As rumors fly, Smith sets sights on LeBron
February, 20, 2013
By Tom Haberstroh
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Imagess
Josh Smith's last task as a Hawk could be guarding a red-hot LeBron James in Atlanta on Wednesday.
Just another day at the office for Smith.
It could also be his last.
The league trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. ET and Smith’s name has been a mainstay in the rumor mill for weeks now. Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat will be the 649th game in Smith's career, all for the same franchise that drafted him straight out of high school with the 17th pick in the 2004 draft.
At Wednesday’s shootaround, Smith denied having any conversations in the past 24 hours with his agent or with a front office that made waves this past offseason by trading Joe Johnson to Brooklyn. Smith insists that he is concentrating on the night’s opponent.
“I’m just trying to stay out of the way and focus on what’s in front of me and not worry about anything else,” Smith said.
If this is indeed Smith’s last game as a Hawk, what a send-off it would be. His assignment: LeBron James, who’s shooting a solid 69 percent over his past seven games. Atlanta coach Larry Drew plans to "go big" and insert center Zaza Pachulia into the starting lineup and effectively make Smith the small forward opposite James.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but I like challenges,” Smith said of guarding James. “He’s been playing outstanding for about a month now. That team is rolling, so it’ll be a good measuring stick on how we face up against this team.”
There are only a few players in the league who can match up with James’ size and athleticism. Smith, 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, is one of them. But James isn’t too worried about getting around him.
“I accept any challenge,” James said. “I don’t think there’s one guy in this league that can guard me one-on-one. So I try to look at the second and third defense.”
This isn’t just a feeling that arose after his recent record-breaking performance of scoring 30 or more points while shooting at least 60 percent from the field in each of six straight games.
"I’ve been in that groove for a long time now, for years, where I feel like there’s not one guy who can guard me one-on-one," James said. "But it’s team basketball so you’re not being guarded by one guy, you have to read and react to defenses, how they’re playing you. You have to counter and find ways to exploit it."
Smith will try to shake James out of that groove on Wednesday. Even though James has never been the center of trade talks quite as Smith has been recently, the reigning MVP says he knows what it’s like to play for a team embroiled in the rumor mill.
“I’ve been on both sides,” James said. “We made trades in Cleveland at the deadline. Now we’re in a position today where we don’t. I’ve been on both sides, but it’s good to be on this side right now.”
James made the decision to leave Cleveland in the summer of 2010 after seven seasons with the franchise and ended up winning his first title with the Heat in 2012. When asked whether it’d be more satisfying to win a championship in Atlanta or for another team, Smith didn’t mince his words.
“I just want to win, it doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter where.”