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Posted: Thursday July 3, 2008 11:50AM; Updated: Friday July 4, 2008 2:48AM
Marty Burns Marty Burns >

Sixers may find love a fragile thing

Story Highlights
  • Sixers are one of the few teams with salary-cap space this summer
  • Josh Smith had lunch with the Philadelphia mayor Thursday
  • Hawks have option to match any contract offer Smith receives
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Josh Smith's 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game last season has the Sixers thirsting for the 22 year old's services.
Josh Smith's 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game last season has the Sixers thirsting for the 22 year old's services.
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The Wizards (Antawn Jamison, presumably Gilbert Arenas) and Clippers (Baron Davis) have made big moves so far on the free agent market. That can only mean one thing ... Philadelphia 76ers. You are on the clock!

The Sixers -- one of the few teams with salary-cap room -- finally got in the game Wednesday, welcoming Hawks restricted free agent Josh Smith for a visit to the City of Brotherly Love. They pulled out all the usual stops for the athletic 6-9 forward: the jersey in the locker, the face on the scoreboard, a tour of the city that also included lunch with the mayor.

GM Ed Stefanski also no doubt mentioned that the Sixers can offer Smith a chance to play for a young fast-break style team -- as well as a boatload of money, perhaps as much as $66 million over five years.

"They fit the style of play that I like to play, which is up-tempo," Smith told reporters at the airport. "They have great talent. This is one of the teams that I'm looking at."

The problem for the Sixers, however, is that they don't get to make the call.

Smith is a restricted free agent, so the Hawks still own the right to match any offer he receives. New GM Rick Sund has said he intends to do so. That means the Sixers could be left waiting for as many as seven days after July 9 -- the first day contracts or offer sheets can be signed -- to find out whether the Hawks decide to keep Smith.

The Sixers also might have to worry about the Warriors, now flush with some $16 million in cap space, stepping in and making a pitch for Smith.

While Philadelphia waits, other free agent possibilities like Elton Brand (longshot) or Corey Maggette (uncertain fit) could be long gone.

Would the Hawks really let Smith go? That's hard to say.

Smith is an incredible athlete and ferocious dunker who can run the floor, block shots and finish like few others. His scoring average has gone up each of his four NBA seasons, from 9.7 to 11.3 to 16.4 to 17.2 points. He is also a Georgia kid who has been a part of the Hawks' slow build to respectability the past few seasons, which culminated in last spring's impressive seven-game playoff series with the Celtics.

But Smith has not shown himself yet to be a locker room leader. His on-ball defense is suspect. He drives his coaches nuts with his tendency to jack up outside shots. His famous one-finger salute to the crowd a couple years ago showed a lack of maturity.

The Hawks, meanwhile, are still embroiled in litigation related to former owner Steve Belkin. Their financial picture is murky. The current management says they are free to spend whatever it takes, but many around the league believe Sund and the basketball operations side are under certain limitations.

Most NBA types think the Hawks will live up to their pledge and match any offer to Smith. Atlanta can't afford to let its biggest asset walk away for nothing. The Hawks also want other teams in the future to know they mean business when they say they will match.

In other words, the Sixers could be left with nothing big to show from this summer's free agent market. Not that such a development would be devastating, by any means. Philadelphia still needs to sign its own restricted free agents, Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams. Depending on what happens with them, they might still have some cap room to make a trade (like the Bobcats did a year ago in acquiring Jason Richardson).

In the long run the Sixers also might be better off pursuing a low-post scorer anyway. With Iguodala, Andre Miller, Thaddeus Young and Samuel Dalembert, Philadelphia arguably already has enough players who can run the floor. What the Sixers really need is a guy to whom they can toss the ball into the post and get an easy two or draw double teams when the game slows down.

Stefanski might be thinking the same thing. The Sixers reportedly have contacted Brand's representatives to see if he'd be interested. It's a longshot, since the Warriors can offer more money ($90 million over five years), and Brand has said he wants to stay in L.A. anyway.

Either way, the Sixers are on the clock. The rest of the NBA is waiting to see what they do.

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