If you’re following Atlanta Hawks news, then you’ve probably seen offers to star guard Joe Johnson for a 6 year contract, with reported totals ranging from $117 million to $124 million. One site after another has lambasted the idea of paying Johnson such a contract, stating that he isn’t worth a ”max” contract that would pay him anywhere from an average of $19.5 million to $20.67 million per year (though we know that these contracts actually start around the $16 million mark and increase per year). Many are suggesting that the Hawks take a small step backwards by letting Joe go, and spending the money wisely on free agents that will add depth, even if if they don’t provide star power. It’s actually somewhat amusing, considering how many people didn’t believe that the Hawks would pony up the dough in the first place. Now they’re not supposed to dole it out? Take for example NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury, who counts this move as less than wise. But what of the promise by Rick Sund (and ultimately, his bosses) to increase payroll even further, by adding quality depth to the frontcourt and perhaps at point guard? Will keeping Joe at such a price make sense then? Don’t the elite teams spend a little more than most people think they should, to take a legitimate shot at winning it all? Will this help the Hawks to be taken seriously, finally? One way or the other, the offer has already been made. Either Joe takes it…or he doesn’t.
What If Joe Declines?
Do you get the feeling that the Atlanta Spirit Group was just barely convinced to offer Joe that massive contract? It seems that Plan A calls for signing Joe to keep that 50 win-capable team together, then opening the wallet further to enhance the team and make it a true contender. But what if Joe doesn’t go for it? What if he spurns the nearly $30 extra million and that 6th year for a change of climate and scenery? I tell you what: I think the well dries up, and the change purses snap shut. Star power is what convinces owners to spend. Star power is what helps revenue. Joe may not have great star power, even in Atlanta, but he is a star nonetheless. Stars produce on the court, and can anybody deny Joe’s on court production? If he leaves, then the Hawks (and we fans) can only hope that guys such as Al Horford and Josh Smith become bigger stars. Ownership has to hope the same thing. If Joe leaves, they may be less inclined to spend, preferring to go cheap once again in free agency, and saving money. Considering that the team has been nearly allergic to using the Mid-Level Exception and other monies, that is a less than comforting thought.
Suggestions for Plan B?
There needs to be a Plan B, whether Joe re-signs or not. If he stays, what should the Hawks do to enhance the team (we’ll call this Plan B1)? Everybody, apparently including coach Larry Drew and center/forward Al Horford would like to see a more traditionally-sized center brought in, and I’m inclined to believe that Rick Sund will see this through, this time around. But what about a third point guard? Is it wise to keep Jamal Crawford in mind to see some few minutes at that position, or should the Hawks stick to having him play off the ball? Would a third guard that’s capable of playing point guard hamper Jeff Teague’s growth? Would you like to see Mike Bibby moved and another guy brought in? How does Jordan Crawford fit in, and does he allow the movement of Jamal Crawford to another team, if necessary?
Another issue could be small forward. While the 6′5″ Mo Evans can pull spot duty there, he is too often a bandaid on a gash. Unless Marvin Williams improves to the point of being rock solid at the position, the Hawks find themselves average-to-inadequate at a position that is easier to fill than most. Should the Hawks seek to improve themselves at small forward by moving Marvin, or should they see how he plays under Larry Drew? Will his talent and productivity finally be maximized (and consistent) under different coaching, or have we seen all he has to offer?
Free Agency Options Dwindling
Plan B2 (if Joe declines the offer) is something we’ve already discussed, and that includes what should be done if Joe leaves. The first name to pop up amongst both fans and media has been John Salmons. If reports prove true, the Bucks have all but re-signed the talented but inconsistent veteran guard, leaving the Hawks to look elsewhere. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. Salmons would have been an easy out, but was he what the Hawks needed anyway? Perhaps gambling less cash on a guy like Anthony Morrow, but veteran talent often means more when it comes to making the playoffs, not to mention competing in them. That, and the Hawks may have preferred not to add more youth to a somewhat young team.
More than anything, the Hawks must prove to be shrewd more than they are frugal. Maybe spending a lot on Joe isn’t a good idea. Maybe it is. Maybe that’s not the issue. Perhaps Plan B spending is what will make the difference, whether it’s Plan B1 or Plan B2. Perhaps if the Hawks ownership can be convinced to spend big, then they can be convinced to spend wisely. In the end, that means trusting your General Manager implicitly. And that, my friends, means that Sund has to make wise moves. Can Sund do this?
What would you like to see the Hawks do?