All the noise around here is centered on Joe Johnson’s possible departure from the team. Everywhere you read, people are either convinced that Joe will stay if offered a maximum salary contract, or convinced that he will land elswhere, part of some other team’s star player tandem. AJC Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham thinks that despite all the interest from other teams, Joe stays if the “cash love” is right.
But is the issue only about what sort of contract he’s offered? What does it really take for Joe to be convinced that staying in Atlanta is the thing to do? I think one thing that General Manager Rick Sund must keep in mind, is that Joe is far from stupid. He knows what he wants, and what he will accept. He also knows he left the playoffs with perhaps less leverage than before. But he and his agent appear to be doing all the right things to sway the leverage solidly back into his favor.
So what does Joe want besides money? It may be a change in the locker room. The kind that requires some roster moving/tinkering. The kind that a “new” head coach may not be able to fix on his own. The kind that Joe could walk away from for less money, if it isn’t handled to his satisfaction. The “chemistry” kind. While this team chemistry issue started as a worried rumble among fans, it has also been mentioned by Al Horford in a very recent AP article on NBA.com. I recommend reading the article as a whole (it’s not that long), but it’s what Horford has to say that stands out in a most glaring fashion. First, he mentions the relationships of the players on the team. Second, he mentions a need for another post player (and you KNOW this topic is going to pick up steam as well).
Ladies and Gentlemen, Exhibit A
Continuing with the theme of the locker room problems, could it be Jamal that Joe is displeased with? As explained in the section above, Jamal enjoys some popularity that Joe hasn’t since the 2007-2008 playoffs. People fell in love with his offensive game quickly. But that has nothing to do with how he plays on the court. I think it’s more than obvious that Jamal is a veteran player who wants to win. We’ve heard supporting comments all last year from his teammates, more notably Al Horford (who is becoming more of a spokesman every day). On defense, Jamal isn’t getting it done. Would this possibly Joe’s issue? Could it be sharing shots? I tend not to think so, and I think that in spite of some hyping by fellow bloggers, Jamal is not the issue at all. If anything, Jamal seemed to be fine with deferring as needed and was humble and gracious. Or am I wrong? Does Joe Johnson feel better with Jamal around, or worse? Does he feel like Jamal is a professional who is serious and dedicated to winning? What do you think?
What about Marvin Williams? Does he factor into this, or is he what he was in so many games last year – a non-factor? The indictment against Marvin is obvious if you watched all, most, or simply enough Hawks games last year. He was generally the first to be subbed out in a game, and was usually not on the floor at the end of games. Correct me if I have that wrong, but that’s what I remember from both the season and the playoffs. That alone says that former coach Woodson felt that the team was better served with somebody else (usually Jamal) on the floor in crunch time. The question is, how did Joe feel about this, and about Marvin? Perhaps Marvin wasn’t taking thing seriously enough, and that may have indeed led to his regression this past season. But this still doesn’t feel quite like we’ve hit the mark, does it? If Marvin was a problem, then substituting Crawford and Mo Evans would pretty much solve it, right?
Here is where Hawks fan blogger NCBravesFan may be hitting the same mark that fellow fan and blogger Astro Joe did in a post a few days ago. The issue could be none other than Josh Smith. Perhaps Smith’s growth and maturity hasn’t been enough, or quickly enough. We know he hasn’t finished improving in that area, but are his antics in practice and during games enough to bother Joe Johnson to this point. I think it’s a very valid suspicion. Josh has the ability to influence the way the Hawks perform in so many ways. It’s Josh who rarely has a game where he isn’t complaining and whining to the officials when a call doesn’t go his way (even though he’s right sometimes). It’s Josh who hurts the team the most when he sulks, pouts, and doesn’t put forth the necessary defensive effort. It’s Josh who can either enhance or disrupt the offense by either using his aggression properly, or by trying to take over in ways he shouldn’t. It’s Josh who might be playing around too much in practice. Is it Josh?
Are there any other suspects in this proverbial man hunt? Maybe Joe is/was disgusted with the overall team chemistry, which could involve several players. Perhaps Mo Evans caused a few problems. Maybe it was Randolph Morris and Jason Collins. I’m sure all three had issues with their playing time, but then again maybe they didn’t (okay, we know Evans did, he as much said so). Maybe it was the “too loose” atmosphere.
So perhaps we are looking in the wrong direction when it comes to what’s necessary to sign and keep Joe. Maybe we’re seeing the wrong things when it comes to this team’s identity, or what it takes to become better than simply good enough to make it through the first round of the playoffs. Maybe it is more about team chemistry than anything else.
The question becomes, what are the Hawks willing to do about this? Will they lean on Larry Drew to fix the chemistry issues? Should we as fans really expect him to be able to do so? If Drew couldn’t do it as an assistant coach, could he do it as a head coach? Hearing this stuff come out of Horford’s mouth lends it the kind of credence that no media-based speculation ever could. This is real. Is the solution to ship out Josh Smith, perhaps for a less dynamic, but larger/more rugged/more role player type of guy? Read the article and tell us if you think this indicts Smith, or if that’s just conjecture. The Hawks may not want to leave it with a 6 year max contract offer and a few calls from Larry Drew, assuring Joe that things will be different. They may want to tinker with the bench and delve into the hallowed “core” of this team. Could we be worried about things that don’t matter as much as money does? If so, we aren’t the only ones. The Hawks are, too.