I was all set to write a Hawks 2007 preview, and it involved a heavy dose of Josh Smith and why the Hawks really need to sign him to a long-term deal before the season starts. Then, this happened.
Smith is clearly set to make “the leap” (with apologies to Bill Simmons for stealing his phrase) this season. All offseason, he’s been saying the right things. He’s been talking about how he and the Hawks have one mission–to make the playoffs. He’s been talking about how he wants to lead this team, along with Joe Johnson, and get them over the plateau (the poop-covered, “hey, we’ve sucked for a long time” plateau–but still, good intentions).
More important than talk, though, has been his progression over the last couple of years:
04-05 – 10 points/6 rebounds
05-06 – 11/7
06-07 – 16/9
More notable were his stats in the last two months of the season, where he notched a 21/10 average.
By all accounts, the guy is a physical freak of nature. His vertical leap is spectacular, which is how he’s able to average 3 blocks a game in spite of his admittedly bad technique. All this on a salary of about $1.4 mill for 07-08. Oh, and he’s only 21 years old.
The Hawks have an opportunity to lock him in at a very affordable rate. However, the rumor is that their ownership squabbles are keeping them from signing anyone to a long-term contract of any large amount. True, Smith is a restricted free agent after the season, meaning the Hawks can match any deal he’s offered. However, the way he plays this year may price him out of the Hawks’ budget altogether.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen…