Playmaker still fielding offers

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ATLANTA --- The relief Hawks fans felt when Elton Brand signed with the 76ers might have lasted only as long as it took Josh Smith to sit down for dinner in Los Angeles with Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy.

Smith, the Atlanta Hawks' restricted free agent forward, was courted by Philadelphia before the 76ers instead signed Brand, an unrestricted free agent, on Wednesday.

Brand left the Los Angeles Clippers, who immediately set their sights on Smith. The Los Angeles Times reported Smith had dinner with Dunleavy, the Clippers' coach, on Wednesday.

That leaves the Hawks again waiting to see if the 22-year-old Smith receives an offer from the Clippers.

Smith's agent, Brian Dyke, did not return a phone call on Thursday.

The Clippers signed guard Baron Davis to a five-year, $65 million contract and might not have sufficient funds or salary cap room to make an offer for Smith that the Hawks could not match.

The Hawks have seven days to match any offer sheet for Smith.

The Clippers might also have interest in Charlotte forward Emeka Okafor, also a restricted free agent.

Smith, who was second in the NBA with 2.8 blocks per game last season, is best known for his defensive skills. But he has made consistent progress as an offensive complement to shooting guard Joe Johnson.

Smith's scoring average has increased in each of his four seasons, and his shooting percentage from the field has improved each of the past three years. He averaged a career-best 17.2 points per game with 8.2 rebounds last season. His 45.7 percent field-goal percentage and average of 3.4 assists also were career highs.

The 6-foot-9 Smith's value is based on more than just statistics. His blocked shots and soaring left-handed power jams make him the Hawks' biggest hit on TV highlight shows. It doesn't hurt that he's also a native of the Atlanta area.

Before he began visiting other teams, Smith said he wants to remain in Atlanta.

"Of course I want to stay with this team," Smith said. "I grew up a Hawks fan. They're my hometown team. As a free agent, you're going to listen to what other clubs have to offer, but I hope to be here for a long time."


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