one home on the break or flies out of nowhere for a monster block, he's the only guy in the league who approaches (and occasionally surpasses) LeBron territory in terms of sheer "HOLY CRAP DID YOU SEE THAT?!?!?!" athleticism. He is, quite simply, a totally unique entity to behold on a basketball court. We can't lose him.

So please, please, ye gods of hoops, don't let the Hawks trade Josh Smith. Bland and uninspiring as they are, he is the only consistently fun thing about watching my team, and I will put up with every last terrible decision and slacker night in exchange for those moments when he shifts into that gear that only he possesses and makes the impossible look effortless. From my point of view, that's more than a fair trade.


  1. Bret LaGree talked about the Hawks' "shockingly-bad talent evaluation" in reference to years of futility in the draft. But I think this phrase extends to the team's evaluation of the talent ON ITS OWN ROSTER. We all know about Teague being burried on the bench (he may not be an All-Star, but he's a dramatic step up from Mike Bibby). But look at Larry's treatment of Zaza and Ivan, two players with the potential to put up a double-double on any given night.

    The largest indictment of the Hawks franchise will come in the event that Josh goes to another team and blossoms into a full-blown superstar. That talent has been on our roster all these years, and the best the Hawks could come up with to develop it was Mike Woodson and Larry Drew.

  2. Buddy, I see your point, the Hawks have certainly failed to utilize their assets effectively. Bibby starting ahead of anyone was egregiously terrible, much less the gem that Teague has become. And, of course, our choice of head coaches has been ... um ... suspect at best. However, Ivan bounced around the D-League (and Korea) for a reason, and I don't consider Zaza's treatment as particularly wrong. He's a fine player, but he should not be starting ahead of Horford if Al is healthy. I think his minutes have been about right, all things considered. As far as Smoove leaving and that reflecting poorly on the Hawks, yes it would. He's on a very reasonable contract and is obviously one of the most devastating players in the league when his mind is right. AS I wrote, I don't want him traded. Problem: unless they use the amnesty option on Joe, they aren't adding significant pieces anytime soon without trading Smoove. Personally, I am willing to wait out this current period of mediocrity and reboot with Smoove and Teague in a few seasons, but this crappy ownership may not see things that way. I guess we'll just wait and see, and enjoy the small victories in the meantime.