Josh Smith, Shawn MarionThe Atlanta Hawks have dangled forward Josh Smith in trade talks many times before. But this year, with the trade deadline approaching and Smith due to become a free agent once the season ends, the possibility looks more serious.

The Hawks, at 28-22, are sixth in the Eastern Conference as of Tuesday, but ESPN’s Chris Broussard says the team is in talks with the Brooklyn Nets (30-22, fifth in Eastern Conference) to trade Smith. Brooklyn is “aggressively pursuing” Smith, and the Nets also have their eyes on the Charlotte Bobcats’ Ben Gordon, although Kris Humphries is the key piece in both trades, meaning it’s an either/or for Brooklyn. The Nets prefer Smith, according to Broussard.

Atlanta is considering the trade offer for Smith but is setting the price rather high, Broussard reports. While Brooklyn is offering Humphries and second-year guard MarShon Brooks, the Hawks are interested in the Nets’ first-round pick. Atlanta is looking for long-term help at the center position, according to ESPN, and that may require getting a third team involved in trade discussions.

Smith, who is among the players keeping Atlanta in contention this year despite the loss of Joe Johnson (also to the Nets), has been involved in trade rumors often. When asked about the speculation over the past few days, he acknowledged them and gave the standard “just going to keep playing” answer.

This time around, though, the Hawks, who have always found their team more valuable with Smith than without him, have much more incentive to make a move.