Atlanta Hawks: ‘Alternative present’ appealing?

At Hoopinion, Bret LaGree uses his Cavs game recap to imagine how Hawks fans might have accepted a team without Joe Johnson:

Last night might have been a glimpse of an alternative present, one where the Hawks, at 12:01am on July 1, 2010, did not immediately offer Joe Johnson every cent they possibly could. A present where the Hawks, following a sober assessment of their current state and future options, chose to take a chance on their young frontcourt, trusted their fan base to accept short-term mediocrity as part of a bid for long-term relevance, and let someone else be the highest bidder for Joe Johnson’s thirties.

Last night’s Hawks game doesn’t prove anything about anything and I acknowledge that this alternative present I envisioned assumed some manner of Mike Bibby disposal to remain a pleasant thought. But say the Hawks had sold the 2010-11 season on the basis of the future. Imagine a 2010-11 season wherein the Hawks still extended Al Horford to a reasonable deal, either got rid of Bibby in some fashion or just played Jeff Teague anyway, looked forward to the options inherent in Jamal Crawford’s expiring contract coming off the books, struggled mightily against good teams, and beat up on bad teams.

It would, I suspect, be, empirically, much like this team. The difference would be the path taken to achieve similar results and if that path frequently included nights like this . . . would the Hawks be significantly worse off in terms of short-term perception? Would the future seem, if not more hopeful, at least less sadly certain?

Of course all of this assumes the Hawks would have a) received some useful players/assets in a sign-and-trade for J.J. and/or wisely used the cap space left over after his departure; b) done the same with Jamal; and c) used whatever assets the team acquired in such a way as to build a team that provided fans real hope for the future. Considering the team’s recent history of drafting, player evaluation, and resource allocation (both in terms of money and player roles), there would be some understandable skepticism about the prospects for such a scenario bearing fruit.

Still, I do think it’s a vision ASG could have sold to fans without much trouble. Normally teams that let their best player walk face a potential backlash. But J.J. (or really any of the current “core” outside of Al) wasn’t popular after last spring’s surrender to Orlando. The Hawks could have leveled with their fans and told them while the team may not have been as good this season without J.J. it still could make the playoffs (and, if not, get a lottery pick).

Then the Hawks could have gone about the process of turning J.J., Jamal, and any of their beloved “core” into a group that plausibly would be better next season than in 2010-11. All the while the Hawks could have whispered that they plan to make an all-out run at Dwight or CP3 in the summer of 2012 because ASG knows you need a top 5-10 player to win a title and will pay the tax for that chance. Failing that, the Hawks could have built a team that truly follows the Detroit model and includes tough-minded, defensive-focused players while still looking for opportunities to acquire a top 5 player or luck up into drafting one.

Instead, ASG found itself in the curious position of giving J.J. the richest contract in the league, in direct contradiction to its (unfair) cheap image, and getting ripped for it. The criticism increased when they failed to follow that bold move with others and settled into a familiar stasis. Now the Hawks are a mess with the playoffs to begin soon.

Their attendance has sagged. As LeGree points out, their esteem in the eyes of fans has declined both among those who are casual and not interested in the Hawks as entertainment, and those who are serious and stay loyal to the team but are dismayed because they saw this coming and now have little hope for future improvement.

So, even if you are skeptical that the Hawks could have competently embraced LeGree’s J.J.-less “alternative present” and then made smart moves for the future I’m sure they could have sold the plan. It turns out that would have been better than what they are selling right now.

Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat

111 comments Add your comment

O'Brien

March 29th, 2011
10:32 am

MC,

I was on board with resigning JJ, mainly because I had no confidence in the ASG and Rick finding a way to rebuild on the fly.

But I think fans would have been ok with the Hawks doing a SNT for JJ. Not only did he not play well after game 4 of the Bucks series, but he also said he didnt care if fans showed up or not to watch them against Orlando.

And with an expiring contract in Jamal, and a well sought after piece in JJ, Rick would have had options, and could probably have gotten some picks thrown in.

Anways, I dont necessarily think keeping JJ was a mistake. I think the mistake was promoting Woody’s assistant, and not shaking up the core.

wesleywhatwhat

March 29th, 2011
10:34 am

NEVER should have signed joe johnson to a max deal.

FullSpeed

March 29th, 2011
10:35 am

JohnGTFan

March 29th, 2011
10:38 am

There’s actually an article stating that Williams and Crawford could be key to 1st round upset. Atlanta wouldn’t beat ANY of the teams in the playoffs, much less Orlando. Team is just garbage.

Please Get Out Joe.

March 29th, 2011
10:40 am

Hey whats new, JJ is getting paid, why should he care about winning. This team absolutely sucks, keep Smith and Horford and cut the rest. That would be a big improvement over what we have now. And Drew is a terrible coach, would have rather had Woody if I knew that was the direction they were going to take. What a complete group of morons running that team. At least we got that going for us. We have the best morons running our team in the country!

dstdeelite

March 29th, 2011
10:45 am

Michael Cunningham

March 29th, 2011
10:46 am

“MC, I was on board with resigning JJ, mainly because I had no confidence in the ASG and Rick finding a way to rebuild on the fly.”

i think they could have plausibly sold it as something short of a full rebuild. they still would have Josh, Al and Jamal.

HawksGoingBackward

March 29th, 2011
10:48 am

@ Michael Cunningham

A few weeks ago I posted a response asking why the Hawks would take a player like Marvin Williams with the #2 overall pick and immediately put him in a role players position. I argued that by not trading Joe Johnson and therefore leaving him in place as the alpha dog on the team that Marvin would never mature properly and thus his present state is what you are left with.

I give you the Seattle Supersonics as an example. With the #2 overall pick and a talented but developing guy named Kevin Durant to be chosen they did what you should do when taking a player with his talent and TEMPERAMENT. They traded Ray Allen a still very good hall of fame sharp shooter who has since won a championship.

What would have happened had they kept Ray Allen? Would it have stumped the growth of Kevin Durant, most certainly, and you wouldnt have the Jeff Green turned Kendrick Perkins pick.

But I dont wanna say that Marvin would be on par or better than Kevin Durant but its more than fair to say that he would be better than he is right now considering how much better he plays when Joe Johnson isnt on the floor. And the Hawks as a team would easily be in atleast the exact same position with more flexibility and possibly playing with more developed leadership.

That situation playing out is way to much to ask from ASG. That type of foresight only comes from legit business people with a model for winning which the ASG has proven to be devoid of. I for one am a Marvin supporter and find it unfortunate that he gets the “rap” that he has been given, he was supposed to be the premier player on this team ala Kevin Durant, but he was robbed and shoved in the backup role.

The exact same thing can be said about Jeff Teague but thats for another post.

Boring

March 29th, 2011
10:48 am

It doesn’t matter. The ownership doesn’t give two Varsity chili dogs for this team. I’m DONE watching them. I was done watching Josh Smith heave up 3 pointers and the coach doing NOTHING about it. Stinks.

HawksGoingBackward

March 29th, 2011
10:50 am

@ Michael Cunningham

Possible SNT scenario:

Joe Johnson to the Mavericks for Caron Butler and Brendon Haywood. Mark Cuban would jump through a fire hoop for a chance to get what everyone thought Joe Johnson to be, Brendan Haywood and Carons expiring contract would have been the least they would have given up to get Joe.

Your thoughts?

JohnGTFan

March 29th, 2011
10:52 am

The ONLY way to fix this team is trade JJ..even if you take a step back for a couple years. Of course, that will never happen. Send him to NJ or NYC and get whatever you can…doesn’t matter. Just dump him and start over. Again, will never happen.

julius

March 29th, 2011
11:00 am

FIRE THE COACH HE STINKS

JeJe

March 29th, 2011
11:13 am

FIRE LD
FIRE WOODY
FIRE JOE

Section 303

March 29th, 2011
11:13 am

God…..this makes me sick. The Hawks will regret that Joe Johnson contract for years to come. The sad thing is, the ASG does not realize it. They still think they made the right move. That’s what we’re dealing with….a group of morons.

And, wouldn’t be refreshing to have an ownership group that talked reality to fans, instead of trying to push a bunch of b#llsh#t through? If they would had said the things above (in Michael’s blog) I’m betting most would have understood. Besides, I was there. Joe Johnson walked off the court with the entire arena booing him. No one would have been that upset had they not re-signed him.

Rufus1

March 29th, 2011
11:15 am

Joe creates his problems…

Joe gets plenty of very good open looks but he waits for the defender, so he can take a more difficult shot….CRAZY!

I also think the pressure of this contract is too heavy for him. He isn’t an “Alfa Dog”, but he has an “Alfa Dog” contract. If the Hawks fail, it is his fault, because he took the contract.

NagoyaHawk

March 29th, 2011
11:17 am

JJ’s just not into this year. I agree that we should have shipped him last year. But things really seemed so bleak without him. Little did we know that it would end up much worse.

Dr. W.

March 29th, 2011
11:25 am

Question.

You and another guy have won an NBA contest. The two of you will be coaches in a one-game winner-take-all contest, with a prize of one million dollars to the winning coach. Your players are to be chosen from the rosters of the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics.

Each of you will get 5 players and 5 players only.

You win a coin flip and get to pick first. By pick first, I mean you get to pick all five of your players before the other guy gets any.

Question: How many Hawks will you choose?

Sautee

March 29th, 2011
11:27 am

Rufus,

More like an Omega dog, IMO. ;-)

Jerry West

March 29th, 2011
11:27 am

I’ve often wondered about a scenario in which Joe walked, but like many other fans, was worried about how the Hawks would replace him (like say overpaying John Salmons for a multiyear deal).

But if ever the ASG could have saved some money and looking good while doing it, letting Joe go last summer would’ve been the time. Monumental sweep by the Magic, in which your star player pisses off the fanbase (and doesn’t play well), it woulda been an easy PR win.

But that would’ve been “too much like right” for this franchise.

newkid

March 29th, 2011
11:32 am

HawksGoingBackward,
Good thoughts in your 10:48 am post.

Perhaps an alternative view of the JJ signing is one in which Sund saw/sees JJ as the chip he needs to get the ‘big fish’ he covets in summer of ‘11 or ‘12. Maybe the plan was to ‘retain’ the chip (even at an unreasonable long-term cost) long enough to parlay it into that coveted top ten player. Maybe Sund saw that the coveted top ten player wasn’t available during the summer of ‘10, but might be available in ‘12. Maybe the JJ signing was about ‘holding your water’ until the right opportunity presented itself. Sund’s history strongly suggests that – with very few exceptions – his light doesn’t shine that bright, so perhaps these are fairly LARGE ‘maybees’.

I’ve posited that the Nets MUST have a major injection of talent to complement DWill as they enter the new arena in Brooklyn in ‘12. The world now knows that money is no object for the Russian, and that the Nets are well-positioned – salary cap wise – to take on another huge salary. JJ is potentially the complement the Nets target for ‘12, and maybe there is a way to turn this possibility into a part of the ingredients required to get D12, who I think will opt out of Orlando. Not only will he opt out, he’ll be in a position – similar to Melo – to identify his next destination.

Why Atlanta? Well there are at least a few reasons. 1st: Home, parents, friends, the rock upon which his life is built. 2nd: Last year he reportedly fired his agent and estabiished an entity managed by his family and friends to manage his affairs (a la LeBron). 3rd: Did you know that his lady friend is an upstart in the music business? Is their a better city – professionally speaking – for a fledgling vocalist than Atlanta? 4th: He’s a huge personality and needs/deserves a big stage. The team (currently without a real ‘face’ and personality) and the city provide that stage. No need to share with the Kobes, the Melos, the Amare’s, and the like when Hawks personnel demonstrably ready for downstage supporting role.

James on Pharr Rd

March 29th, 2011
11:36 am

Michael, what say you to the notion of rebuilding with a new old timer style coach? He could be Coach/GM I kind of like Larry Brown. Its identity and balance that we really need.

Tee

March 29th, 2011
11:38 am

@newkid, it’s nice to dream. Not to mention, he was best man at Josh Smith’s wedding.

Worldwide Clyde

March 29th, 2011
11:41 am

From The Last Blog:

“what jordan crawford has proven thus far is he is a gunner without a conscious.” -Doc

Jamal Crawford is exactly the same. There have been many times Jamal has shot us out of the game. Me I’d rather have Jordan Crawford because he’s on a rookie salary.

Worldwide Clyde

March 29th, 2011
11:44 am

Joe Johnson does not want to play for the Hawks. The only reason he’s here is because of the money. When the Heat came to town a couple of weeks ago Lebron and Dwade put on a show but Joe Johnson laid down and quit.

FIRE LD
FIRE SUND

O'Brien

March 29th, 2011
11:44 am

MC,

True, because if the Hawks had traded JJ, they would still be competing for a playoff spot (imo).

One of the proposals that the blog discussed over the offseason was a SNT to Chicago. Hawks get Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, and filler for JJ. We could have started Kirk and Jamal in the backcourt, while Bibby and Gibson comes off the bench with Mo Evans, Jordan Crawford, ZaZa and whichever wing we signed, and maybe we could have used the MLE to bring in somebody else.

And we could have probably worked out a SNT deal with the Knicks too (look at all the pieces they gave up to Denver).

But the rumor was the ASG didn’t mind giving JJ the contract, because they don’t plan on owning the team by the time JJ gets to year 4, so he will become somebody else’s problem.

Newkid,

I think Dwight ends up in LA. Howard for Bynum and fillers.

Brian

March 29th, 2011
11:46 am

ahhh…..Jordan Crawford is averaging like 20 a game with the Wizards. Another great move!

Trojan

March 29th, 2011
11:50 am

MC: Great blog, great writing.

The key to this whole discussion is the wish there was an actual “plan” to team. Why aren’t we one of those teams gearing up for Dwight Howard? We need to build toward an identity, not hope one apprears.

We need a long term plan.

Slimjr

March 29th, 2011
11:52 am

Connect the DOTS,lalala……………

WAS NOT THE GM IN SEATTLE THE INFAMOUS RICK SUND????????????
I REST MY CASE……YAWN

10,9,8,7,6……TILL HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM????

PREDICTION: ORLANDO IN 4……………..SHOOT…………..
SHOTS WILL STOP FALLIN……………UH OH……………..

Undisputed Champ!

March 29th, 2011
11:57 am

Like Bibby Joe has represent this franchise well, however he has held Marvin Williams back. Trade Joe if you can find a taker for that salary, Add horford too. Lets go wlth Marvin and Josh. Go after Chris Paul and Plug in a Bynum and Nene. Its time to move forward and change the direction the hawks are moving in. Get rid of Drew. Firing Woodson was a Big mistake, but it is what it is. Lets up grade the post and the coaches position.

And please FIRE SUND!

Trojan

March 29th, 2011
11:57 am

Another issue with this team is the fact that no matter how hot we could possibly get in the playoffs, this team had peaked as presently constructed and coached.

MAJOR CHANGES are needed. I hope Sund never uses the word core again.

cazz7

March 29th, 2011
11:59 am

The IQ of this team is at a loss, team has obviouisly been drafting and free agent signing on talent where the better teams are focused on high IQ players. This is not intended to be a slap at the team concept just the reality of it is what it is; cant win with this team as it is. The guard they recently got is a true point; but do they even know what that is?

James on Pharr Rd

March 29th, 2011
12:00 pm

And JJ to Dallas has very many likely scenarios that make both teams better.JJ is a top 15 player in the league, but we may have to consider building from a different starting block. My personal take is we should dump all salaries save for Al and Josh (if possible). Get those guys 18-23 shots a game, and work towards high draft picks, identity building, and salary flexibility.We can make another run in 2013/14

Slimjr

March 29th, 2011
12:00 pm

New Ownership is the key to righting the ship..Kick Sund and LD to the curb. Then start to dismantle this sorry core and beef up the bench….

Al for NENE
Josh for Rudy Gay
Marvin and Kirk for Dwill

Dream on ………………….why not?

Joey

March 29th, 2011
12:01 pm

JJ is the Hawks’ best player?

Slimjr

March 29th, 2011
12:03 pm

Woody sucked…………in 6 yrs he was over 100 games below .500………….Scrub………………….

His assistant is well on his way too…………….

Big-Mike

March 29th, 2011
12:08 pm

Why did we get rid of the coach for his backup and then throw the same guys on the floor expecting
change??Signing JJ is like getting rid of Nique in the late 80’s…We could have traded Marvin and Josh 4 a real bigman that could rebound and be a defenses present in the paint…Nobody respect
Atl in the paint….Then went after a real muti-million dollar man….Joe can get his shot…A real
star can get his shot when he want it or when your team need a score…This year has been a waste..

Slimjr

March 29th, 2011
12:12 pm

repeat New OWNERSHIP is key to righting this sinking stinking ship!!!!!!!!!!!!
Then throw out the trash!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

JohnGTFan

March 29th, 2011
12:12 pm

There is NO NEED to move Al Horford. None at all. Atlanta needs to get rid of JJ, let Jamal go, and if there is ANY decent center in the draft, even if they have to trade up to do it, regardless the cost, move up to draft and develop him. Then Al can play his natural position, even if the center is average to above average, that’s all ATL needs, and if Smoove doesn’t like playing the 3, then he can go also. I’m a huge fan of his, but I’m tired of waiting for him to grow up and act like a man, instead of a 5 year old.

Oh wait, we traded our no.1 draft pick in next year’s draft for Hinrich. So, another boring off-season and 2011-2012 season of mediocrity??? THAT IS REALITY. Sorry all, I was living in Never Never Land for a little while.

The Game Has Changed

March 29th, 2011
12:13 pm

@Undisputed Truth-How in the world is Joe holding Marvin back. Get real. Chris Paul is not the sure answer. What has he done in the playoffs except get burned by bigger and stronger point guards. He hasnt even been to the finals with the great team he had a couple of years ago. Bynum is not called upon to do much because of his surrounding cast as well as Nene. Both are better than what we have but they are not game changers.

vava74

March 29th, 2011
12:14 pm

If not signing JJ meant more Jamal on the floor, then the alternative reality of the Cavs game would have be us battling them to see who would finish with more than 15 wins.

A combination of “NO JJ” with “LD on the bench” is spelled “lottery”.

This is true even in light of JJ’s horrible year.

People forget that even so he is averaging 18.5ppg 4.1rpg and 4.9apg in 35 mpg (less 3 mpg than last year) whilst playing at worst “decent” and most of the time “well above average” D.

J.J.M

March 29th, 2011
12:18 pm

*yawns* lets see them play agains a ELITE team without joe not none of these scrub teams

NCBravesFan

March 29th, 2011
12:18 pm

The Hoopinion piece and this post are good reminders of what was feared by many fans heading into the season – that by re-signing/maxing Joe and then not adding to the roster otherwise, the Hawks were putting the roster into a box.

The real surprise this year is that JJ’s performance has declined significantly in year one of the deal. We should all hope that’s a function of coaching or some sort of injury, and not the beginning of a career decline.

Either way, the risk/reward curve of the off-season strategy the ASG pursued never seemed to make a lot of sense.

The Game Has Changed

March 29th, 2011
12:18 pm

@Big-Mike-The only other descent shooting guard that was a free agent was Rudy Gay. Is he better than Joe. Maybe, maybe not but his contract is similar to Joe. But Rudy has never led his team to the second round. Wade was not leaving and Kobe was unavailable. So that leaves ASG with a decision to rebuild or resign and Im glad they resigned. Joe is our leader as well as Horford. We need him to play better but he is still a top 6 or 7 shooting guard.

Mr. Phil

March 29th, 2011
12:20 pm

I think I have made it clear how I feel about J.J. (see number2sucks.com or twitter.com/number2sucks). And yes I would have more easily bought an alternative plan because it would have shown guts. The kind of ballsiness that can attempt to sniff a title. Not what we have it the cowardly ASG of our true present.

JohnGTFan

March 29th, 2011
12:20 pm

Here’s the problem for the one’s who love defending JJ…and this, at least in my humble opinion, says it all. When you get a MAX CONTRACT, YOU BETTER BE A DOMINATING PLAYERS. I could care less about double teams and defenses rolling to you…Kobe/LeBron/Howard/Durant, even Carmelo can dominate a game. They make a decision and stick with it. It may not always be right, but they trust and believe in theirself…JJ does NONE OF THAT! He’s way overpaid. He actually should be in prison for stealing money.

Mr. Phil

March 29th, 2011
12:22 pm

@the game has changed

How can Joe be a top 6 or 7 shooting guard in the league when there have been times you had to wonder if he was the best 2 on the team? Lest you forget Jamal has lit it up many a night here in Atlanta.

Slimjr

March 29th, 2011
12:23 pm

IQ has nothing to do with basketball..Heck former president bubba reportedly has tested with a 91 and he stole/I mean was voted in twice???????? WTF?????????????? Its about knowledge and common sense, the will to overcome adversity and of course great coaching. Which this franchise has not had in years…..

vava74

March 29th, 2011
12:24 pm

And yes Jamal, if you are reading me, you are that BAD. Wonderful individual talent, horrible team player.

For once you should try to play some D during a whole game and then for a series of 5 games.

Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of basketball knows that your lack of D negates 9 out 10 times your offense.

A small example? Against CLE Gibson scored 10 of his 11 points with you playing lazy *ss D on him (actually, no D at all) and at a given point, 4 possessions you:

Let Gibson score two 3 pointers at will;
Dribbled yourself into a TO;
Killed a fast break after catching a pass from Teague and, instead of driving to hole whilst CLE defenders were still back pedaling, went for your “bicycle hop-step dribble”.

This is the NBA, not the Globetrotters.

After this 4 possession sequence, our lead went from 14 to 6.

I know its a bit late for an old dog to learn new tricks, but we can hope.

I think you are not a bad character and that you simply can’t help yourself.

But the harsh reality is that in a ball club with real aspirations to make a splash in the playoffs your game would not warrant more than 10-20 minutes per game, depending on match ups and production (and never at the PG slot, but that is not your fault).

JohnGTFan

March 29th, 2011
12:24 pm

And Joe is not “a leader”. Al Horford took over that role. A leader speaks up/out to “his team”. It’s never been Joe Johnson’s team. He just happened to be their best scorer.

Ryan

March 29th, 2011
12:25 pm

On about 25 shots a game though…..