Josh Smith says he deserves a max contract

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Atlanta's dynamic forward has provided his share of highlights for the Hawks, but is he worth the max money he hopes to see next season?

The Atlanta Hawks have several big off-season decisions to make which will set the future course of the franchise. Chief among those decisions is what to do with forward Josh Smith, the most talented, if not valuable, player on the current roster.

Smith will be a free agent this summer and he recently expressed his opinion on how the Hawks should handle their decision regarding his future. According to Jeff Schultz, Smith simply expects the Hawks to give him a max contract and then move on to dealing with the rest of the roster.

"I feel like I'm a max player," Smith said Friday.

And yes, that is the first time he has said that.

"I feel I bring a lot to the table. I have a lot of versatility. For what I do and what I give this ball club, I feel like I'm worth it."

Confidence has never been a problem for Smith, who is currently averaging 16.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as the Hawks try to remain a threat in the Eastern Conference. This season is playing out in similar fashion to most of Smith's other nine seasons in Atlanta, with the Hawks showing promise as a playoff contender while stumbling enough to leave doubts that they can make a deep postseason run.

The Hawks will have the money to pay Smith this off-season, but they also have to decide how to handle point guard Jeff Teague, who is coming off of his rookie contract. With Al Horford locked up at $12 million per year, Atlanta doesn't have any other budget-busting deals against their salary cap.

But the new salary cap penalties going into effect next season make every financial decision critical to assembling a competitive team. A max deal for Smith could go as high as $94 million over five years and force Atlanta to put their trust in Smith to lead the team for the future. He has struggled to do that in his nine years with the Hawks. Smith recently served a one-game suspension after locking horns with coach Larry Drew.

Also, Smith is just 27-years-old, but he does have plenty of NBA miles on his body after jumping to the league from high school. That could raise concerns about him maintaining his athletic style of play throughout the life of his next contract.

Assuming he survives the trade deadline, Smith sounds ready to walk if he doesn't get a favorable deal from the Hawks. But for now Smith needs to show how much he's worth with his play on the court.

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