The NBA teams in line for Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

When Atlanta Hawks‘ Josh Smith hits free agency this summer, the offers will come flying in. However, the real question worth asking is whether or not Smith is deserving of a max contract.

Smith’s pending free agency was brought up in a recent interview with the Boston Globe, and the ninth-year veteran reiterated that he thinks he is worth the big bucks.

“I didn’t just come up with the and make the statement that I was a (max player)- it was a question I was asked” Smith said of his assertion he is deserving a maximum deal. “I gave an honest answer. It’s not added pressure. I’m not going around just stating that. I was definitely a question.”

To re-sign with the Hawks, Smith would be entitled to a five-year, $90 million contract, but that is not something the Hawks are likely to give a guy who has yet to make a single All-Star appearance.

Smith may favor a winning situation rather than to continue middling in obscurity as he has been with the Hawks. Regardless, it seems almost inevitable that both sides are heading towards a mutual split.

So, how likely is it another team will want to pay the multidimensional Smith a maximum salary?

The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets are two teams that are desperately seeking a second star and could reach out to Smith, but both teams may not wish to take out a significant chunk of their salary cap on a second fiddle star.

In both cases, Smith would prove to be an excellent addition, especially defensively. Dirk Nowitzki’s advanced age means his defensive capabilities have declined even further, and is best used alongside a versatile big man.

In Houston, Smith would be the perfect addition alongside the team’s youthful, emerging core, and would enable trade deadline acquisition Thomas Robinson to develop in the wings without the pressure of major minutes.

The Milwaukee Bucks emerged at the deadline as a possible landing spot for Smith. That didn’t work out and it seems unlikely that Smith goes there as a free agent.

The Bucks have given their share of big dollar contracts to players not exactly capable of carrying the franchise — Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut and now Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis — but it would take a lot of money to convince Smith that Milwaukee should be his home for next four seasons.

When Jennings inevitably walks in the off-season, the Bucks could jump out as a team willing to hedge their future on an Ellis-Smith pairing, no matter how much of a nightmare that would be for potential coaching candidates.

The Phoenix Suns are another team desperate for not only a star, but also an identity. Smith doesn’t solve either problem, but he would be a great start. If Smith decides to follow the money, maybe the Suns will hand over the cash to land him (keep in mind the Suns already ponied up the cash for Eric Gordon last off-season).

Two dark horse candidates no one seems to be talking about much include the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers. Cleveland have a heap of salary cap space, but may not want to interfere with the development of 2011 lottery pick Tristan Thompson. Indiana has David West’s $10 million salary coming off the books, and could conceivably work a sign-and-trade with either West or the replaceable Danny Granger.

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