The Hawks have one day left to make a decision that will determine the franchise's fate over the next several seasons.
With the NBA trade deadline looming at 3 PM Thursday, February 21, the Hawks must once and for all decide what they will do with forward Josh Smith, eligible for free agency at the end of this season. There are several teams being bandied about for trade possibilities, and it is also likely that Smith stays in Atlanta if the team decides to strengthen up this year or try to retain Smith after this year in his hometown.
Here are six possible destinations for the nine-year forward:
1. Milwaukee. Talks have heated up between the Hawks and Bucks, centering around Monta Ellis in exchange for Smith. Ellis is signed for this season and next at $11 million per year, and would help in the backcourt alongside Jeff Teague. Milwaukee might balk, though, if it seems Smith might not want to sign long-term in Milwaukee. Furthermore, it seems unlikely the trade would occur with the two teams so close in the standings - Atlanta is 6th and Milwaukee 8th in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks may have to take on an asset like Drew Gooden ($6.6M per year for 3 yrs) to convince the Bucks to take Smith. Possibility: 10%
2. Phoenix. Smith may be sent to Phoenix in a deal involving Sebastian Telfair and Jermaine O'Neal. The Hawks would probably have to absorb Channing Frye's $6 million salary to offset the deal - Frye is out until next season. Telfair might help the Hawks a bit in the backcourt, Smith, meanwhile, would help the Suns but it would seem unlikely he would want to play out the string for the rest of the year on one of the league's worst teams. Sources are beginning to rule this deal unlikely, as do I. Possibility: 5%.
3. Brooklyn. The Nets lifted Joe Johnson out of Atlanta and owner Mikhail Prokhorov may be willing to pluck Smith from Atlanta as well. I'm not sure how willing Smith would be to join forces with Joe Johnson again. The most rumored deal has a trade giving the Hawks MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, and a first-round pick - a deal that would pulverize the Hawks on the offensive end and ensure an immediate drop out of the playoff picture for Atlanta. Sadly, it's also the most likely trade destination financially. Possibility: 35%
4. Washington. The Wizards have indicated that anyone on their roster is available in a deal for Smith except for John Wall, Nene, or Bradley Beal. Smith might be OK with a deal here, but the Hawks could end up with a combination of Emeka Okafor, Jan Vesely, and picks. Like Phoenix, though, it is a rebuilding effort and might take a while to get to a winning formula, which Smith may not be willing to accept. Possibility: 5%.
5. Boston. The Celtics have come together after the devastating Rajon Rondo injury, reeling off seven straight wins and surging back into the playoff race on the backs of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Boston was a hot-topic destination for Smith but a deal would mean shipping Paul Pierce out of Boston, where he has spent his entire career. It seems unlikely that Danny Ainge would deal the 14-year veteran after all he has brought to the team, but if the Celtics decide it's time to rebuild, then it's possible. This would also be accompanied by a Kevin Garnett trade as well, to be sure, but I can't see the Celtics abandoning two players who have bled green for them for so long. Possibility: 15%.
6. Atlanta. After all is said and done, the Hawks might decide to stand pat and not trade Smith, meaning they would decide he is a max-player after all and prepared to get him to re-sign this off-season If that is the case, the Hawks have made some space available to bring in supporting pieces this off-season based on Smith's demands - whether on the court or in the coaching realm. It may also mean the Hawks are buyers at the deadline, moving one of many other pending free agents (only five players are under contract for 2013-14) to add pieces to win right now. It makes the Hawks a decent bet to be Smith's team come Friday. Possibility: 30%.
We'll know what path the Hawks choose by tomorrow night.