The Hawks also want to move away from an isolation-heavy offensive approach that was influenced by guard Joe Johnson’s playing style. Johnson is eligible to become a free agent next month, and the Hawks still want to re-sign him.
A person with knowledge of Johnson’s plans said he’s still open to returning. But the person said the new coach would have to sell Johnson on relying more on his teammates in the offense and ensure him that locker-room chemistry would improve.
Q. Have you talked to Joe about your philosophy on getting the ball out of his hands and moving it around and, if so, what was his reaction?
A. I did not. It was too early in the process. I was mainly just trying to get my foot in the door, to be a candidate. I expressed to him I was going to push forward and try to get this position, which he said: ‘You should. You are ready for it.’
Q. Do you think he will OK with the idea of not having the ball as much?
A. I think he will. I do know Joe has played against some of this offense before, and he’s not crazy about playing against it. It’s constant movement. It forces you to defend multiple offensive situations within a possession. And now he is going to be on the other end of that, where people have to defend him now. I think he is going to be excited about that.
“We’ve come so far in the last couple years. The last two seasons, we had the fourth- and third-best record in the Eastern Conference with one of the youngest teams. We got to the final eight teams two years in a row. We are knocking at the door, and it was a lot of fun. I think the fans and the players and the organization had a lot of fun in these last two years. We want to continue to go forward, and Joe is the foundation. . . . He’s one of the top four or five [shooting] guards in the league. We are lucky to have him.”
Q. What did it mean to you for them to offer you the maximum deal?
A. “It meant a lot to know they have got the confidence in me to try to lead this team in the right direction and over the hump. I think we can definitely get over the hump. Knowing they have my back like that makes me want to work even harder. I’m sure I won’t let them down.”
Q. You know how it goes when guys get maximum deals. There’s going to be even more scrutiny of your performance. Are you prepared for that?
A. “I know it’s going to come. I can’t really worry about that. I have to control the things I can control and go and compete night-in and night-out and have fun with it. At the same time, this is definitely my job. I am up for the challenge.” . . .
Q. L.D. has talked about making changes in the offense to get the ball moving more. He says that will help take pressure off of you. Are you cool with not having the ball in your hands so much?
A. “It definitely takes a lot of pressure off of me. Me and Drew talked about it. He wants me doing a lot more catching and shooting. Not creating so much until late in the game so I am not so worn down. I respect his opinion on anything. He is our head coach now. He is definitely going to make the right decisions.” . . .
Q. There has been lots of criticism from media and fans around the league about your contract. Have you seen or heard it?
A. “Naw. Uh-uh.”
Q. There are lots of people saying it’s a bad deal for the Hawks. Does that bother you?
A. “There is nothing I can do. You have got to deal with it. You deal with the bad. It doesn’t bother me at all. I am going to still come out and do my job and be effective and do whatever it takes to win. You can’t worry about what people say about you. You have got to move on.”
Q. Do you feel added pressure to live up to the contract?
A. “Not at all. I don’t feel no pressure at all. All I have got to do is keep playing my game.”
J.J. is the Hawks’ lead dog, and lead dogs in the NBA usually are judged by how far they take their squads. But J.J. said he doesn’t feel that burden.
“Not at all,” J.J. said. “In this case, it is not like that. We’ve got equal opportunity around here. We ain’t just depending on one guy. We’ve got two All-Stars. It’s not just going to be all on me. I don’t get all of the glory when we win so I don’t get to take all the [blame] when we lose.”
Q. You said after last year you are of the mind that you don’t need an MVP candidate to be a championship contender but when you look at it historically, almost every single champion has had that first team All-NBA guy so how . . .
A. It is going to be very hard for us to get that MVP candidate unless you pick one or two [in the draft]. And we are not picking one or two. Or unless you happen to have–a few years back when they had free-agent money, to get one in free agency. It’s going to be tough, so we are going to have to do it the hard way. We are going to have to do it similar to what Detroit did in their day, when they had the Eastern Conference finals five straight times, went to Finals and one won, where it is a collective effort. Unless we get an MVP or unless someone emerges as that kind of guy.
Q. Do you have that kind of guy?
A.I don’t think we have an MVP candidate.
Q. What I mean is, do you have that guy on your team who can emerge into that kind of player?
A. Time will tell on that. It depends on what happens in the next year or any kind of player transaction or in the future. But basically we have pretty much built it around get as much talent as we possibly can, blend it around and have a team effort. Now we’ve got two players on this roster who have made All-Pro, we have got two players made All-Star and another one knocking on the door. We’ve got a player in Hinrich who has been kind of that gritty, tough complimentary player and has made All-Defense. So it is going to have to be a collective effort. . . .
Q. Joe got the contract and he had his worst year since he’s been here. He’s getting older, he had the injury, so are you concerned . . .
A. Well, I don’t worry about the old. When I am seeing Jason Kidd and Nowitzki and the Wades and all these people in their 30s, that doesn’t bother me. Joe has got a durable, strong . . . and he did have a lot of injuries and he had an elbow situation and pre- and post-surgery he is such a tough guy he played with that. Not really [concerned]. I was really happy with Joe’s playoffs. I thought he played really well, particularly the games that we won, he stepped up big time, particularly in the fourth quarter. I think that’s part of the experience, being into it and the pressure. There are only three teams that have made it to the conference semifinals three consecutive years: L.A., Boston and us. Two of those teams have won the championship. Another thing with Joe, if it is correct I didn’t verify it, Joe has been to the second round a number of times and three with the Hawks. Carmelo Anthony, who was probably one of the most sought after players during the trade deal, he’s only made it to the second round once. [Note: That's correct.] Chris Paul has only made it to the second round once. Deron Williams has only made it to the second round once. All the years Kevin Garnett was with [Minnesota], he only made it once. Joe has made it three times. So he’s done a pretty good job of being the best player on your club in terms of getting there. Now his challenge and opportunity is getting to that next round. I think he gave a pretty good effort in the Chicago series.
Q. During the playoffs Joe expressed frustration with whether it was best he share the ball or for him to try to do more. It seems like he never really . . .
A. I don’t know. That’s between him and Larrry. But from my perspective I thought he did a pretty good job. When the game was on the line, those close games. . . . You take any team. Oklahoma City. Some games Durant was really good in the fourth quarter, some games it was Westbrook; other games [Durant] was terrible in the fourth quarter. Take Miami. There were people that were criticizing Bosh in the first round. Somebody has got to do it. Most of the time, a lot of the time, it’s your best player. Other times it’s not. When Boozer did it for Chicago they were really good in those games. I try not to get too high on the highs or too low on the lows. The playoffs can really cause that. The highs and the lows of the playoffs are unbelievable from a fan and media perspective. Miami loses to Chicago in a fashion where Chicago pretty much dominated and dictated that game, and everyone wrote Miami off and said that’s it. There is no way that Miami is good enough, blah, blah, blah, blah. Dallas wins the first game, loses the second game, and [they said] ‘There is no way Dallas is going to be able to go into Oklahoma City as loud as that is and the enthusiasm.’ You don’t get too high on it. It’s a progress or it’s a leapfrog. Chicago leapfrogged. Ours is more of a progression and I think Joe did a pretty good job.
Michael Gearon Jr.
Joe had what he admits was his worst season after getting that contract. Does he have to play better to justify that contract?
A. I think what justifies that contract is the success of the team. We had the best playoff success we’ve had in our tenure as owners last year. So I don’t judge Joe Johnson on the regular season. We took away the home-court advantage from the team with the best record during the regular season. I think the way we beat them up caused them to lose to Miami. I really do. For us as an organization we are going to judge our success by how we do in the playoffs. Are we going to be competitive and show up? Fortunately we’ve got all of our core players, and you’ve written some of this, they’ve come in to camp in shape. And I appreciate, as a fan and as an owner, the piece you did on Teague. That was a great piece. It’s right on that if we are going to play well this year, it’s going to be more up-tempo offensively and more lock-down defensively and we are going to look different. And I think that for fans it is going to be more exciting because it’s not going to be pounding the ball.
“I know it’s the worst season I’ve had since I got here. Even though we went further, I thought the playoffs was just decent. Still not where I should have been. I am going to do whatever I can to change that. . . . It’s easy to be good, but it’s hard to be great. I want to be great. In order for me to do that, I am going to have to keep working, keep practicing to get better.”
“I don’t think they are doing anything different defensively on me. I think it’s just, basically, getting an opportunity to touch the ball. That’s it.”
“We run a lot of things through him. He’s got to be more aggressive in working to get his shots and we have to be mindful when he hasn’t had a shot in one or two trips down the floor we’ve got to get him the ball. All the things that we do run, and we do run a lot of things where we do go through him, I give Boston a lot of credit on how they have defended him. Collectively, while they are out there they have to get him the ball more. Just watching the film in flying back last night there were a number of situations where we could have just made one extra pass and the extra pass would have been to him. We’ve just got to be a little bit more mindful to make sure he is getting touches.”
“We’ve got him the ball in Game 3. He got a lot of touches. Last night, they took us out of our stuff and made it difficult to get him the ball. We will try to make a conscious effort in Game 5 to get him the ball and make sure he makes plays for us. He is our go-to player. Eight shots is not enough, especially in a playoff game for a guy who can play like him. We’ve got to make sure we get him the ball.”
“Joe is our main guy. We go to him. We has to get us going offensively so he needs to go out there and be an enforcer and make his presence felt. I don’t think my shots or Erick Dampier’s shots are affecting him. I think Joe needs to be aggressive. He needs to go out there and score the ball. That’s when we are at our best when he does that.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat