The Hawks just opened training camp, and Joe Johnson used the opportunity to announce that he will test free agency after this season.
Normally, when a team’s leading scorer makes such a declaration, it’s a cause for concern. Not in this case.
I’ve banged this drum before but it seems like a good time to repeat it. Johnson is a very good player. But he’s not a difference maker. Difference-makers stand out in the playoffs. Johnson generally hasn’t done that. Now, if you want to put that on the team around him or the head coach (Mike Woodson) for not placing him in better situations, that’s fine. But by and large, Johnson has not taken games over like stars are supposed to do. I put that on him.
Let him go. Let him jump into the free agency pool and see what’s out there. I just don’t think the Hawks should be in a position to offer Johnson more than the four-year, $60 million extension that he rejected — and frankly I’m surprised they went that high.
Johnson told our Sekou Smith, “My sole focus right now is on this team and what we’re trying to accomplish this season. … I really feel like this team is ready to take that step to the next level. I also feel like I can be one of the elite players in this league.”
OK. Let’s see it.
If Johnson proves to be an elite player, he’ll get the contract he deserves. If he doesn’t, then he’s not worthy of whatever deal he’s after – and nobody else will give it to him, either.
If he leaves, the Hawks will lose a good player. But they would gain a wealth of options. Next year’s free agency class will be the biggest ever (LeBron James probably is not realistic. If he leaves Cleveland, it will probably be for a major market, like New York. But Chris Bosh (who played at Georgia Tech) or Dwyane Wade — why not?). Either way, they’ll gain salary space and have the flexibility to move some pieces around. That’s a good thing.
Johnson testing free agency is no reason to panic? Good. Let’s see what a little contract motivation does for his game.