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Restricted FA Drama Likely In Hotlanta

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Scary thought for Hawks fans: Josh Smith's days in Atlanta may be numbered.

Scary thought for Celts fans (and aficionados of other Eastern contenders): Chris McCosky of the Detroit News says the Pistons are likely to pursue Smith via a sign-and-trade.

The versatile Hawks forward made just $2.24 million in 2007-08, and the Hawks' $3.17 milliion qualifying offer will all but assuredly not be sufficient, thus making Smith a restricted free agent.  Over the last few days, both McCosky and ESPN's Chris Broussard have reported that Smith's asking price is likely to begin at $11 million per year, which the Hawks may have to opt against accepting.

As Broussard notes, this could be catastrophic for the Hawks.

It could also be quite beastly for any suitor that manages to snag Smith.

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This young Hawks team finally began to come together toward the end of the season, and that culminated with the morale boost provided by taking the Celtics to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.  While the 34-point drubbing they took in the final game undoubtedly left a sour taste in their mouths, this was a Hawks team not expected to make the playoffs or win a single game if they did, much less take the eventual champs the distance.

Despite the fact that he didn't have a great playoff series, Josh Smith was a huge part of that.  As has been in the case in each of the three years since his rookie season, he improved once again, shooting the ball more effectively and continuing to rebound and block shots quite well while somehow maintaining his role as a 6-foot-9, 225-pound "combo everything" player.  Though Smith's shooting was erratic in the series with the Celts (he was a shade below 40 percent from the field), he was a major factor throughout the series in altering shots with his wing-span and shot-blocking abilities on the inside, and he certainly discouraged Boston point guard Rajon Rondo from attacking the rim at times.  The guy also put up performances of 27 points (11-of-17 shooting), 9 boards and 6 assists in Game 3 and then 28 points (8-for-16 from the field, 12-of-13 from the line), 7 blocks and 6 boards in Game 4, both Atlanta victories.  He drastically stepped up his foul shooting from 71 percent in the regular season to 84 percent in the playoffs, and he was responsible for several crowd-raising highlight-reel plays on both ends of the floor throughout the season and playoffs.

For all his past conduct issues -- and there is no doubt some maturing left to be done -- Josh Smith had really begun the transformation into a leader on this Atlanta team when all was said and done last season.  Yes, he still turns the ball over a lot.  Yes, he still gambles a bit too much defensively and could play a more fundamentally sound game there.  Yes, he was a no-show in Game 7 against the Celtics, but so were all his likewise overmatched teammates against the team that would be crowned champions a month and a half later.  But he also continues to improve and to show the ability to become a potent threat in quite possibly every facet of the game.  The man can score, dish, rebound, block shots and play three positions quite comfortably.

Josh Smith is in the midst of playing a huge role in rejuvenating basketball in Atlanta.  If the Hawks are ultimately forced to let him walk, it will cost them far more than simply Smith's production on the court.  This team and its fan base will take a major blow in losing a vast part of the heart and soul of the group of upstarts.  While a sign-and-trade would certainly be better for the team than losing Smith for nothing, the Hawks would still be likely to lose a good portion of any positive vibes built with last year's run.  As it stands, Smith, Joe Johnson and Al Horford are to be the pillars of this team for some time to come.  The blow from losing Smith's excitement could affect everyone on this team from top to bottom.

In the meantime, the thought of Smith joining an established team could be downright terrifying, particularly if that team resides in Detroit.  Adding his youthful energy and explosiveness to a vet-laden team (plus Jason Maxiell and Rodney Stuckey) could re-invigorate the Pistons as a unit.  While I'm not sure what it would take Detroit to get him,no matter who goes, the Pistons could likely provide an environment that would be conducive to Smith's continued development both on the basketball court and off.  Playing in Detroit's system could help Smith gain a better grasp of how to harness his leaping and gambling in the most efficient ways possible, and having Smith would add another dimension to the Pistons' attack.

While Detroit is the situation for Smith that might be most dangerous to the Celtics, there are no shortage of other places in this league in which he would make an immediate impact.

Josh Smith still has a long way to go as a basketball player in this league.  But given both his game-breaking explosiveness and how far he has come already, the vote here is that he is more than worth a shot for anyone who can afford him.

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