by Lang Whitaker

• A couple of days ago, ESPN Insider Chad Ford, my former arch-nemesis, reported the following on his ESPN.com blog:

The big trade rumor flying around (if you’re already tired of the Shaq-to-Cleveland talk) centers on the Hawks’ Josh Smith. Several league sources told ESPN.com that the Hawks have been working hard the past few weeks to see whether they can find a taker for Smith.

The Hawks have some financial issues coming into the summer. Two key players, Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams, are free agents. So are a few others on the roster — Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia and Ronald Murray. Although the Hawks would like to keep those players, they can’t afford to pay all of them. That has opened the door to the possibility of trading Smith, who, although talented, has a reputation as a difficult player to coach.

The Hawks have had no problem finding teams interested in Smith. The issue is the whopping $6 million trade kicker attached to his contract. The trade kicker essentially would require the team that trades for Smith to pay him the $6 million immediately. In this economic climate, many owners will balk at the payment.

“You are going to see very few owners willing to do things like that anymore,” one GM said. “I’m not saying he’s impossible to trade. There are a few owners like Paul Allen, James Dolan, Mark Cuban and maybe Daniel Gilbert who would pay the money. But there aren’t many.”

So that’s Chad’s report. Since then, I’ve been reporting the heck out of this. I spoke to multiple sources today and yesterday, and there’s a couple of things to address here:

1) Josh’s trade kicker is more like $7 million, not $6 million. (It’s actually a percentage of the money owed under the contract, not a set amount.)

2) Because the Hawks matched an offer sheet from Memphis to retain Josh, they can’t trade him for one year unless they get the consent of the player. So discussing trades and all that stuff right now would be a moot point unless Josh was the one who wanted to be traded. And I don’t believe that’s the case.

jsmith3) If the Hawks were to do a deal to shed Josh’s contract, in the interest of reducing overall team salary, they’d presumably want an expiring contract to make the deal work and, more importantly, draft picks, right? That way they’d use the picks to draft a couple of younger guys that they’d have for the next 3-4 years at the slotted rookie minimum salary.

But because Josh was a restricted free agent last summer and the Hawks matched his deal, he is a Base Year Compensation player. Because he signed last year in the middle of August, the Hawks could not trade him until the middle of August this year without all sorts of crazy financial permutations affecting the deal.

Which would make acquiring Draft picks in exchange for him rather difficult, if not impossible.

4) Basically, a “trade kicker” works like a no-trade clause. To have a no-trade clause as an NBA player, you have to have 8 years of service with the same team. Josh does not have that much service with the Hawks, but the kicker basically works like a no-trade, as far as the player is concerned.

But let’s say the Hawks worked out a deal to move Josh to, say, Minnesota. The T-Wolves might have a deal worked out where salaries matched up, but maybe they don’t have an extra $7 million cash sitting around. (And according to NBA rules, the team has to write one check to the player for the entire amount within 30 days of the trade happening.)

So the Wolves would have to come to Josh and say, Would you be willing to pass on part of that $7 million bonus to come play for us? And Josh could say no, effectively vetoing the trade.

(Also, I’ve been told a player can’t pass on the entire amount of the kicker.)

Conversely, if, say, the Lakers worked out a deal and came to Josh with the same proposal, he might say yes to skipping some money, figuring he could make up that amount in local marketing deals. Or maybe he’d just rather play for Phil Jackson than Mike Woodson.

5) If the Hawks are really interested in keeping all of the players Chad mentions above but don’t have the cash to do it, one way around that might be NOT PAYING THEM AS MUCH AS THEY PAID THEM LAST YEAR. Mike Bibby was a key player last season, but he also made $14 million. He’s not going to make that much this year, not from Atlanta, not from anyone else. (Unless maybe Olympiakos becomes involved.)

6) In talking to people about this deal, an interesting question came up that nobody had a concrete answer for: Say Josh got traded today. He made $10 million last season — and from what I was told, it would still be last season’s salary that would be his trade number, at least until July 1, when free agency starts. So his value in a trade would be $10 million.

Or would it? Because even though it’s not his salary, with the trade kicker involved, the team he would be traded to would be responsible for paying him not $10 million, but $17 million. Right? So is his trade number, for lack of a better term, $10 million or $17 million? I think it’s $17 million, at least that’s what I was told by one exec. Which would make trading him now even tougher.

OK, now that we’ve cleared the factual stuff up…

As a Hawks fan, would I be upset if the Hawks traded Josh Smith? Well, that depends. I like Josh, as a person and as a player, and I’m glad that he’s on my favorite team. But if trading Josh could make the Hawks a better team, then I understand the need to move him. I really don’t care whether or not they trade him, I just care about who or what they would trade him for.

That said, to me it’s going to be tough to find anything resembling equal value for a 23-year-old who averaged 15.6 and 7.2 last season and is under a very reasonable contract for the next five years. More importantly, from what I understand, the Hawks really like Josh Smith.

So put all that together and what do you get?

The Hawks aren’t trying to trade Josh Smith right now.

Or maybe I’m wrong. In which case I’m going to start a blog with crazy trade rumors.

• Someone emailed me last night saying they’ve loved The Links lately, although they didn’t understand why I hate Kobe.

Sigh.

We’ve been through this before right? I don’t hate him. I voted for him for MVP last year, for goodness sakes.

And just to show all of you Kobe fans out there that I don’t hate him, here’s a link to a Kobe-inspired shirt from our friends at K1X. You can cop it here.

kobe_tee_front

• Steve Nash is hosting his all-star soccer match again.

• The Big Lead did a post about our recent Top 50 issue (which we’re going to run here on SLAMonline on Friday), and some of the commenters over there had some issues with our list. To answer a few queries…

– Couple of people didn’t understand having Gary Payton at 38. He was arguably the second-best point guard of his era, he’s the only PG ever to win Defensive Player of the Year, he was a 9-time All-Defensive First Team guy, he went to the Finals twice and he won a ring with Miami.

– Steve Nash at 50? Yep. We talked about Nash forever in our meeting for that issue, but when it came down to it, can you leave a two-time MVP off the list of the top 50 players in League history? We decided we couldn’t. At least not this time.

– What the difference between Reggie Miller and Clyde Drexler? Championships. Or at least, a championship.

– Why was Wes Unseld ranked only 32nd? Wes was/is known as a tough interior player and a brilliant outlet passer, but he had career averages of 10 ppg and 14 rpg. He did win a title with the Bullets (and was Finals MVP), but are 10 and 14 necessarily better than, say, Willis Reed’s 19 and 13? Not to me, no.

– “Pearl Monroe behind McAdoo, Gervin, Cowens, Wilkins, Drexler and AI?”

Um, yes. Look at their stats:
Monroe: 17,454 career points, won 1 ring, ROY, HOF
McAdoo: 18,787 career points, led League in PPG three times, ROY, MVP, won 2 rings, HOF
Gervin: 26,595 career points (ABA and NBA), five-time All-NBA first team, led NBA in PPG four times, 12-time All-Star, HOF
Cowens: 13,516 career points, ROY, MVP, won 2 rings, HOF
Wilkins: 26,668 career points, led League in PPG, seven times made an All-NBA first/second/third team, HOF
Drexler: 22,195 career points, went to Finals three times, won 1 ring, HOF
Iverson: 23,983 career points, ROY, MVP, led League in steals twice, led in PPG four times, led in MPG seven times, went to Finals once

– “LeBron over Nique?” Yep, and there wasn’t even any arguing about this. Hey, I might be the world’s biggest Nique fan of all time, but right now LeBron is already a more complete player than Nique ever was.

• A couple of years ago, I wrote on the Links about battling a cold, and my father-in-law suggested I take something called Zicam. It was over-the-counter medicine sold on swabs that you rub inside your nose. Sounds weird, but I gave it a shot and it seemed to work pretty well. Turns out it might work a little too well.

• Finally, don’t know if you guys have followed this, but apparently Gov. Sarah Palin took umbrage at a joke David Letterman about her daughter. She said Letterman should apologize, and Letterman did apologize, twice.

And then a revolt! A bunch of people decided to protest outside Letterman’s show last night and demand he be fired. New York magazine has a great video from the protest (via SNL’s Seth Myers):

And Letterman himself had a pretty funny Top Ten list last night:

Top Ten Things Overheard At The “Fire David Letterman” Rally    
10. “David who?”
9. “Well, it was nice of CBS to provide the catering”
8. “We should have done this years ago”
7. “What idiot turned Broadway into a pedestrian mall?”
6. “Isn’t there always a crowd demanding Letterman be fired?”
5. “March around the potholes, people”
4. “Can we also get CBS to bring back ‘Gunsmoke’?”
3. “When does Cheney get here with the waterboarding gear?”
2. “He should apologize for that hairpiece”
1. “Thanks for coming, Regis”