Johnson needs to be elite before he gets an elite contract

Joe Johnson says he's an elite player? Let him prove it. (Johnny Crawford/jcrawford@ajc.com)

Let Joe Johnson prove he's an elite player. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

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.

100 comments Add your comment

Ryno

September 30th, 2009
9:50 am

Trade him. While his value is hot trade him for future picks (at least a first rounder for next year).

Shadydave

September 30th, 2009
10:01 am

Enter your comments here
yes, if you can trade him – and depending on who’s available in next years draft?

Ken Griffey Jr.

September 30th, 2009
10:03 am

If he walks it will free up space to try and bring back Travis Hansen or Hanno Mottola.

Hollywould

September 30th, 2009
10:04 am

Jeff, Elite players get to the free throw line in crunch time. Joe cannot do it. Hell, they let the best
offensive weapon go in Flip. I don’t know if he was a cancer to this team(rumors) but I would have paid him instead of Bibby. This team will probably make the playoffs for the next few years but without an elite player will not go far. I hope Teague is the answer.

The House that Konkak Built

September 30th, 2009
10:07 am

Joe Johnson…?

…wasn’t that the guy who was always, you know, …tired?

Ryan

September 30th, 2009
10:12 am

I love JJ but trade him. He dissapeared during the playoffs and he is not a team leader. We need better leadership on the court (because it sure doesn’t come from the coach).

Tale of Woe

September 30th, 2009
10:18 am

C’mon – no way does our ownership group break the bank to pay for Wade or Bosh….

Johnson might be the best we can hope for

Jamaaliver

September 30th, 2009
10:28 am

This is a good move for JJ and the Hawks. We get to see what we’re really capable of before completely doing away with our cap space.

If this doesn’t work out, maybe we take our money elsewhere or do a sign and trade. This gives everyone flexibilty next year, especially since there seems to be some trepidation on JJ’s part and in the fans faith in Joe.

mountain_jim

September 30th, 2009
10:28 am

I agree. I am tired of seeing Joe fail in the playoffs for the most part, and thought the 60 mill was too much to offer.

Nativebird

September 30th, 2009
10:28 am

I agree 100%, Coach Paul Johnson needs to prove he can win at Ga Tech before they give him a big contract.

Franky

September 30th, 2009
10:29 am

They should trade him.A first round pick and another player would help the Hawks more. Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford and Teague are the future. He vanished in the playoffs. Plus like most players, he’s greedy. All they want is money not championships. I think he is over paided now.

Jeff Schultz

September 30th, 2009
10:42 am

– Ryno: Unfortunately, the best time to trade Joe would’ve been before the draft. That’s when teams remake their rosters. It’s too late now.

–Hollywould: Flip tends to be one of those guys who’s not in one place for long but as far as I know he wasn’t a problem here. I liked watching him and I agree he added to the team. He was one of their best players in the Miami series.

– Tale of Woe — Bosh would love to come to Atlanta.

Dark Knight

September 30th, 2009
10:50 am

A bunch of ungrateful people that don’t deserve to be called fans. Where were you guys when he came to Atlanta and carried a team with only 13 wins? Where were you last year when he played almost 40 minutes a game through the entire season? JJ earned his money from the current contract. (He came to Atl when nobody else would). I expect more from him this year because I expect more from his teammates. Play him less minutes during the regulear season, let the teammates step up and shoulder some of the load, and we will see a JJ with something left in the tank come playoff time.
I don’t blame the guy for exploring his options. He’s been under unrecognized throughout his career. It’s his opportunity to get his props.

Ken

September 30th, 2009
10:57 am

Let him play out his year to see what he is made of. The worst thing that could happen is a sign and trade around draft time in 2010.

Reid Adair

September 30th, 2009
10:58 am

You are 100 percent correct on this, Jeff. Joe Johnson is very good, but he is not great. Let’s see what he does this season and go from there.

DHD

September 30th, 2009
11:02 am

Let’s be realistic. we are NOT winning the NBA championship this season. So, trade JJ when somebody needs his services during the season.

Raider Fan

September 30th, 2009
11:05 am

See, I love Joe, I love Chris Bosh, I love Dwayne Wade.

But what would a lineup look like if we signed say Bosh?

Bibby/Marvin at the 2/Smith at the 3/Bosh/Horford? That doesn’t make much sense to me. I would LOVE Chris Bosh, but I don’t know where we’d play everyone.

IF we got Wade, which I CAN’T see happening (A) I don’t think he leaves Miami, B) I don’t see where the hell we find the money from that even without signing Joe), but IF we got him, I think we could win an NBA title. Bibby/Wade/Marvin/Smith/Horford. That’s nuts.

Ed-Covington

September 30th, 2009
11:09 am

I agree with you, Jeff. Let’s see how JJ picks up his game in search of a lucrative contract; that would be the best scenario for the Hawks. Wade proved that the team around you doesn’t prevent “showing up” for the playoffs.
I’ll wait and see on Sund’s draft expertise. All of this “trade JJ for draft picks” talk just reminds me of Sheldon Williams and Acie Law!

Jeff Schultz

September 30th, 2009
11:11 am

Dark Knight — I don’t begrudge Joe for exploring his options at all. But I don’t think he’s been under-recognized at all. That ceased being the case when the Hawks made the trade for him and gave him that big contract.

DHD and others — Funny, I pitched the whole maybe-they-should-explore-trading-Joe thing a couple of times in the past, and everybody jumped me. So far, comments here suggest it’s swung in the other direction.

Agree with Dark Knight......

September 30th, 2009
11:18 am

Joe Johnsson is the best thing that has happened to the Hawks the past 10 years, he plays 40 plus minutes a night, has to guard the opponents best player or piont guard, because Bibbly is a liablity on defense, had to deal with Bibby Knight’s horrible draft picks (Sheldon Williams, Acie Law, Marvin Williams over CP3), has to deal with Josh Smith and Woodson, he never complains, he just go out and plays hard, even when hurt. I don’t blame him for testing free agency or leaving next year….

jdewayneatl

September 30th, 2009
11:19 am

RIDICULOUS! This can’t be serious. Despite everyone’s frustration with our ISO-Joe half court game, its an identity. Joe has brought an identity to this team that hasn’t had one in a long time. He has been an All-Star for 3 of the 4 seasons here and I see no reason for why he won’t make his 4th in the last year of his contract. He came here to be our best player and one of the best in the league and he has undoubtedly done that.

Think about this: Paul Pierce has always been Paul Pierce but it wasn’t until his team was a serious contender that people began to respect his game and consider him as a top elite player.

True Hawks Fan

September 30th, 2009
11:20 am

Dark Knight said it best. Thank you!

Did everyone is forget about the Celtics series? I think he might of carried the team a little bit…just a little bit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhGeQWOHwHQ

Jeff Schultz has never liked Joe Johnson.

DC

September 30th, 2009
11:21 am

I agree that JJ sometimes disappear in the playoffs. However, I blame Woody for playing him a ton of minutes. Last year we went 8 deep, sometimes 9. Majority of the time Joe was on the court and the offense went through him 90% of the time, That will take your energy especially for 82 games. This year could and should be a different year for JJ. Woody should be able to got 10-12 deep this year and be competitive no matter who is on the floor. C’mon Woody, don’t screw this up.

Befuddled blogger

September 30th, 2009
11:23 am

Trade him for Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant.

GeeMack

September 30th, 2009
11:27 am

Jeff,

I think we all recognize JJ is not an elite player. He is the Robin to someones Batman (Kobe, LBJ, Wade, or CP3). I think JJ made a good move because he is at the stage of his career where he can make a ton of money and partner with an elite player and push a team to the championship.

jdewayneatl

September 30th, 2009
11:28 am

And this trade talk… who really do you expect to get in return that will bring the same production as Joe. Portland isn’t trading Brandon Roy, New Orleans isn’t trading Chris Paul, I doubt anyone wants Ray Allen. The teams with star players are basically in the run to win the Championship now or have plans to surround that player with a Championship caliber team. Trade suggestions should only be brought up if its gonna make the team better. If JJ is sent away and we don’t get an All-Star back in return or sign a MORE elite player next summer, the Hawks will be right back to not making the playoffs and/or struggling to make the 8 seed.

Dark Knight, I totally agree with you. Ungrateful!

True Hawks Fan

September 30th, 2009
11:28 am

Jeff,

You are just like the typical ungrateful, disloyal Hawks fan. I know Joe isn’t best player in the NBA (Lebron James), but he’s our guy. We need to stand by him and trust him to lead us to the promise land. If you can’t do that, don’t call yourself a Hawks fan.

Notty Dred

September 30th, 2009
11:41 am

Check out “the Rant” at http://www.thagrid.com/vvcradio tonight from 8p -10p eastern for your Hawks coverage. Tonight you will hear “real” interviews from the real people perspective with the Hawks players. We’ll listen to the interview I did with Mike Bibby (defense?), Josh Smith (shot selection), Joe Smith, Mo Evans, Jason Collins, etc. Tune in tonight from 8p-10p eastern to the Rant @ http://www.thagrid.com/vvcradio!

Email me @Nottydred@vvc1.com, ejames@fanhuddle.com and see me @www.2livestews.com with Triena the Sports chick’s Male Room.

C. Tampa Ironworse

September 30th, 2009
11:44 am

If you think JJ will lead the Hawks anywhere…you’re crazy. He’s a star and an AllStar, but he’s not on the same planet as elite players in the NBA.

coachx

September 30th, 2009
11:44 am

Mr. Schultz
As a professional sports writer we fans expect you to know the basics.

No team can go over the salary cap to sign other team’s free agents (James, Wade, Bosh, Stoudemire). Even if JJ leaves, the Hawks would still go over the salary cap to sign a max or near max player. Spooning ideas to the less-informed fans that we could sign Wade or Bosh if JJ walks is just poor journalism.

Teams can only go over the salary cap to resign their own free agents. So we can go over the cap to resign JJ but NOT to sign Wade or Bosh.

Please talk to Sekou about salary cap basics next time you choose to throw out ideas.

coachx

September 30th, 2009
11:45 am

If anyone wants to see what some “informed” Hawks fans think……go to hawksquawk.net

Dashizz357

September 30th, 2009
11:45 am

I’d trade him for Bosh in a heartbeat, understand this JJ is a good player, he’s not a great player, he wouldn’t make the all-star team if Vince Carter, Gilbert & Redd were healthy…..Lebron, Wade, Kobe GREAT! JJ, Carmelo, Ben Gordon…..GOOD! Shout to the BB-Genie…

Mike Jay

September 30th, 2009
11:50 am

tradin him makes zero sense. You have to trade comparable saleries in the NBA so we can not just trade him for draft picks. Besides the Hawks definitly do not need more young players to develop.

kw

September 30th, 2009
12:00 pm

Enter your comments here Be careful for what you wish or hope for Jeff Schultz always had negative comments about Joe where was he when the man walked into Atlanta a team with a losing record and no other quality player would step foot into the city and all of a suddent everyone is on Chris Bosh band wagon answer this Chris Bosh hasn’t done anything with the rapitors what make you think he will be so much better with the hawks I say again be careful for what you wish for.

Realsquawk

September 30th, 2009
12:07 pm

I am glad he did not accept fot the exact same reasons you are. If we trade him for the right pieces we might never miss him. If he enters into free agency then who knows what might happen.

kw

September 30th, 2009
12:17 pm

A Guy like Pat Riley or D’toney or the Suns are just waiting on a team like Atlanta to make a mistake so they can feed off it. The major of the comments are really un grateful and makes you wonder if Atlanta is ready for a championship caliber team because they show no loyalty to a man of allstar status who came here knowing he had no help and playing with rookies and first year players where is the love I guess we have none in Atlanta.

Traceman

September 30th, 2009
12:27 pm

Jeff, JJ leaving as a FA would NOT leave the Hawks ANYWHERE NEAR far enough under the salary cap to land a player the caliber of Wade or Bosh. If JJ walks for nothing, we can’t just give the $15M we were going to pay him next year to another player. The NBA CBA doesn’t work like that.

I wish JJ would have agreed to the extension but I understand why he didn’t. Sure he assumes some risk (injury, poor play, etc) but the reality of the situation is that he can get a longer contract next year (6 yrs from the Hawks, 5 years from other teams) by waiting to become a FA. 4 years is the longest extension the Hawks can offer right now but next summer, they can offer him up to 6 years in a new deal.

If I’m JJ, I’d rather have a 5 yr/$70M deal or a 6 yr/$75M deal than a 4 yr/$60M deal. If he signed the extension now, he would be 33 the next time he became a FA. Ask Allen Iverson what the market is for 33 year old SGs in this league.

Bottom line, JJ assumes some risk by not signing the offered extension but the risk is minimal. He is too good a player and there will be too many teams out there with salary cap room for him not to be able to land a deal that pays him AT LEAST $60M over 5 yrs. That is a risk I would take.

If LeBron doesn’t go to NY, NY may very well come hard after JJ in an effort to reunite him with D’Antoni. Depending on where the salary cap ends up for 2010, they may try to get LeBron AND JJ.

The Hawks are in a tough spot. I think they have to play out the season with JJ (unless they totally stink it up for some unforseen reason) and hope to resign him next year OR get value for him in a sign and trade deal in the offseason (that certainly won’t be easy).

Hopefully, the Hawks will have a great season and then do what it takes to resign JJ next year. If we win, I think that is exactly what will happen.

Josh S

September 30th, 2009
12:28 pm

The guy can score at the allstar game! They don’t even play defense on an allstar game!! I’m going to boo him every time he gets on the floor. Joe, you are sorry!!!!!!

Josh S

September 30th, 2009
12:28 pm

Sorry, he can’t score at an allstar game!!

tjhook

September 30th, 2009
12:29 pm

Mr. Schultz, we don’t want Joe here because he’s one of the ten best players in the league; we want him because he’s the face of the franchise: dependable (plays 80+ games each season, high scorer with no dependable #2), positive, has proven he can be difference maker in playoff games (see games 3 and 4 versus Celtics in 2008, Game 7 versus Heat last year.
The only Hawk I have ever liked more than Joe Johnson is Domonique. And when we traded him to get someone with more potential, the franchise went into a slow descent. Pay the man and let me continue to enjoy his contributions for ATLANTA!

Hawksgirl

September 30th, 2009
12:33 pm

What has bosh done for his team? So what exactly can he do for a team who needs a leader? Nothin. He may be a leader but not the kind we need. Wow! I thought we had true hawksfans but i guess not. JJ has lead us with the help of bibby and now with more players he can work more respectively. I see why he didnt sign an extension but i dont see why we would trade him. JJ fits with this team, how do we know if another big player comes in(wade) that the chemistry wouldnt crumble and we would be back at square one. JJ is an allstar and an elite player here in atlanta and to some other players and fans in other respected citys. He needs more veterans and now that he has them let him work and watch him shine this year, mark my words. There will be lots of closed mouths when the season starts, including some blog writers……………

jerrywest

September 30th, 2009
12:37 pm

Dude –

Learn how the NBA salary cap works. We can sign a mid level player if JJ leaves. That’s Zaza type money.

Rodster

September 30th, 2009
12:37 pm

Go for it Joe. But I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

Really...

September 30th, 2009
12:38 pm

Jeff,

You stated “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…” , this is the NBA… players are overpaid all the time, if the Hawks don’t pay him, some other team will, believe that….

You also stated “Either way, they’ll gain salary space and have the flexibility to move some pieces around. That’s a good thing.”… not enough cap space to land other Top free agent…

Rich

September 30th, 2009
12:42 pm

Good for Joe, in that he thinks he will be more valuable next summer, but with a heavy dose of stars becoming free at the same time, and the fact we may not need him after this year if the young kids develop into their potential, he may be disappointed. There’s no question he’s talented, but I’ve yet to see him prove he was among the best in the league on a consistent basis.

As Zeus told Cornelius, “You might not like what you find!”

the Sports Buffet

Daniel

September 30th, 2009
12:48 pm

Jeff-
I know that you argued for this plan this summer. It is the smart move for Joe, you do realize that he will EASILY be offered 16-18 mil a year from several other teams, even if he plays EXACTLY the same as last year. We agree he is not a “difference maker” like Kobe, but Kobe gets 24 milion a year. Joe exploring FA is NOT good for the Hawks as a team. I understand both the team and Joe’s position and it is just business, so I don’t have any hard feelings to either. But, in no way does the risk of Joe leaving come close to any reward that he may perform better in the playoffs this season.
Also, D.Wade is NOT going to come to Atlanta. I think the ASG would make a competitive offer, but really is going to choose less money from Miami(remember they can offer more than any other team- Bird rules) or the same money from the Knicks or the Nets? It is asinine to suggest that we just “go get D.Wade”.

Oh, Bosh is a nice player, would probably love to be in Atlanta. What position does he play again? OH YEAH PF… we have one of those locked up on a 6 year deal and we would still need a SG.

The best scenario is that Joe decides next off season to stay with the Hawks because the team is pushing towards a championship.

Daniel

September 30th, 2009
12:52 pm

Hawksgirl- Right On!

flashlight

September 30th, 2009
12:59 pm

The real question is… Did Johnson makes the right decision? We should ask Sekou.

JMar

September 30th, 2009
1:04 pm

Chris Bosh also is a very good player, but not a difference maker.

Wink

September 30th, 2009
1:06 pm

JJ is not an elite player; does not have the makeup for such a title. JJ should have signed that 60 mil contract. By not signing tell me he does not want to be here and money is the motivator. Bibby took less to be here, Josh & Marvin have signed on long term. Zaza & Teague are here for the next 3 years. Al should be offered and extension, but he is such a team player, I believe if he get a reasonable offer he will stay. Crawford had to waive one of his right in his contract to come here he is signed for the next 2 years. It does not make sense for the “Main Man” to be the only one not willing to commit to this team. Where as his original contract almost destroyed this team. The only thing that makes sense is that he is holding out in some way to gain job security for coach Woody, who is also on the last year of his contract. Who has Woody hitched his offense too…could it be that Iso Joe will go into overdrive????

Why would Joe not sign? Money only is my guess. Then why would Joe place his name in the pool with LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Kobe, etc with free agents of 2010. Joe wants to be the 2nd or 3rd option on a team that has elite players. Joe can not carry a team, if he could, this is the year to show it, but why cloud it with doubt. He fizzled out in 2 consecutive playoffs, at crunch time he looks to defer the game winning shot, and what elite player you know, at the half way point of the season, only scores 1 point in an All Star game exibition. The guy defers to better talent. If we went with Iso Marvin as as we go to Joe, Marvin would be our best player. Check the stats when Joe is out.

I believe Joe is missing his opportunity for the elite contract, his time to be the man, and also messing with the continuity of the TEAM with this stance. We so close to being the champion Detroit Pistons with no superstars, than we are to being a team lead by a superstar, the likes of Kobe,LeBron,Duncan,Howard, even Roy….JJ does not fit this status!!