Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith better have as strong a friendship with Dwight Howard as reports suggest.
Smith and the soon-to-be free agent Laker center are apparently close pals, which has sparked speculation that certain teams are angling for Smith in the hopes of landing Howard this summer.
The Dallas Mavericks, according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com via Twitter, are the latest team tied to the hyper-athletic Smith. Dallas spoke “internally” about Smith, according to Berger.
Dallas is also a potential suitor for Howard with tons of cap space next season. Smith and Howard played AAU ball together before they became NBA stars, and both will garner maximum deals this summer.
Smith has been rumored to be on the trading block for nearly three seasons, with ties to the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers most recently. Last season he put a career-high 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds. Those numbers have dipped slightly this year, but Smith is also one of the best shot blockers in the league, averaging 2.1 swats a game.
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The Mavericks could have upwards of $20 million in cap space next season, and have a valuable trade chips like the expiring contract of center Chris Kaman.
Guard Darren Collison is also putting up a solid 12.9 points and 5.5 assists per game, and will be a restricted free agent this summer. Dallas could offer Collison’s deal as another expiring contract, since any team that trades for him has the option of letting him walk to free up payroll.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban has publicly stated his club is not in the market for a trade, but is expected to make a run at Howard in free agency.
Berger also stated that Atlanta general manger Danny Ferry is open to moving everyone on the roster. Ferry, formerly a member of the deft San Antonio Spurs front office, pulled off a huge move this past summer that freed the Hawks from the $89 million owed to Joe Johnson.
The Hawks are also seen as players for Howard, who is originally from Atlanta, and will have even more space to sign him and several other free agents. Atlanta only has $18 million committed to player contracts next season, and that number could decrease if they decline to match offers for guard Jeff Teague and Ivan Johnson.
The Hawks may not view Smith as a huge sticking point for signing Howard, who has reportedly clashed with fellow Laker Kobe Bryant this season.
The Lakers can offer Howard $30 million more than any other club since they currently hold his rights, but Los Angeles is in danger of missing the playoffs and the apparently nasty riff with Bryant could make re-signing Howard difficult.