Atlanta Hawks: Why J.J. may be worth more to the Hawks than you think

If J.J. walks, the Hawks won't be able to replace him with a comparable free agency. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

If J.J. walks, the Hawks won't be able to replace him with a comparable free agent. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Hawks GM Rick Sund said the team will do whatever it takes to re-sign Joe Johnson but he’s not writing the checks. One guy who is, ASG’s Michael Gearon Jr., said the Hawks would “react” once Johnson hits the free-agent market on July 1.

Gearon didn’t want to talk about J.J. this week but on the day after the Hawks’ season ended he offered some insight into his view on max contracts:

“The biggest problem most teams make is they sign a contract and it ends up being a bad contract. You look at the Miami Heat, Jermaine O’Neal makes $23 million a year. Is he a player that is worth $23 million a year? I would say probably not. If you look at our team, we’ve assembled a team where we try to stay away from bad contracts.

“That said, there isn’t a move we haven’t made. We thought it made sense to get Jamal Crawford here and increase the payroll, so we did that. With the salary cap, the only way go above that is trade players you have or you re-sign players you have where the payroll goes up. Since we bought the team the payroll has increased [by] $24 million What we haven’t done is make a mistake with a bad contract. Well, I shouldn’t say that, Speedy’s contract wasn’t very good, but we turned it into something [in the Crawford trade].”

The obvious counter to Gearon’s argument is getting players like O’Neal often requires signing (or trading for) deals that carry some risk on the back end. But clearly that’s not ASG’s philosophy and, as I’ve said before, it’s hard to blame them since there are only a few max-salary players who would excite fans to the point of offering a reasonable chance of a return on investment in this market. Gearon again:

“If somebody came to us tomorrow and said you can have LeBron for max money and it puts you in the luxury tax, I’d do it in a a heartbeat. But am I going to do that for Ilgauskas? Am I going to do it for Jermaine O’Neal? I don’t think so. . . .

“We have piled tens of millions of dollars into this product to make it good. But it’s also up to fans to show up and see your team and support your team. I think we’ve given them a product as exciting as any in the league. You want people to be there, you want them to support your team and be proud of it. I think we have a team that deserves that.”

No one knows for sure what J.J. can get on the market and/or at what point Sund’s “whatever it takes” is trumped by ASG’s fiscal restraint. But chances are if the Hawks are going to sign a major free agent this summer, it’s going to be J.J. Otherwise, due to salary-cap rules they don’t have many options for signing a comparable replacement.

You can either trust me on that, slog through the following detailed explanation (which could possibly make your head hurt and your eyeballs bleed) or skip down the paragraph that starts with “All of those moves technically would leave the Hawks with $8.1 million in cap room”. . . .

I’ve checked all of the following against info posted by cap expert Larry Coon. I also exchanged e-mails with Coon, who after years of providing friendly help for helpless hacks like me now is writing a blog at the New York Times Web site, among other places. I also corresponded with blog reader Robert Dinterman, who says he’s just a fan with a lot of CBA knowledge. I can tell you this is true, so Ps and thanks to Robert.

I’ve included the appropriate links if you are interested in how I came up with the numbers or are some kind of masochist (I don’t judge). I’m pretty confident it’s all accurate but I don’t claim to be a cap expert or any better than competent at simple arithmetic. If you think there are any errors in math or cap interpretation, please send me an email–mcunningham at ajc.com–and I will check it out and update where necessary.

As it stands, the Hawks have roughly $47.6 million committed to eight players next season when including Mo Evans’ $2.5 million. Let’s say Evans opts out and then J.J. and Josh Childress and all their other free agents signs elsewhere and/or the Hawks renounce all their free agents.

If all of that happens, then the following would come off the Hawks’ books for their total offseason salary of approximately $78.9 million, which includes committed salaries and cap holds for their free agents and the No. 24 draft pick (assuming they keep it):

Joe Johnson’s $15.8 million cap hold

As a Bird Free Agent, Johnson’s offseason salary figure is based on 150 % of previous salary, which is about $22.5 million, but the figure can’t exceed the maximum salary for a nine-year player, which hasn’t been determined yet but that Coon estimates will be about $15.8 million.

Josh Childress’ $10.9 million cap hold

Childress is a Bird Free Agent coming off the fourth year of his rookie-scale contract. According to the 2004-05 rookie scale, Childress’ fourth-year salary as the No. 6 pick was 26.8 percent more than his third-year salary of $2.86 million, or $3.6 million. (The higher salary is because Childress made about 120 percent more than the scale, which is allowable.) The $3.6 million is less than the league-defined average salary of $4.9 million in 2004-05. Therefore, Childress’ cap hold is 300 percent more than $3.6 million, or roughly $10.9 million.

Mo Evans’ $2.5 million salary

If Mo opts out, his salary is wiped out.

Mario West’s $1.06 million cap hold

As a three-year veteran who has been previously waived, West is a non-bird, restricted free agent. As such, his team salary is calculated as the greater of 120 percent of his previous salary ($572,344) or his qualifying offer. For West, the qualifying offer is the greater of 125 percent of his previous salary ($596,191) or the three-year vet minimum ($885,120) plus $175,000, which is $1.06 million.

Joe Smith’s $854,389 cap hold

Smith is a 12-year veteran with a minimum 2010-11 salary of $1.352 million, but since he’s played more than seasons any salary in excess of the two-year veteran minimum salary in 2010-11 ($854,389) is reimbursed by the league and not counted as part of team salary.

Jason Collins’ $854,389 cap hold

Collins is a nine-year veteran with a minimum 2010-11 salary of $1.229 million, but since he’s played more than three seasons any salary in excess of the two-year veteran minimum salary in 2010-11 ($854,389) is reimbursed by the league and not counted as part of team salary.

Randolph Morris $854,389 cap hold

Morris is a four-year veteran with a minimum 2010-11 salary of $992,680, but since he’s played more than three seasons any salary in excess of the two-year veteran minimum salary in 2010-11 ($854,389) is reimbursed by the league and not counted as part of the team salary.

Subtracting Evans’ option plus the free-agent holds would leave the Hawks’ salaries at about $46.1 million (committed salaries for seven players at $45.1 million plus the rookie scale amount of $964,000 for the 24th pick).

But other salary charges apply since the Hawks then would be under the salary cap (estimated by the league will be $56.1 million in 2010-11) and have only eight players when counting the players under contract plus the first-round pick. The roster charge for the four empty spots below 12 are based on the 2010-11 rookie minimum salary of $473,604, for a total of $1.89 million. That would increase the Hawks’ salary total to about $48 million ($46.1 million plus $1.9 million).

All of those moves technically would leave the Hawks with roughly $8.1 million in cap room, but they would be subject to holds for the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions. Those holds apply if adding them would put the Hawks over the cap. It’s hard to say if that will happen now because while the amount for the 2010-11 bi-annual exception is known ($2.08 million) the mid-level amount hasn’t yet been set (Coon is estimating it will be $5.73 million this season). Also, all these salary numbers are estimates while the league calculates them down to dollars and cents. No, really.

If the Hawks are subject to cap holds for the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, they could renounce those exceptions to gain cap room. Either way, they would be looking at adding players by using either the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions or roughly $8 million in cap room plus minimum-salaried players. So even if Evans opts out, Johnson walks, Childress returns to Greece and/or the Hawks renounce those two and all of their other free agents, there’s still not much flexibility for the Hawks.

As for the Hawks using Johnson in a sign-and-trade to get more value in return, the best way for that to happen is trading him to a team that is over the salary cap. Teams with enough cap room can just sign Johnson straight up and, as everyone knows, there are lots of those teams this summer. Already the Heat are reported to have interest in Johnson, who has said he likes them, too.

If Johnson wants a maximum deal under the Bird rules and his new team agrees, he could go back to the Hawks and ask for a sign-and-trade (he can get six years instead of five and up to about $30 million more that way). But the Hawks wouldn’t have much leverage in that situation, especially if Johnson’s new team is offering him the non-bird max and the Hawks don’t want to go that high. In that case if the Hawks say no to a sign-and-trade, then J.J. could just sign with the new team for the non-bird max.

If the Hawks agreed to a sign-and-trade with Johnson’s new team, they could expect to get back something similar to what Seattle acquired in similar circumstances when Rashard Lewis bolted as a free agent for Orlando in 2007: a conditional second-rick pick and a trade exception.

All of this is a long, painful, mind-numbing way of saying Johnson’s value to the Hawks is enhanced not only because he’s their best player, but also because should he leave they won’t have the flexibility to sign a comparable player. The Hawks could try to get better through trades, but then the problem becomes their reluctance to break up their core group (and possibly weaken the roster in other areas) and the difficulty with trading bad contracts for better players. That’s not to mention ASG’s aversion to taking on large, long-term deals and paying the luxury tax (expected to be about $70 million in 2010-11).

So after three straight years in the playoffs and consecutive trips to the East semis, the Hawks would be hard-pressed to be as good or better next season if J.J. leaves. There could potentially be more flexibility the next season, with Jamal off the books and Bibby’s contract more tradeable, but who the heck knows what will happen between now and then.

Now excuse me while I go place bandages over my bleeding eyeballs.

MC

475 comments Add your comment

O'Brien

May 19th, 2010
8:18 pm

said the co-owner “We have piled tens of millions of dollars into this product to make it good. But it’s also up to fans to show up and see your team and support your team.”

I wonder if he has been talking to northcyde lol.

KBP

May 19th, 2010
8:39 pm

MC, you warned me and I read the salary cap stuff anyway. Have any more bandages? ASG should keep Joe if financially possible. I have always thought he was the 3rd best two guard in the league. Portland extended Marcus Camby’s contract 2 more years after they had already extended Joel Pryzbylla’s contract for 3 more years. This may make Greg Oden available. Send them Josh and Zsa Zsa for Oden. Keep Marvin, Woody’s offense was Marvin’s biggest problem as it was for Boris Diaw. What do you think?

wcj

May 19th, 2010
8:43 pm

This situation is a mess!!!!!

Dukester9

May 19th, 2010
8:46 pm

1 I dont want to look around in 5 years and JJ becomes our Jermaine Oneal.
2. I hope the philosphy changes with this organization and get rid of the long tall players (everybody 6′9″) including your center.

3. I say send Bibby,Marvin, Puchalia packing somehow someway for a legit center that can play defense and rebound. I say Dalmebert from the 76ers, i mean we if we can dump 1 or 2 bad long term deals from 1 bad short term deal and get a decent center is not a bad deal.

RomeDawg

May 19th, 2010
8:46 pm

Uh….yeah, whatever he said. That is some of the craziest business I have ever seen! Basically, I should stop the “We Want Lebron” shirts from printing?

Zach

May 19th, 2010
8:54 pm

MC,

I just don’t understand why we (if we’re gonna spend 20 mil on Joe) can’t get LeBron? I just don’t understand. Does he not want to come here? What is it? Really how big of difference would it be?

ET

May 19th, 2010
8:55 pm

So it looks like the only way we see improvement next year is if the new coach turns out to be better than Woody and JJ and Crawford stay…

Worm

May 19th, 2010
8:55 pm

Who the heck cares!

Dukester9

May 19th, 2010
8:56 pm

KBP I agree with you on the Marvin thing and disagree about Josh. Yeah Josh is a young winer, but so is just about all of the NBA players now, Josh just needs a coach who he can respect and teach him his strenghts and let him fly. Josh can be a 17pt 10rb 4blck 5asst player on atheletic ability and hustle alone. MARVIN has no heart that says it all. I agree Woody ruined him but a guy with heart would have fought back like Josh did and improve regardless of the environment.

Jamaaliver

May 19th, 2010
8:56 pm

Thanks for that detailed explanation, MC. I have to say, you might be the best beat writer we’ve had in these parts for quite some time. And considering who your predecessor is, that’s saying something.

I rarely post, but I read through every chance I get. Well done man, and keep up the good work.

Eric

May 19th, 2010
8:58 pm

Would the Bulls trade Deng and Heinrich for JJ? Then they could feasibly have Rose, JJ, Lebron, and Noah, not a bad start to a team.

Dukester9

May 19th, 2010
9:01 pm

The only reason i say trade for Dalembert because it will allow us to move Bibby and Pachulia’s contracts and still fill a need. Plus Dalembert contract expire next year. Oden come on what will we be getting??? LOL

Dukester9

May 19th, 2010
9:03 pm

I 2nd that Jamaaliver he works very hard. Good Job sir

tyger

May 19th, 2010
9:03 pm

Gilbert Arenas, Josh Howard….

Big Ray

May 19th, 2010
9:08 pm

Actually, what all this says is that the Hawks put a lot of their eggs into one basket. Add that to monumentally screwing up top-five lottery picks in the draft two years in a row, and here we are.

Heh.

And yeah, Gearon sounds exactly like Northcyde. But should you be surprised to hear him say that? Uhhhhhh….no.

ryan

May 19th, 2010
9:10 pm

So i gues what the Hawks could do is trade Jamal Crawford and Bibby in some kind of package deal. I the Hawks have to find some way to clear cap space. They can not miss out on this deep free agent class.

Welty

May 19th, 2010
9:11 pm

Get rid of JJ’s lazy azz and don’t look back.

His non-performance in the playoffs was awesomely uninspiring. The Hawks should sue the jerk for the $15 million they paid him.

Big Ray

May 19th, 2010
9:11 pm

Maybe that was another way of saying that Joe will get paid whatever he wants to stay here (and you better like it, dang it).

Okay then. But can we see to it that he gets a couple of open looks per game from now on? I’m tired of 18 second ISOs and miserable playoff performances. Bring in the new coach!

jfreak13713

May 19th, 2010
9:13 pm

The question is are we going to pay J.J. big money long term or let Crawford fill that role and clear some cap room for year after next? Not an easy question to answer but I guess that depends on the head coach we get?? If the Hawks pick the right coach then we all know that with J.J. the Hawks are a very good team. We all should remember that the Hawks played under a limited offensive minded coach. Who knows what they will do with a coach who really knows how to get the best out of them. A good solid center would make a huge difference but most teams could say that.

In the end even without J.J. the Hawks should still be good enough to make the playoffs and lose in the second round??

Also, Sund when was the last time you took a ride on MARTA? If you are looking for reasons why some don’t attend games start with the old HIGHTOWER station!

Michael Cunningham

May 19th, 2010
9:13 pm

@KBP: man, my head is hurting. your trade wouldn’t come close to working with the salaries (Josh + Zaza=$15.8 mil, Odom=$6.8). the trade exception is salaries have to be within 125% + $125,000 so Portland would have to throw in roughly $7 million more in salary for it to work (Josh has a trade kicker that complicates things further). plus, not sure Portland would want to give up on Oden while he’s still got one year of rookie scale salary remaining, nor would Hawks likely want to take on an injury risk for two years for a healthy and productive player with a reasonable contract. intriguing deal, though, i like the thinking.

and there are Hawks people who agree with you re: Marvin

The Ayatollah

May 19th, 2010
9:14 pm

I must say that JJ’s 14 points per game performance in the second round was riveting and losing by 25 points a game while being swept was overwhelmingly thrilling. Thanks for the memories Mr. Gearon. Too bad more fans didn’t show up or it would have surely been better than that. If the fans had just supported the team, they could have been in the playoffs still. Yep sure right you betcha.

Welty

May 19th, 2010
9:15 pm

Is Bill Russell still playing? I would love to have him. :-)

Michael Cunningham

May 19th, 2010
9:16 pm

@Dukester: “I dont want to look around in 5 years and JJ becomes our Jermaine Oneal.” true, but would you feel the same if, in the interim, the Hawks made a legit posteason run?

“I say send Bibby,Marvin, Puchalia packing somehow someway for a legit center that can play defense and rebound. I say Dalmebert from the 76ers, i mean we if we can dump 1 or 2 bad long term deals from 1 bad short term deal and get a decent center is not a bad deal.”

Dalembert is a center with an expiring deal for $10 million, which will make him a hot commodity next season. The Sixers won’t deal him for, as you say, one or two bad long-term deals.

Michael Cunningham

May 19th, 2010
9:18 pm

@Zach: the Hawks’ max for Joe will start at something more like $16 million. the reason they can’t do the same for LeBron is they are over the salary cap and can’t carve out enough space to fit LeBron under the cap. the only way to get him would be a sign-and-trade, which would mean LeBron has to want to play here, J.J. has to want to play in Cleveland and the two teams have to come to an agreement. i think that scenario ends with LeBron wanting to play here.

Michael Cunningham

May 19th, 2010
9:20 pm

@ET: “So it looks like the only way we see improvement next year is if the new coach turns out to be better than Woody and JJ and Crawford stay…”

that’s a good way to look at it (Crawford staying is at least in the Hawks’ control). another way to do it is if the Hawks can swing a trade that immediately makes them better, but i don’t see how they have the pieces and the financial wherewithal to do that.

O'Brien

May 19th, 2010
9:20 pm

Ray,

Not only did we waste lottery picks, but we also gave Marvin, Bibby and ZaZa ~$18 mil combined yearly. Think of what we could have done with that money…

Michael Cunningham

May 19th, 2010
9:21 pm

@Jamaaliver: thanks for the Ps, i really appreciate it. but Sekou is indeed a Hawks blog legend.

OK

May 19th, 2010
9:22 pm

Get two more draft picks (maybe one for Mo Evans) and Replace Mo and Mario with some REAL wings

DEVIN EBANKS and PAUL GEORGE AKA>>> Rudy Gay X2

Pick up either Shaq, Brendan Heywood, or Travis Outlaw with our Mid-Level Exception (Ilgauskas is trash at this point)

Use our Bi-Annual on Unrestricted Free Agent 7′1 center Kyrolo Fesenko

Use the vet min to fill out the rest (Randolph etc..)

If we loose JJ we will be fine because of George and Ebanks (but we willl likely have to bring 6′5 SG Sirgey Gladyr over to help fill the void). If that happens I would also suggest waiting on a legit center for another year and getting even more wing scoring by picking up Travis Outlaw(who can also be a stretch PF) With the MLE.

We simply must get rid of Dead weight (Mike Bibby) There are no Great Guards in the draft & I do not like Bledsoe. I like the Idea of sending him to Indy for A.J Price. It seems like a good Idea since Price (no relation to Mark) is 6′3 can really stroke it and can spot up jus like Bibby. He would be a considerable upgerade defensively and now you have two different PG’s a slasher (Teague) and a Gunner (Price) BOTH of whom can play a little Defense.

titanhawk

May 19th, 2010
9:22 pm

how about we offer washington a trade like this: we send them jamal, bibby, zaza and the #24 pick for gilbert arena’s contract and the #1 pick (wall). They might take it to get him out of their. Then we are set at the point for years to come. Resign JJ. MLE John Salmons. We would have Wall, JJ, Gilbert, Smooth, and Al 1st unit. Teague, Salmons, Evans, Joe Smith, and Marvin 2nd Unit. Payroll doesnt increase much and we are much better…. in my opinion.

Dukester9

May 19th, 2010
9:23 pm

Your right about Dalmebert i think we could have got him at the trade deadline though. But Sund probably had to let Woody play his string out with his players. I agree about the short term payoff with JJ he all but guarantees us a playoff berth. Wow this will be the most interesting summer in the NBA im telling you.

Michael Cunningham

May 19th, 2010
9:24 pm

@ Big Ray: “Actually, what all this says is that the Hawks put a lot of their eggs into one basket. Add that to monumentally screwing up top-five lottery picks in the draft two years in a row, and here we are.”

when you think about those screw-ups, it really is kind of incredible that the Hawks ever got this good. the lottery is the best way to get cheap, productive players for the long term. the Hawks couldn’t do that twice, and yet here they are.

Melvin

May 19th, 2010
9:25 pm

How can Amare call his opponent game lucky after that guy got 19rebs vs his 3???

Amare is a walking layup or dunk, for the other team and some bloggers wanted to trade Josh for Amare, I say HELL NAW…

Melvin

May 19th, 2010
9:26 pm

Where is Hubie Brown? Nash failed to get back on defense on the 2nd of his consecutive turnovers

Hi, I'm devin Ebanks. Draft me!

May 19th, 2010
9:28 pm

Hi, I'm Paul George. Draft me too!

May 19th, 2010
9:29 pm

Dukester9

May 19th, 2010
9:29 pm

Um folks in case Mike has gone to bed im the moderator. Please go to ESPN.com its called the trade machine. Plug your teams and players and it gives you a solution. Good trade or Bad trade it still doesnt help if either team thinks its stupid but its a start, Please use that tool before you start putting up your trade ideas. LOL And Mike approves this message. WOW guys cmon

Hi, I'm A.J Price. Get me the Hell outta Indiana!

May 19th, 2010
9:30 pm

O'Brien

May 19th, 2010
9:34 pm

From the previous blog,

@Ramon,

Over his career, Sund has made some good moves (trading for Crawford, getting Ben Wallace in Detroit, getting Ray Allen for Gary Payton).

However, this is the same Rick Sund who hired Bob Weiss to coach the Sonics, but fired him 30 games into the season.

This is the same Rick Sund who wasted lottery picks 3 consecutive years on Robert Swift, Johan Petro, and Saer Sene (and we think drafting Shelden Williams was bad. Try drafting 3 Sheldens).

This is the same Rick Sund who gave Bibby a 3 year guaranteed contract, even though nobody was offering Bibby 3 years.

And I did not see anywhere that anybody was interested in Marvin, although part of that was because he was restricted. I think Sund jumped the gun on Marvin, Bibby and ZaZa before letting the market play out like he did with Josh and Chills.

As a result, I will wait and see how the summer plays out. As AJ would say, WWSD.

Grandad

May 19th, 2010
9:38 pm

Zach, Zach, Zach, Zach, Zach, Zach, Zach, Zach, Zach ?

Grandad

May 19th, 2010
9:42 pm

Michael:

S&T with Childress would net help / correct?

Jody

May 19th, 2010
9:48 pm

Do they really believe that if they just hire an assistant coach and do nothing else between now and July 1 that Joe Johnson is going to re-sign? They can continue to have the love fest with their “core” all they want. If they don’t realize it has some significant flaws, we’ll be back here same time next year.

robdawg08

May 19th, 2010
9:51 pm

Why are the Hawks hit with JJ’s cap amount of $15.8 million if he LEAVES as a free agent ? I don’t understand that. Why can’t they use that $15.8 million to sign another star player ? Why can’t they use JJ’s money to sign Chris Bosh ?

robdawg08

May 19th, 2010
9:54 pm

So basically the Hawks are gonna suck next year ? Thanks for the warning. I won’t waste my time next year watching them.

OK

May 19th, 2010
9:55 pm

We have JJ’s bird Rights that’s why. The rest of the top free agents will probably start off at 18mill+ wer can’t compete with. That’s why getting extra draft picks is really important to draft some capable wings (George & Ebanks) in case JJ decides to go elsewhere.

O'Brien

May 19th, 2010
9:56 pm

Jody,

Exactly. Keeping the core together is one of the reasons we are in the situation we are in. Because Rick wanted to resign Bibby, Marvin and ZaZa, keep the guys together. great for Chemistry too. But now we find out that the Chemistry was shaky at times.

There is nothing wrong with change if it makes you better.

A.J Price

May 19th, 2010
9:57 pm

Don’t forget about me! I’m stuck in Indiana and Bibby sucks! Think about it!

ryan

May 19th, 2010
9:57 pm

Yea O’ Brian i agree we wasted a the 2nd pick on Marvin Williams over Chris Paul the biggest dumbest move the Hawks will will ever have to live with next to trade Paul Gasol for S.A.R.

Jody

May 19th, 2010
9:58 pm

And when will the blaming of the fans stop? The folks in Atlanta want title contenders now, not just a team that makes the playoffs. When the Hawks made their first trip back to the playoffs in years versus the Celtics, how did the fans respond. Sell outs, that’s how. Now, they’re expectations are higher. They want a legitimate title contender and the Hawks have not provided it. When the tone at the top of the organization is “we want to keep the teams that were behind us last year behind us and we want to gain ground on the teams ahead us”, the people read that as “hey, we’re pretty much satisfied to the best of the rest”. When the Hawks really get serious about winning a title, the fans will come out and support them just like they did when the Hawks returned to the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Until then, quit blaming the fans for not wanting to spend hard earned money on mediocrity.

A.J Price

May 19th, 2010
10:00 pm

Did I mention I’m playing behined Earl Watson and T.J Ford?

A.J Price

May 19th, 2010
10:01 pm