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Posted: Friday May 29, 2009 10:23AM; Updated: Monday June 1, 2009 7:19AM
Ian Thomsen Ian Thomsen >
INSIDE THE NBA

Weekly Countdown (cont.)

Four questions rescued from the spam

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Saddled with a substantial trade bonus, Josh Smith is likely to remain a Hawks staple whether Atlanta wants him or not.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Ian Thomsen's Mailbag
Ian Thomsen will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
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4. Why would the Hawks unload Josh Smith instead of Joe Johnson? After watching most of the season and the last two playoffs, it is obvious to me that Josh Smith has much more potential to be the type of player that could be a top three player on a championship team. Yes he is young, but the past two seasons show that he plays his best in big games. I, for one, firmly believe Joe Johnson is the player the Hawks should move.
-- John, Guntersville, Ala.

Two things, John: First is that Johnson is entering the final year of his contract, and therefore wouldn't elicit full value in a trade (unless he was willing to immediately sign an extension with the new team), while Smith is locked in for four more years at $48 million.

The problem with trading Smith is that he has a 15 percent trade kicker that was negotiated by the Memphis Grizzlies last summer when they signed him to a restricted offer sheet (which the Hawks matched). That means 15 percent of Smith's total contract -- $8.7 million -- must be paid in a lump sum after he is traded. Which means he would have to be dealt to the Mavericks or another cash-rich team willing and able to make such a huge payment.

The other point here is Smith is an upside talent who may yet mature to become an All-Star. He isn't there yet, while Johnson is the bird in the hand. It wouldn't make sense to trade a 27-year-old All-Star at his peak because such reliable talent is extremely hard to find.

3. Everybody's talking Blake Griffin in this year's draft. I don't see it! The Clippers should opt for Ricky Rubio. A point guard is more valuable than a power forward. Griffin looks to me like a younger Amar'e Stoudemire, but, in my opinion, is not a player who can carry a franchise; he needs a lot of work. Rubio is an accomplished pro, he knows his game and his strengths. Yeah, he needs work on his jumper, but so did Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, right? Yes, Rubio is that caliber of a player. Why not draft him, move BD to shooting guard and see how it works. Do you think that would work out well or is there any reason you wouldn't do it?
-- Jake Oakley, Flint, Mich.

A few teams might agree with you, which is why the Clippers might have hurt themselves slightly by declaring their intentions to take Griffin. Teams that want to trade for Rubio can now take their offers to the Memphis Grizzlies, who hold the No. 2 pick; if the league was unsure whether the Clippers were going to draft Griffin or Rubio at No. 1, then all of the trade talk for either player would be directed toward Los Angeles. But the bottom line is that the Clippers believe in Griffin, they're unlikely to receive an offer generous enough to convince them to trade the No. 1 pick, and they wanted to use Griffin's potential to convince season-ticket holders to renew for next year -- all good reasons for making their intentions known.

I don't see Rubio and Davis being able to play together. Is Davis going to yield the quarterback position to an 18-year old? Not likely. Given the state of NBA economics, his contract probably cannot be traded this summer to make room for Rubio (unless a suitor is willing to take Davis in a package for the No. 1 pick).

Most teams would take Griffin No. 1. As a big man with enormous upside, there are fewer questions about him than there are about Rubio. But Rubio is the likely No. 2 pick in the draft.

2. There seems to be more and more chatter between teams as each series goes on in the playoffs. Do guarantees and claims of disrespect make any difference on the performances of players?
-- Dan, New Rochelle, N.Y.

I think it's been a relatively quiet postseason. Players from opposing teams used to hate each other -- Isiah Thomas' Pistons versus Michael Jordan's Bulls, for example -- but that animosity has cooled as players have become more friendly with one another regardless of their team affiliations. I've noticed Dwight Howard having a few things to say quietly to LeBron James during the Eastern finals, but out West there is no issue between Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, who became good friends as Olympic teammates.

Cleveland's Mo Williams put unnecessary pressure on himself when he guaranteed a win in Game 4 (to be fair, he wasn't seeking to make a guarantee but instead was drawn in by a line of questioning). A safer play would be to claim "disrespect," which relieves a player of expectations and creates an incentive to "prove people wrong." I do think the way a player approaches the game can make a difference.

1. I watched the end of the Orlando and Cleveland game where James hit the one-second-left shot to win. First, I want to say I am not a fan or enemy of either team. So my question -- and the main reason I have a problem watching pro basketball -- is the moving of the ball to half court after a time out. I don't understand why they are allowed to do this. So what is the reason? I think this is unfair -- I like the college format where you need to drive the ball down the court.
-- Nathan, Nashville, Tenn.

That rule was installed in 2001 when the league installed a new package of rules -- including the right to play zone defense -- that resulted in the more fluid, open-court style that has opened up the games and made them more entertaining. The idea is to open up the court at the end of the game and create more options if a team chooses to inbound from midcourt. It may seem arbitrary, but I wouldn't call it unfair as the option exists for both teams.

3 draft updates

3. This "weak" draft will grow stronger over the next four weeks. There aren't any guaranteed All-Stars, but the top half of the lottery is loaded with players capable of having long careers. "If you're drafting in the top seven or eight, you're going to get a good player," said a GM who happens to be in the top eight.

Throw in the needs of many teams to revamp their rosters with cheaper talent, and the result is a lot of trade talk. "This is not a draft for ultra-talents, but there are good, nice players," added the GM. "People will be clamoring for top-eight picks because of guys like Jordan Hill. No matter how good your team is, you can put Jordan Hill on your team and he'll play."

2. Hasheem Thabeet will be the slider. The likely candidates to draft UConn's Thabeet up high are No. 2 Memphis, No. 3 Oklahoma City and No. 6 Minnesota -- otherwise he may slide past Toronto at No. 9 and out of the top 10.

This would not necessarily be a bad thing for him. Like every player in this draft, it's crucial that Thabeet land with a team that can accommodate him. Don't you think Brook Lopez is happy he slid last June to No. 10 with New Jersey, where he filled a huge need by averaging 13.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks?

1. Memphis is operating from a position of strength. Even if it turns out that Ricky Rubio would rather stay in Europe next season than play for Memphis, the Grizzlies are going to have plenty of options. They already have a young point guard in Mike Conley Jr. (the No. 4 pick in 2007), who shares the ball-handling with O.J. Mayo (No. 3 last year). There should be a lot of demand for the pick, and maybe the Grizzlies can unload Marko Jaric's contract while filling their need for size. Wouldn't Rubio look good in a 76ers uniform? They could package 6-10 rookie Marreese Speights to Memphis for the rights to Rubio, whose uptempo style would fit nicely while freeing them from having to re-sign 33-year-old Andre Miller.

2 playoff issues

2. Quicken Loans Arena reminds me of Fenway Park. Before the Red Sox won their breakthrough World Series in '04, that is. During the playoffs, the fans would go quiet when they sensed a recurrence of doom, so conditioned were they to bad things happening. It has been the same in Cleveland as Orlando has threatened to drum out the Cavaliers -- a brooding silence. But not to worry: When LeBron comes through with a championship eventually, whether this year or sometime in future, the Cleveland fans will become as arrogant and unrepentant as the frontrunners in all of the other bandwagon cities.

1. Are the Lakers tough enough? They aren't a physical group, but name a final four team that is. It has been hilarious to hear complaints about the toughness and borderline dirty play of the Nuggets, considering their defense was among the NBA's least intimidating last year with most of the same players who have been opposing the Lakers. As soon as the Celtics were de-toothed by the injury to Kevin Garnett -- who isn't exactly a bruiser himself -- the playoffs were denuded of a tough, lockdown defensive team. Outright physical play isn't going to be the defining force this year. Charles Oakley isn't walking through that door.

1 case of the puppets

1. Enough of the Kobe and LeBron schtick. I don't know how the rest of you feel, but I'm not a big fan of those Nike commercials. While a Kobe-LeBron Finals surely would be intriguing, I haven't sensed a public craving for them to meet. I don't view them as natural rivals, and I'm going to need to see how their duel plays out in an extended Finals before I believe there's something between them. There isn't the innate tension between them -- the makings of a natural rivalry -- that was so obvious in the relationship between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I understand Nike trying to get out in front of something big, but it doesn't work for me.

 
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