There may have been a couple of reasons for Joe Johnson to leave Atlanta, but he ended up with around 119 million reasons to stay. Many are unhappy with the size of the contract, but the Hawks only had two choices, really. Either pay your only established star player, or go in another direction with less overall talent. The Hawks knew it. Joe and his agent knew it. Then again, how many choices did Joe really have, that he would have been happy with? What if the Hawks hadn’t offered him the max? Where would he have gone, and been comfortable? Personally, I think it was posturing more than anything else. After all, Joe would have been second fiddle almost anywhere else he could have gone, his destiny partially (and maybe largely) dependant on somebody else. A co-star at best, and paid like one. Were there any contract offers made by other teams, or did they talk more about signing him and then getting him to recruit somebody else? Considering things like that, it’s probably no small wonder that Joe jumped on the Hawks’ contract offer within a day or two of it being made.
We could debate the merits of what the Hawks have done with this max contract, and we probably will to an extent. But let’s examine some issues and questions that must follow his signing. As these questions won’t cover all topics on the table, do feel free to add your own.
1) Can Larry Drew get more out of Joe Johnson?
Maybe we’re not looking for merely “more” as much as we are “better.” Joe has proven to be a 20 ppg scorer from one season to the next, but a combination of talent and being your team’s #1 offensive option gets a lot of guys to that level. Keeping that level of performance is no mean feat, however, when defenses key on you. And despite the fact that having the ball in your hands all the time helps you to 5 assists per game, you can’t get there without the ability to make good passes. Joe gives you 20, 5, and 5 every season, but the Hawks can do better things with him. What Larry Drew and the Hawks need, is to find a way to get Joe back to the form he had in 2004-2005 with Phoenix, or his 2006-2007 season with the Hawks. In other words, put him in a position to take better advantage of the shots he gets, so he can shoot a higher percentage. If Joe shoots around 47% from the field and at least 38% from 3-point territory, watch out. We’re talking closer to 25 points per game, with even more 30+ point outbursts. If this works out, look for it to carry into the postseason as well.
2) Is Joe serious about recruiting?
Arn Tellem is a sports agent, which puts him right up there (or down there, depending on how you view it) with politicians. His suggestion that Joe is going to recruit for the team is…well…I don’t know what word should be used here. I never knew Joe cared that much, and the idea of him helping to snag Lebron is a joke, in my mind. Who has he recruited before? Who does he talk to? With a payroll ready to burst at the seams, what’s his pitch going to be? I’m having a hard time going for this one. Not necessarily because of Joe himself, but because of where the words came from. Does Joe even know who the Hawks might be targeting, and does he agree with the acquisition of such players? Does a max contract deal include provisions for recruiting and influencing decision-making processes (I thought they hired some guy named Bob to handle personnel stuff)? I can see Kobe with that kind of pull. Lebron, definitely. Wade, even. But Joe? Maybe he’s been tabbed as Hawks pitch-man to whomever they decide to try and sign, as part of his bangin’ new contract (insert mildly sarcastic tone here). Should we even take this seriously? Maybe we shouldn’t give this another thought until we hear something from Joe’s mouth.
3) What about those chemistry issues?
Love conquers all. Oops, maybe that’s supposed to be money.
If I’m Joe, and there are real, live issues in the locker room, I’d be on the phone discussing that with Larry Drew. Better yet, make it a “dinner date.” Then, I’d be on the phone with my teammates. Joe is getting paid like a mega-superstar and he is the team captain. Forget recruiting, how about reinforcing the idea of buying into whatever it is that Larry Drew is selling? How about helping to forge the team into a more serious, hard-working unit? How about working with guys like Al Horford to cultivate a winning atmosphere, rather than one where serious adversity results complete implosion? Sure, this is going to be Larry Drew’s job, but team leaders have to take on a role. Joe need not be the guy sounding the rallying cry on the court, or the fist-pumping and chest-thumping rah-rah type. But he does need to be a steadying, polarizing force. Help get the guys to work hard and serious in practice, everybody already knows how to have fun and act up. Help guys to stay focused in the locker room and in the huddle. Do the behind-the-scenes glue work. Isn’t that what “quiet” guys do?
4) Can Marvin Williams be salveaged?
Big question. Sund and Drew have to think hard on this, because there may be a deal right around the corner where Williams would have to be involved. Can Drew turn Williams into a viable offensive option? Some say Marvin’s problems begin and end with former coach Mike Woodson. Others say that he has never had the talent to be effective. Both lines of thinking tend to be on the far end of either spectrum, and neither has anything to do with his rebounding and defensive production. It does bear noting, however, that Marvin’s shot attempts have declined since the ‘07-’08 season. And before you say it, yes, he had more shot attempts this past season (664) than he did in ‘08-’09 (622). But you would be forgetting something. Marvin played in 81 games last season, as opposed to just 61 in the season prior to that. His shot attempts per game went down by 2 per game from ‘08-’09 to ‘09-’10. Still, this doesn’t explain his frequent hesitation to drive the ball without an open lane, his awkward angles to the basket, or his pedestrian shooting from the arc. Can Marvin remain a viable part of the core of this team, or is it time to move on? Any deals that come to the table involving a bigger player to help Al Horford in the post may only serve to complicate things.
5) What will happen with Josh Childress?
The Hawks lost Childress’ services for two years straight, but now he wants to come back to the NBA. Or so it’s being reported. Count me among those who think Childress won’t wear a Hawks uniform again in this lifetime, but I could be wrong. There have been reports that the Wizards and other teams are interested in him. Should the Hawks try to bring him back to the fold, or should they try to move him for other players/assets? When he was here, Childress was the perfect glue guy on the court by playing smart and hustling all the time. No doubt the Hawks could use that now. However, he may want to ply his trade elsewhere. With Joe back in the fold, the Hawks should be able to get moving on this front, and see how they can make it work for them. As unlikely as it may or may not be, Childress could come back and play for the one year qualifier of $4.8 million, just to get his foot back into the NBA door. Or, the Hawks could find a way to peddle him off for something else.
Summer is in full swing.