Fans of curious shot selection who’ve been despondent since Glen Davis relocated to Orlando got some good news Monday. New Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry appears intent on taking apart the core of a Hawks roster that found an unyielding ceiling in the second round of the playoffs the last few seasons.
We’ve been down this road before, but Atlanta’s regime change may finally open the door for Josh Smith to land in Boston. It makes sense for a number of reasons. In fact, Smith (1 year, $13M remaining on his contract) is a near-perfect fit for what may prove a bridge year for the Celtics. Here’s why:
1) Smith addresses Boston’s rebounding problems. Smith had an impressive 24.7 DRR last season, just a shade behind Kevin Garnett (25.8). If the Celtics could get 55 minutes a game out of the two of them, that would go a long ways towards reestablishing Boston as a competent rebounding team, something they haven’t been for the last few years. It would also serve to reduce some of the rebounding pressure on Garnett, whose potential return must come with reduced minutes and burdens if he’s to maintain his high-levels of efficiency. Having a pogo-sticking Smith around to gobble up rebounds would save him wear and tear.
2) Acquiring Smith would make clear to KG (and the rest of the league) that the Celtics expect a deep playoff run next year and have no intention of going through a rebuild. Smith is a huge upgrade over any other Celtics big, including lovable-but-limiteds like Brandon Bass and Jeff Green. There was a lot of talk after game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals about how the Celtics were a “real” team and Miami was just a couple of stars. That proved a half-truth at best, but even if you buy into it, Miami’s victory should make clear that top-line talent wills out. Smith isn’t the most intellectual player in the league (again, I point you to Glen Davis) but his toolkit is utterly loaded.
3) Smith offers Doc Rivers all sorts of lineup possibilities. It’s easy to imagine an effective lineup with Smith (block) and KG (midrange) both on the floor. It’s equally easy to picture them spelling one another because Smith can play center in small lineups or power forward in big ones, just like Garnett. A lineup featuring Rondo, Smith, Garnett, Avery Bradley and any small forward (presumably Paul Pierce) could threaten defensive efficiency records for a five man unit.
Smith’s also a lethal open-court player, the kind Rondo has never had in Boston. It’s worth lingering on that idea. Neither Smith nor Rondo has been in a position where their skills have been optimized by the talent around them, save perhaps at Oak Hill Academy, where they played together. Smith, for all his gifts, hasn’t come near his ceiling. Part of that is due to the organizational culture in Atlanta, part of that is on him, and part of it is just the guys he’s taken the court with each year. The pieces can fit better than they have.
It’s not without warts, of course. Any lineup with Rondo and Smith runs the risk of facing endlessly sagging defenses, but if there’s sufficient shooting around them to spread the floor, and Smith does enough time in the paint, it seems workable, particularly as a single-year experiment.
4) He plays all sorts of defense. I’m not seduced by the blocks or the steals, although there are sexy numbers to be found. What really gets me worked up is Smith’s ability to defend the pick and roll, a major concern in the modern NBA and a particular one for a team that will have to go through Miami to get to banner #18. His size, speed and athleticism would also give Boston additional man-defense options against power-threes and big, athletic fours. LeBron James, of course, is both of those combined.
5) It’s relatively low risk. Smith has long seemed to harbor a desire to leave Atlanta and with only a single year left on his contract, the Celtics could try him before they buy him, assuming they can make a deal work (I’m not going to get into making up fake trades but you can safely assume the involvement of at least a couple of draft picks, a young player, and maybe a third team). If Smith proves a fit, the core of an athletic running team is in place. If he doesn’t, Danny Ainge can sign-and-trade him for someone that is or let him walk away and use the cap space left behind.
So, there it is. Our annual Josh Smith prospectus.
Be back here next June when we’ll do it all over again.