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Hawks Do Themselves a Favor

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It's the simple solutions that often elude us.  Fortunately for the Atlanta faithful, that wasn't the case for General Manager Rick Sund and the Hawks last week.

Perhaps one of the best things that has happened to this team this off-season was Josh Smith signing the dotted line on an offer sheet with the Memphis Grizzlies a few days ago.  By taking action, Smith broke the apparent stalemate between himself and his team and forced the Hawks to finally get into gear.

Shortly thereafter, they did what they absolutely needed to do: match the offer.  Josh Smith is now about to become an even richer man than he already is, and the Hawks have avoided a summer of disaster.

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As we've explored on several previous occasions in this space, Smith no doubt has his flaws.  He needs to be more disciplined on defense.  His shot selection and efficiency could both improve.  Adding range would make him a far more dangerous offensive player.  The foul shooting needs to be more consistent.  Smith does have a history of somewhat immature behavior as well.

Fine.  But he's also 22 years old and one of the game's most promising young core players.  And that isn't all unrealized, some-day-far-off promise.  The versatile Smith put up a career-high 17.2 points to go with his 8.2 boards, 2.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per game this season.  Though he had some trouble offensively in the playoffs against the Celtics, Smith averaged nearly two steals and three blocks per game for the series.  He defends three positions, is one of the game's best weak-side shot-blockers and has the sort of explosiveness on both ends of the floor that can bring a crowd to its feet in the blink of an eye.

Beyond all that, this is a guy who has been nothing short of integral to the Hawks' first steps back toward the general vicinity of respectability.  This team unquestionably still has a long way to go, but when it got on the national stage against the Celtics this spring, it showed some unexpected feistiness and resilience.  Nobody was more responsible for that than Smith and Joe Johnson.  This team has some very nice young pieces in Al Horford and the still coming along Marvin Williams.  The Hawks are paying young veteran Johnson $15 million over each of the next two seasons, and this group showed down the stretch last year that it can at least compete with the midst of the pack in the East and give the powers a scare along the way.   But for all the promise on the roster, for all Johnson's dynamic play, for all the value that Mike Bibby held as a veteran presence last year and could hold as trade bait (he has a $15 million expiring contract) for another piece or two this season, taking Smith out of the equation would have short-circuited virtually all the steps this team took forward a season ago.

Having Josh Smith back aboard in Atlanta makes it clear that this team isn't Joe Johnson and a group of neophytes still proving themselves.  It is a team that is committed to building around two stud young swingman and a rapidly progressing big (Al Horford).  It is a team that is going to keep getting better and keep pushing the envelope further in the Eastern Conference over the next few years to come.

So kudos to the Hawks' front office.  It did exactly what it needed to on this one. 

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