The Atlanta Hawks have made it no secret that forward Josh Smith is available, and the Brooklyn Nets, with a dearth of starting-level talent at the power forward position and a GM that’s no stranger to making moves, have either entered themselves or been entered by default into the conversation of teams looking to acquire him.
Nets fans have been through this before — if a top-level talent (whether or not you want to call Josh Smith a top-level player, he’s viewed as one of the most talented players in the league) is available, it’s a safe bet that Brooklyn will somehow get involved in the discussion. Smith is a natural fit: the Nets lack athleticism, a strong defensive presence inside (even with Lopez’s improvements, you wouldn’t call him better than average), and a starting power forward to even out their five-man rotation. Even in a down season, Smith fits the bill.
As with most imperfect players and scenarios, the further you dive into the Smith situation (which still needs a better name), the hazier it gets. Firstly, the Nets simply don’t have the assets to acquire a player of Smith’s caliber — as Brian Windhorst reported earlier today, Kris Humphries doesn’t interest Atlanta, nor multiple teams the Nets have called trying to construct a deal. Humphries, in the first of a two-year deal worth $12 million per season, has struggled with inconsistent playing time, averaging a career-low 9.2 field goal attempts per 36 minutes and shooting just 43.5% from the field this season. Humphries is not far removed from back-to-back double-double seasons, but his lack of production in Brooklyn would certainly scare off a team from desiring him as an asset.
Even outside of Humphries, the Nets lack a blue-chip type of prospect (like, say, Derrick Favors) that would entice another team into trading a talent like Josh Smith. MarShon Brooks is fun to watch, but hardly a superstar in the making. Tyshawn Taylor fell to the second round and hasn’t earned significant playing time in Brooklyn. Bojan Bogdanovic and Ilkan Karaman are both unknowns. Perhaps if the Nets had protected the pick they sent to Portland for Gerald Wallace at last year’s trade deadline, they’d have an additional asset to add to the pile (most likely Harrison Barnes), but that’s neither here nor there.
Regardless of Brooklyn’s interest or assets, a push to acquire Smith further cements the Nets’ roster deep into luxury tax territory; Smith is an unrestricted free agent after this season and will likely command a maximum-level contract on the open market. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov certainly has no qualms about spending money, but his comfort with his investment may begin to wane if he has yet another player signed to a high-cost deal if they’re not championship favorites. As talented as Smith is, he doesn’t turn this team into the class of the Eastern Conference overnight. Just how much will Prokhorov spend on a team that’s still an underdog against the Miami Heat?
Smith’s abilities are unquestioned; he’s an athletic marvel, an excellent passer for a player his size, and uniquely skilled as a finisher near the basket. His deficiencies are also well-documented, most notably his seemingly insatiable desire to prove he can shoot long-range jumpers with accuracy; this season, Smith has attempted 6.3 shots per game from outside of 16 feet, as opposed to just 5.1 per game at the rim. He is a 29% shooter from 16-23 feet and a 77.9% shooter at the rim. In Smith’s best season (2010), 72% of his shots came from within the restricted area and he took just seven three-pointers; in 2012-13 that percentage is down to just 50%. Perhaps if Smith completely abandoned the midrange shot — his lifelong weakness — a team could stomach his occasional three-point attempt, but that doesn’t seem likely in a Brooklyn Nets offense that’s flush with players that shoot constant mid-range shots.
Josh Smith would upgrade the Nets instantly. There isn’t much question there. But that’s about where the fun ends and the complications begin: they may not want to spend what it takes, they already have enough of the shot he takes too much, but most importantly, they just don’t have what it takes. I’ve been wrong before — more times than most people care to count — but because of the obstacles, I wouldn’t expect to see him in a Brooklyn uniform when the dust settles.