Hawks free agent Smith visits 76ers

July 2, 2008 7:48:33 PM PDT
Josh Smith wasted no time taking advantage of his restricted free-agent status, spending Wednesday visiting the Philadelphia 76ers - a franchise with plenty of cap room to make a big offer. The 22-year-old Smith toured the city and visited the Wachovia Center with Sixers officials, who would like to woo the forward away from Atlanta with an offer sheet too expensive for the Hawks to match. As he's a restricted free agent, the Hawks can match any offer made to the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Smith.

But one of Smith's agents said Wednesday night the former slam dunk champion was impressed with his tour of the city, which included a meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

"They showed a very genuine interest," said Smith's agent, Wallace Prowther. "Early, early next week we'll have a much firmer grip on which direction things are going in."

The Sixers can try and make match an offer sheet tough to accomplish.

The Sixers have about $11 million in salary cap space available and could use all of it to offer Smith a five-year contract. The Hawks have said they would match any contract offer to Smith, but are on the hook next season for big contracts for Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson, and they still want to re-sign forward Josh Childress. Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. said shortly after the season he was committed to keeping Smith and Childress.

"We're absolutely, without a doubt, very committed to keeping both as Hawks players for the long haul," he said. "We believe in them and think they're a critical part of this team and that they're going to be part of this franchise for a long time."

Smith's numbers have increased in each of his four NBA seasons since Atlanta made him a first-round pick out of high school in 2004. He averaged 17.2 points and 8.2 rebounds last year and helped the Hawks make the playoffs.

Smith and his agents met with the Hawks on Tuesday. Prowther said other visits where scheduled, but declined to name the teams.

"The process is early, but I will say that things went very well," he said.

Smith would be a nice fit for the up-tempo Sixers and would be a huge upgrade over last year's power forward, Reggie Evans. He's one of the premier shot blockers in the league and could team with starting center Samuel Dalembert and small forward Thaddeus Young to form one of the top frontcourts in the Eastern Conference.

"From the outside looking in, it looks like he'd fit well," Prowther said.

Teams began negotiating with free agents on Tuesday and can begin signing free agents on July 9.

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