Bring The Big Aristotle to The Big “A”

So let’s pretend for a moment that LeBron James doesn’t exist, and let’s forget about all of these meetings of the minds to corroborate the creation of a “super-team”, and let’s take a look at what our Atlanta Hawks are doing.

Rumors are swirling that Shaq is extremely open to, and interested in, the idea of suiting up with the Atlanta Hawks this upcoming season, and presumably the following campaign as well.

If these rumors are true, this needs to happen.

Mark Bradley listed 5 reasons why Shaq wouldn’t be a wise addition, and while there are valid points there, there are still plenty of reasons why the big fella would be a great addition to this Hawks franchise.

Fortunately for the Hawks, the Joe Johnson proceedings were quiet, and without a lot of nervous or anxious moments. While fans and management officials in cities such as New York, Chicago, Cleveland, New Jersey and Miami have chewed their finger nails off while waiting out the decisions of the big three, Atlanta kept their star in the fold, and did so early.

Where as other teams are behind the eight ball in terms of filling out the rest of their roster over the summer, Atlanta was able to immediately move forward knowing who they have in the fold. Countless other teams are still waiting on final decisions to be made so future moves can begin being considered.

As a result, Atlanta was able to quickly get a feeler out there for Shaq to gauge interest, and can begin the process of shaping their roster around either such a move as bringing in Shaq, or perhaps another free agent, or even shopping some of their young talent.

Step one should be bringing in the former LSU star. Al Horford was very candid in his request to get him more help inside. While Horford can more than hold his own against most centers in the league, the bigger centers still give him fits, see Dwight Howard. Considering the Hawks played Howard eight different times last year, that was a big problem, as evidenced by the 1-7 record and absolutely embarrassing playoff exit.

Beyond just Howard, teams with more than one solid post player also give the Hawks fits. While Josh Smith is athletic, and at times a very good rebounder, he is not a good post defender. He is a great shot blocker, but just being a shot blocker doesn’t make you a great post defender. Most shot blocks come either in transition or providing weak side help. The problem with this is when attempting to block just about every shot thrown up in the lane, you leave yourself out of position for the rebound, and defensive rebounding goes a long way to being a good post defender.

While Josh Smith has good rebounding numbers, they could be better, and in turn the offensive rebounding numbers of Hawks opponents would be worse. This is where Shaq would come in to play. Shaq knows he’s not an intimidating shot blocker, but he also knows how to get good position, how to defend post moves, and rebound misses.

Al Horford has these skills as well, just not as much size. With Horford and Shaq together, the Hawks front court defense improves tremendously.

Again, against many of the NBA teams, the tandem of Smith and Horford can overwhelm opposing front courts with their superior athleticism. This is why Shaq would fit well. The Hawks wouldn’t require him to play heavy minutes for 82 games. They would be able to pick their spots based on match-ups, and ultimately, this would be beneficial to the play of Horford, Shaq and Smith.

Granted, playing all three together on the court at the same time may not be a promising option for new coach Larry Drew to rely on very much. I’m not sure how much you really want to have Josh Smith playing at the three spot, being all the more encouraged to shoot. You can get by for periods of time with a small forward who’s not capable of stretching the defense with perimeter scoring, but you can’t rely on it on a regular basis, just as you can’t rely on any Josh Smith jump shot.

This dilemma of course could actually be another example of why bringing Shaq in would be a great move. The addition of Shaq could potentially lead to the subtraction of Josh Smith.

Now hear me out. I understand Smith is a freakish athlete with amazing physical skills. He has the tools to be an annual all-star. But mentally does he have what it takes to take that next step? In the locker room is Smith the type of player conducive to winning championships?

Horford cited chemistry issues as part of the reason the team tanked against Orlando in the playoffs, and one of the reasons for their inconsistent play, and allowing a vastly inferior and under-manned Milwaukee squad take them to seven games in round one.

At first one thought perhaps Horford was referring to Johnson and perhaps is pending free agency as the source of the chemistry problems. However, when Horford publicly stated how much he wanted Johnson to return to Atlanta, it seemed to dispel the notion that Johnson was the target of Horford’s criticism.

So who was he talking about? Perhaps the player who had numerous run-ins with the head coach? The player, who since high school, has been known for a sour attitude on the court? The player who seemed to take plays off on offense and defense? The player who would often let his man run down the court with him while instead of playing defense he whined to officials?

Yes, Josh Smith makes many, many spectacular plays, and is extremely exciting to watch. Yes, without Josh Smith last year, that team squeaks into the playoffs, if they make it all. Smith fills up a box score as well as most any player in the league when it comes to points, rebounds, blocks, steals and on some nights assists.

But for all the amazing things Smith does, he does a lot of damning things as well. Might the Hawks not be a better team if they are able to play Horford at his more natural position of power forward and thus better utilize his skills? Might the Hawks be a better team with potentially a more defined role for the super talented, but super inconsistent Marvin Williams?

And there’s this little matter of what the Hawks would be getting in return for Smith. His contract isn’t an albatross for a player of his talents and potential. Even with the frustrating things Smith does, the numbers he puts up justify the money he’s getting, and there’s the potential for him to continue to get better.

Interest would be pretty widespread throughout the league. If Smith were to be traded, the Hawks would be in the drivers seat in terms of the negotiations with other teams, as the Hawks don’t HAVE to deal Smith, so other teams can’t use that as leverage. Not only that, if there are several teams at play, which there likely would be, the Hawks can them play them all off of each other to increase the value of what they get in return.

After this upcoming season Jamal Crawford’s contract will be off the books, and Mike Bibby will become an expiring contract, meaning he potentially could be shopped. If he Hawks trade Josh Smith during this particular off-season, they could in turn be players in next year’s free agent market. In the very least, they would potentially be able to recoup some of their financial flexibility they lost with the signing of Joe Johnson.

What exactly could the Hawks get for Smith? Perhaps a talented young small forward, or a point guard? Trade exceptions and draft picks could also be in play, or some combination of all four.

Would the Hawks not be a better team with Horford spending less time out of position, and with a deeper roster, and in better shape to also re-sign Horford once his contract is up?

Smith can’t be traded away unless there’s proper replacement in the front court. That replacement could come in the very deal that Smith gets shipped away on, or it could simply come in the form of Shaquille O’Neal, put less of an impetus on obtaining a big a trade involving Smith, and leaving the Hawks with many more options in terms of what they would be seeking in return.

From a basketball standpoint, the addition of Shaq improves the Hawks immediately. Whether or not Josh Smith stays part of the equation. It also gives the Hawks more flexibility to keep tinkering. From an on-court sense, Shaq would help the Atlanta Hawks be a better basketball team. Off the court, well, I will touch on that later.

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