The Atlanta Hawks became the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth this season, rallying from 18 points down to beat the Houston Rockets, 104-96, at home on Tuesday.
On that same night, Rockets reserve Josh Smith – who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks – was booed by the Atlanta crowd every time he touched the ball. A College Park, Georgia, native, Smith spent the first nine years of his career in Atlanta, during which the Hawks didn’t accomplish much of anything. On Tuesday, Smith shushed the crowd after making a few three-pointers and called Hawks fans “very fickle” and “bandwagoners.”
So, what’s the better story from this game? The Hawks (48-12) clinching a playoff berth, or the drama surrounding Smith?
“That’s a good one,” CBS Sports NBA insider Ken Berger said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think Josh Smith had his time there. He grew up in Atlanta, so remember, he had a pretty firm connection to that place. There’s just some bad blood there obviously, and he didn’t stick with his subsequent team (Detroit) and now he’s on a third team. I mean, the reality for Josh Smith is that it’s just been very difficult for him – with all the talent that he has – to really fit in on a winning team. You’re starting to see that with the Rockets.
“But I really think the Atlanta Hawks – I fall into this trap myself – I think it’s very easy to overlook them,” Berger continued. “I mean, they’ve been the best team in the East by a wide margin all season. Considering what that franchise has been for so long, which is basically an afterthought, it’s pretty impressive. So I’m going to go with the Hawks being the better story coming out of that game. I’m amazed – and I amaze myself – with how easy it is to overlook them.”
Given how well the Hawks have fared this season, it’s also easy to overlook the controversy surrounding general manager Danny Ferry, who is in the midst of an indefinite leave of absence after making racially insensitive remarks about Luol Deng.
For what it’s worth, Charles Barkley believes that Ferry should get his job back. Doug Gottlieb wondered if backing from Barkley – an African-American from the South – carries enough weight to open the door for Ferry to return.
“Well, I think Charles’ voice always carries significant weight. There’s no question about that,” Berger said. “He’s made himself not only a lightning rod at times with the analytics, but on issues of race and society and things that kind of transcend sports. He’s kind of made himself the conscience and the voice of reason and the voice of record on a lot of those issues. So I think it carries significant weight. And look, nobody is going to excuse the mistake that Danny Ferry made. What he said, it was inexcusable. But it’s also fair to point out the best team in the Eastern Conference was built by him, and the coach who might wind up being the Coach of the Year (Mike Budenholzer) was hired by him. So I think it’s extremely fair to point out both sides of the issue.
“The problem for Danny Ferry, in my opinion, it’s not so much going to come down to who’s in his corner,” Berger continued. “It’s simply a matter of the ownership change. The team is for sale, the bidding is ongoing, there’s going to be a process that (they) go through – and it’s just going to be very difficult to make a decision like that that has so many implications until a new owner is in place. And I don’t know that a new one is going to be in place in time for Danny to get back into his job this season.”