It took Danny Ferry exactly seven days in his new role as the Atlanta Hawks' president of basketball operations and general manager to completely change the face of the franchise.
His ability to swiftly orchestrate separate deals to part with high-priced veterans Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams signaled a commitment to rebuilding and shed as much as $77 million still owed to the two veterans beyond next season.
Fast-forward two-and-a-half months to today, and Ferry's rebuilt roster has only a handful of contracts that go beyond the 2012-13 season:
• Al Horford: Signed through 2015-16.
• Lou Williams: Signed through 2013-14.
• John Jenkins: 2012 first-round pick.
• Mike Scott: 2012 second-round pick.
• Jeff Teague: Due to become a restricted free agent at season's end, barring an extension.
Notice one big name we didn't mention: Josh Smith.
The tantalizingly talented, yet often frustrating, forward is among the many Hawks entering the final year of their deals, and he represents arguably the biggest challenge for Ferry to date: what to do with Smith.
If handled correctly, this could be the next step toward eventually turning the Hawks into a perennial playoff contender. Mishandled, and this could undo everything good that came out of the trades of Johnson and Williams.
So the question is, what's the smarter move for Ferry and the Hawks?
a) Negotiate an extension that will keep Smith in Atlanta for the long term.
b) Peddle him to a contender seeking one final piece for a shot at the title.
Let's delve into that.
Smith, 26, is due $13.2 million this season and is coming off a season in which he established personal highs in both points (18.8) and rebounds (9.6). Even though these numbers coincided with Horford being limited to 11 regular-season games due to a shoulder injury, naturally inflating Smith's numbers, Ferry made it clear in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the summer that he likes what Smith has to offer.
"He's a really good player," Ferry told the newspaper. "I love his ability to pass the ball. I love his ability to make game-changing plays defensively. I love his competitiveness. If I was out there playing, I would want Josh on my team."
Last season, Smith's 21.16 PER ranked him No. 8 among all power forwards who played a minimum of 40 games and averaged at least 30 minutes, putting him right ahead of Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, David Lee and Chris Bosh.
According to stat projections by Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus, Smith is expected to average 17.3 points and 9.1 rebounds in 2012-13. Yes, those numbers would be down from what Smith did last season, but they'd still represent Smith's second-best season in terms of both points and rebounds.
Using Synergy Sports Technology to look deeper at the stats, it becomes clearer that Smith's biggest strength at this stage in his career actually is defense. He has fared particularly well when defending the spot-up and post-up, as you can see below:
Smith: Defending the Spot Up
Year Pct. of Time Points Per Play #NBArank Rating
2012 23.2 0.905 182 Good
2011 25 0.847 72 Excellent
Two things stand out, here. While these numbers are good, they are hardly eye-popping (as you can see by the NBA rank). And still, they ranked better than anything Smith did offensively, according to Synergy.
Smith: Defending the Post Up
Year Pct. of Time Points Per Play NBA Rank Rating
2012 22.9 0.753 119 Very Good
2011 20 0.819 147 Good
One of the few exceptions is in cuts to the basket, where he's routinely excelled; 8.9 percent of Smith's offense came via that route last season, and his 1.355 PPP in those situations ranked No. 55 in the NBA. The year before, his 1.426 PPP in cuts to the basket ranked No. 44 in the league.
Are there flaws to Smith? Sure.
His reluctance to go inside the paint and preference to settle for the "long two" -- long regarded as the worst shot to take in any level of basketball -- is often vexing, particularly for a 6-foot-9, 225-pound athlete like Smith who has consistently been a reliable scorer closer to the basket.
As Kirk Goldsberry of CourtVisionAnalytics.com pointed out earlier this month, 16.3 percent of Smith's field goal attempts came via the "long two" a season ago -- the highest percentage in the league. More maddening is that he wasn't even a league average shooter from that range.
Considering all this, as well as the estimated $50-60 million that it'd cost to keep him in Atlanta beyond 2012-13 and the strained relations he's often had with the franchise over the years, one has to believe that Ferry might have to consider moving him for the right package.
Finding a trade partner is the tricky part.
Any team with an interest in Smith would likely have to be a contender tradable assets with a willingness to gamble that it could then convince him to ink a long-term deal.
The other difficult aspect to this is that the rebuilding Hawks would need a promising piece in return (ideally a small forward or power forward) whom they could build around, and possibly a first-round pick or two. How many contending teams are willing to part with something like that? Not many.
That being said, here are some potential fits:
Indiana Pacers: Smith for David West, Paul George
The Pacers need another piece to compete with the Miamis and Brooklyns of the East, and Smith could be a younger, more athletic alternative to David West alongside Roy Hibbert in the frontcourt. West, like Smith, is due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, and in order to make the deal work, the Pacers would have to be willing to unload one of their younger, up-and-coming talents like Paul George.
From the Hawks' perspective, this would essentially be a move to get George. Indiana would be getting a player in Smith who may seem like an odd fit in Frank Vogel's slow-it-down offensive system, but it could work, and here's why: The Pacers have taken considerably less 3-pointers and shot more efficiently since Vogel took over, and Smith's career could take off if he's able to buy in.
Toronto Raptors: Smith for Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis and a first-round pick
Some would argue about Toronto being a "contender," but Raptors coach Dwayne Casey is known for his defense and the franchise spent the offseason restructuring its team to fit that approach. The Raptors also have the pieces to make such a deal. Smith would give Casey more of an athletic rebounder at the 4 to put next to highly touted rookie center Jonas Valanciunas and enable the team to move on from the perimeter-oriented Bargnani and still unproven Davis.
Where Atlanta is concerned, it would add yet another shooter and scorer in Bargnani, who is signed through 2014-15, a big man with promise in Davis, and potentially a solid draft pick who would likely be somewhere in the middle of the first round.