Josh Smith's agent spoke with Hawks general manager Danny Ferry on Wednesday to discuss what he characterized as "a lot of frustration" with the team's recent spiral, but stopped short of making a trade request.
"As far as moving forward and whatever changes will be made, that's more so management's job to field those calls and make the decisions they feel like are best to move forward," Smith's agent, Wallace Prather, told CBSSports.com.
While Prather made it clear that Smith is concerned about how the once-hot Hawks have rolled over in losing six of their last seven games and seven out of nine, neither he nor his client has asked for a trade. Smith will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and barring an unlikely departure from Los Angeles for Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, would be among the top players on the unrestricted market.
"I do know there are teams interested," Prather said.
Multiple rival executives confirmed that the Hawks have participated in trade conversations with several teams regarding Smith, a 27-year-old game-changing defender when engaged.
The Hawks hit rock bottom in their recent swoon Monday night with an embarrassing 97-58 loss to the Bulls in which they managed to score only five points in the second quarter. Afterward, coach Larry Drew promised changes, and said, "It's time that we do shake things up."
Drew may have unwittingly inferred that the changes could involve more than a tweak to the starting lineup or rotation.
The Hawks face a dilemma with Smith, whose love-hate relationship with playing his entire NBA career thus far in his hometown of Atlanta will be put to the ultimate test if the Hawks continue to struggle. Smith's $13.2 million falls off the Hawks' books after the season, into an already massive abyss of cap space that the team has cleared to revamp the roster after trading high-priced All-Star Joe Johnson to the Nets.
Teams with such room and flexibility -- including the likes of the Cavaliers, Mavericks, Bucks and Jazz -- are beginning to examine the potential free-agent options and reconsider their strategies. Unless Ferry were able to land either Paul or Howard this summer -- a long shot in both cases, even though Howard, too, is from Atlanta -- someone in his position might decide it's best to parlay assets into players now.
Among the teams that would appeal to Smith are Dallas, Houston and Memphis, a league source told CBSSports.com. The Grizzlies, in the midst of establishing the value of Rudy Gay on the trade market in the face of massive luxury tax bills on the horizon, are not among the teams that have spoken with the Hawks about Smith, one of the sources said. Despite owner Mark Cuban's comment this week that "the bank of Cuban is open," the Mavs also have not yet expressed interest in trading for Smith, another source said.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey said on Twitter this week that Houston would be "likely more stable than in the past" as the Feb. 21 trade deadline approaches.
The Hawks have more than enough cap room to re-sign Smith and add pieces around him. If they let him walk as a free agent, Atlanta would have a league-high $36 million in cap room. But what would they spend it on? Re-signing a 27-year-old borderline All-Star to a max deal might wind up being Ferry's best move, provided he can sell Smith on a vision for the future and how the team will use the remaining flexibility to get better.
"I want to be clear that I'm not pushing a trade," Prather said. "This is not a trade request or anything, but there are frustrations in Atlanta."
How widespread the Josh Smith-a-palooza becomes will depend on whether Ferry's plan is to improve the team in the short term or build it back up over a longer period. And it will depend on what a contending team -- one that has a chance to re-sign Smith this summer -- will be willing to give up.