ATLANTA — The Hawks could soon face a big decision with leading scorer Josh Smith, one of the most-discussed names in speculation leading up to the NBA trade deadline.
Smith, in his ninth season with his hometown Hawks, can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. That makes him a natural trade-deadline target, especially given general manager Danny Ferry’s established willingness to part with big contracts.
Ferry, who traded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams before the season, said Wednesday he’s open to any opportunity that makes long-term sense for the team.
“We’re in a unique situation right now with our current roster being competitive but also having potential cap space going forward,” Ferry said. “Like most teams we’re constantly evaluating ourselves and looking at the opportunities that may be out there to improve, whether that’s through internal growth or externally through trades.
“If there’s an opportunity that makes sense for the long-term interest of the Hawks, we’ll certainly look into it. We’ll definitely look into it.”
Ferry wouldn’t comment specifically on any talks with teams, including reports the Nets, Spurs and other teams have inquired about Smith.
The trade deadline is Feb. 21.
The Hawks are sixth in the Eastern Conference. Their postseason outlook took a hit when guard Lou Williams sustained a season-ending knee injury last month.
The 27-year-old Smith is known for his powerful left-handed dunks and defensive big plays with steals and blocked shots. He led the Hawks with his average of 17.1 points before Wednesday night’s game at Orlando, and he was second to center Al Horford with 8.6 rebounds per game.
Smith set career highs with his averages of 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds last season.
If he is not traded, Smith could be difficult to re-sign. Though he has never been an All-Star, he could ask for a maximum contract. The Hawks could offer five years and about $94 million, while other teams could offer up to about $70 million for four years.
Smith’s Atlanta-based agent, Wallace Prather, said the Hawks and Smith agreed there would be no contract talks until after the season.
“Management offered Josh an extension at the beginning of the year,” Prather said. “That’s the last that we spoke about Josh’s future in Atlanta.”
Prather wouldn’t speculate if Smith, who is making $13.2 million this season, can command a maximum contract.
“The market dictates that,” Prather said. “I don’t like to speak one way or the other. You can’t put the cart before the horse. You go out and play well and then when that contract comes up, you go out and find the best deal for you. ... Obviously, he’s playing at a high level.”
The Hawks have awarded only one max contract <0x2014> a six-year, $123 million deal with Johnson in 2010. Ferry was still new to his job in Atlanta when he dealt Johnson to the Nets.
Smith’s career has been filled with impressively balanced stat lines. He had 26 points, 13 rebounds and six assists Monday night in a 105-101 win at Dallas.
But there is another side to Smith, who was suspended by the team for one game last month for “conduct detrimental to the team” following an incident in practice.
Smith can follow spectacular plays with poor decisions. His 146 turnovers are only four below point guard Jeff Teague’s team-leading total.
Hawks coach Larry Drew said Smith’s positive far outweigh the mistakes. He said Smith should be representing the Eastern Conference in Sunday’s All-Star game.
“It’s just really unfortunate,” Drew said. “I think he’s having a phenomenal year. And I’ve said it before: Few players in the league can impact the game on both ends of the floor the way he can.
“He can defend all five positions. I’ve put him in a position where he had to defend all five positions in one game. You just have to keep doing what you’re doing. Sooner or later he will be recognized, as he should have already been, as an All-Star.”
Smith wasn’t happy in 2008 when the Hawks forced him to test his value on the open market as a restricted free agent. He signed an offer sheet with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Hawks quickly matched the offer.
Now the Hawks may face another decision with the power forward.
“Josh is a pretty good player, so I would assume there are a lot of people that are interested,” Prather said. “Now will they pull the trigger? Will they offer Danny something he likes?
“I think those teams are interested. ... If he is genuinely looking to move Josh, it’s up to him and those teams to work something out.”