Woodson, Johnson on the spot as Hawks open season

The expectations for Joe Johnson and Mike Woodson are far higher today than they were in 2005 when Johnson was signed by the Hawks. (AJC photo)

The expectations for Joe Johnson and Mike Woodson are far higher today than in 2005.

Their often praised offseason notwithstanding, the difference between where the Hawks are and where they want to go isn’t about the roster. It’s not about having more depth at point guard or more size coming off the bench or even some assurances that Josh Smith won’t again fall into a black hole immediately following the occasional spectacular 25-point, 15-rebound, seven-block, I-own-this-game kind of night.

The difference between good teams and great teams in any sport is mental toughness. It’s winning road games, close games,  games that are decided by intangibles, not talent. It’s a coach making the right decision in the final two minutes. It’s a team and a go-to guy acting accordingly.

Are you confident with Mike Woodson and Joe Johnson leading this team?

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Mike Woodson is the Hawks’ coach. Joe Johnson is the Hawks’ go-to guy. Both will be operating in the final year of their respective contracts when the Hawks open the season against Indianapolis Wednesday night. If this organization takes that next step, it is up to Woodson and Johnson. It’s prove-it time. Because how this year unfolds will go a long ways toward defining not only this season but their respective futures in Atlanta.

Give Johnson credit for this: He’s saying all the right things. The Hawks were drilled by the Magic in their final dress rehearsal, 123-86, Friday night. He was still angry about it after practice Tuesday.

“I didn’t care that it was a preseason game,” he said. “I wanted to send them a statement. But I guess we weren’t ready. I guess we weren’t prepared.

“For Orlando it was pretty much a statement game — they were trying to send us a message, or maybe the league, period. We just didn’t answer the challenge. Even though it was a preseason game, we should’ve come out with a better start. We shouldn’t have let them take over like that.”

Johnson knows it starts with him. He turned down a significant amount of money — $60 million for a four-year extension — for a chance to prove he is worth more in free agency. To accomplish that, he’ll have to show he is a leader. Only elite level players — difference-makers on successful playoff teams — make the numbers that he is seeking. He has proven to be a very good player, an All-Star. But it stops there.

If Johnson takes a more active role as a leader, if he becomes more vocal on the court and in the locker room, then the Hawks have a chance to do something special. Otherwise, they are no better than the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and a second-round playoff team. There are three teams clearly ahead of them in the East. Boston, Orlando and Cleveland all have players and coaches who have proven themselves in the post-season.

Woodson validated a 47-win regular season last year when the Hawks survived a seven-game playoff series with Miami. But they were swept in the second-round by Cleveland. Atlanta went 36-11 (.766) in the regular season and playoffs combined but only 17-29 (.369) on the road. That’s not going to get it done.

Said Johnson, “When we got down on the road last year, it was almost like impossible to come back. Our body language told it all. It was like a team would knock the fight out of us. But it should be different now. We shouldn’t go through those growing pains. We should know what to expect.

“We can’t say we’re a young team any more. Down the stretch, we pretty much know who’s going to have the ball in their hands, and a lot of times it’s going to be me.”

It’s prove-it time.

44 comments Add your comment

DP in NC

October 27th, 2009
4:25 pm

DP in NC

October 27th, 2009
4:26 pm

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 27th, 2009
4:45 pm

I wonder if Woodson will be coaching in January if the results to that point are middle of the road? Their first westcoast swing will show us alot…


October 27th, 2009
4:46 pm

Well said. This team is going to go only as far as Mike Woodson allows and Joe Johnson takes them.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 27th, 2009
4:47 pm

Win. Place. Show. Chef.


October 27th, 2009
5:14 pm


I agree. JJ has been our captain only because he is our best player. But on the court, during timeouts, he says nothing. I want to see him get on a teamate when they’re head is not in the game. I want to see him fire up the team when they’re slacking off. Sure, he can give us 20 pts, 5 assists and 4 rebounds a game. But we need more intangibles.

And I still think Woody needs an offensive coordiantor. 20 seconds left in the game, down by 2, we know that JJ is going to get the ball. And the other team will double. And JJ will either force a bad shot, or look for Bibby. That’s it. Thats our crunch time offense.

Good article.

All I'm Saying Is...

October 27th, 2009
5:19 pm

I’m not worried about Joe Johnson. He was a winner in Phoenix and he’s proven himself to be a winner and an All-Star with the Hawks worth every dollar that we signed him for and will pay him by the time his contract runs out.

Mike Woodson is the one who has to truly prove himself this year. He has the point guard (young with Teague and old Bibby) he’s always whined about lacking, he has the supporting cast he supposedly has never had, and he has some veterans with playoff experience on the team.

The question is will Woodson use these resources properly. WWWD—What Will Woody Do? Will he use the bench, will he rotate players in and out in terms of sharing minutes, will he take the only demonstrable action that works — removing Josh from the floor if he launches ill conceived jumpers — with J-Smoove instead of yelling at him, will he adjust to the other team and have us go small with a three-guard line-up or go big with Jason Collins and Al on the floor???????

Time will tell and that’s why I like the fact that Woody is in the last year of his deal too!


Some Sense

October 27th, 2009
5:42 pm

Guys, no excuses, no “it was still pre-season.” That beat-down in Orlando spoke volumes about the construct of this team. Is anyone listening???


October 27th, 2009
6:41 pm

I believe JJ needs to break out this year for the Hawks, I do enjoy watching him play but he needs to bring some leadership as a captain. I don’t want to see us ending up 0-12 against Boston because if that does happen then something is wrong with the team.

The Hawks has never brought a big man for the team during the offseason and I certainly don’t think Joe Smith is the answer.


October 27th, 2009
7:09 pm

This is the kind of garbage I expect to continue to receive from you Schultz, It’s so obvious you’re still upset that Woody wasn’t let go three years ago. You, Bradley and all the other incompetant Sports writers at the AJC crucified this guy on a weekly basis when it was clear to see he was doing a pretty good job with a team that was completely re-built with real young players. You still have trouble giving Woody credit for for improving the Hawks record every year for five years and it appears to us who know basketball that the near future won’t be any different. you and Bradley need to let the Chris Paul thing go already. Marvin Wlliams may never be what you want him to be but right now his Drafting nor none of the other dumb moves (as you guys called them at the time)made by Billy and Woody seem as dumb as you made them out to be… These guys know more about the NBA than you could ever even hope to imagine, I wonder what the problem with them really is ??

Jeff Schultz

October 27th, 2009
7:50 pm

Russ … What makes you think it matters to me whether Mike Woodson has a job or not? I’ve got more important things in my life. I wrote after the playoff win last year that he validated himself. Not sure what more you me want.

Jeff Schultz

October 27th, 2009
7:54 pm

All I’m Saying Is — Interesting thing about Joe is that if he wants to create some leverage in negotiations he’ll have to be pretty spectacular in negotiations, because the economy is going to limit things somewhat in the free agent market, I would imagine.

Jeff Schultz

October 27th, 2009
7:55 pm

O’Brien — He’s just not a real vocal guy. That’s something that can’t be forced. Another Joe — Montana –was the same way. But it doesn’t mean he can’t lead. It also doesn’t mean he can’t speak up once in a while. Actually it would have more impact when he does speak because he doesn’t do it that often.

Jeff Schultz

October 27th, 2009
7:56 pm

Can’t answer that. I’d doubt Rick Sund/ownership would push the button. Things would have to be pretty extreme. But I’ve got no feel for the situation.

Sonny Clusters

October 27th, 2009
7:57 pm

Clusters was never any good at basketball but we was state championship in baseball and football. Coach was there with us all the way and we couldn’t have done it without Coach.


October 27th, 2009
8:07 pm

First off everyone in the league knows that the hawks are on the rise. With that said here’s a few ideas that thought of that rally makes sense.

Woodson be a damn coach and stop that damn iso s**t it don’t work. Watch hoosier for a whole week and teach your players to swing the ball eventually someone will be open(no j-smoove threes).
Joe Johnson needs an attitude to win fast and I mean fast(too damn quiet). If not trade him for some player that’s not gon push the franchise back(check your hawks history). Heres my thing why stress over players minutes when the game is a team effort supposely. So here is who i would start:
Bibby-pg-on offense go set up around the three line
Crawford-sg-let him be the facilitator he’s quicker than bibby
Johnson-sf-he will still get his numbers and since he’s in contract year lets see what your worth by checking guys like lebron pierce etc. Plus that’s what he played in phoenix
Smith-pf-plays power forward but has a small forward mentality has to decide if he wants to move that next level
Horford-c-solid to be undersized and out of position
Joe smith
To be honest we need a sharp shooter and a big who can score like a bass or something off the bench

Sonny Clusters

October 27th, 2009
8:14 pm

We caught some bass when we went fishing but we never would have thought they’d be useful playing ball.


October 27th, 2009
8:22 pm

Cluster do you even play basketball


October 27th, 2009
8:27 pm

Jeff, I’m usually the first one to criticize our sports teams, but isnt this article a little.. harsh, and negative, on the eve of opening night?

Bottom line: This team has improved every year. From a 13 win laughingstock five years ago, into a decent team in the Eastern Conference. It’s been said that the Celtics are old, and that the Magic may have chemistry issues. It sounds to me as if your article is saying that if we dont stare down the Cavs in the Eastern Finals in May, and give them a fight like we gave the Celts two years ago, this season will be a failure?

Bottom line: I dont think this team beats Cleveland in a playoff series. We may win round one, and even round two, but even if we were to get to the Eastern Finals, which is very questionable, I dont see us beating Shaq, who has four rings, or Lebron, who will be very motivated to win it all, with the thought he will leave Cleveland after this year.

This Hawk team has improved, and, if it plays up to its potential, we should hopefully see 50 plus wins, and a trip to the Eastern Finals. If we do that, it will be another year of progress, and, realistically, that is about what we can expect.

Jeff Schultz

October 27th, 2009
8:30 pm

MitchC — Really? I don’t think it’s negative in any way. Just saying what it’s going to take to get to the next level. I think it’s completely fair. But obviously I think that because I wrote it.

Jeff Schultz

October 27th, 2009
8:32 pm

Balla4life — Good analysis. Seriously, I think they’ve got the pieces to do the damage. But I really believe to get past one of the Big Three in the East (Orlando, Boston, Cleveland) and win two rounds in the playoffs, it’s going to take the intangibles I laid out. They MUST be mentally tougher to win road games. I’m sure Woodson and every player would tell you the same thing.

uberVU - social comments

October 27th, 2009
8:44 pm

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by JeffSchultzAJC: As #Hawks open #NBA season, the coach (Woodson) and the star (Johnson) have something to prove. http://bit.ly/ucb9g…


October 27th, 2009
8:58 pm

Thanx Mr.Schultz. It just seems that we haven’t grew an identity yet. In a way I respect joe’s decision not to sign because he wants to show his loyalty. Because if he had signed and nothing gets accomplished then that’s a waste of the franchise time

Sonny Clusters

October 27th, 2009
9:05 pm

Clusters can’t jump. Clusters can’t shoot. Clusters just don’t play basketball.

Sonny Clusters

October 27th, 2009
9:09 pm

Clusters can play some baseball and some football, though. We’d a played some at Clemson for sure if we hadn’t moved on to the second shift when that opening come up. Clusters don’t have regrets but landscaping was kind of a dream for us if we’d gone to Clemson and got that landscape degree. We was looking forward.


October 27th, 2009
9:15 pm

Prove-it-time is right.. i LOVE the Hawks, but after a while, it’s time to put up or shut up

Fred Richani

October 27th, 2009
9:40 pm

The Hawks will be an interesting team to watch. Woodson was on the chopping block just a few seasons ago, but has proven he can help lead the team out of obscurity. Getting past the first round is a step in the right direction.If they can get to the first/second rounds and make contenders like Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando work for their Conference Finals berth or heck, even upset one of those teams, I’d say Woodson’s job will be safe for awhile.

Only time will tell if this team really steps up their game and it starts with JJ. Great read!


Ted Striker

October 27th, 2009
10:48 pm

Never quite understood all the “FIRST!” stuff. Is this like a Sean Avery kinda thang?

I accepted long ago that I may never be “FIRST!” — however as long as the seconds aren’t “sloppy”, it’s no big fig.

Jeff Schultz

October 27th, 2009
10:52 pm

Thanks Fred.

Striker — Should I have a contest, like, ‘Commenter with the most firsts?” How geeky would that be?


October 27th, 2009
10:58 pm

Even if Mike Woodson lose his job who are you going to replace him with? If you retain him, how are you going to improve the roster by getting better players that will take us to the championship level? Certainly keeping the same roster will only work for so long because then you will reach you ceiling. Interesting season to keep an eye on….

Ted Striker

October 28th, 2009
1:05 am

I think you should have a contest. Just not that particular contest. Perhaps a contest with participants who are different from the lowest common denominator.

Hint #1 Water
Hint #2 Thin t-shirt


October 28th, 2009
2:07 am

You can say what you want about how Joe was a winner in Pheonix and thats true to some extent cause the Suns had a hard time winning a playoff game the last year he was there but Joe couldnt have won without Steve Nash and Shawn Marion in their primes either, not to mention a budding star in un-operated on Amare Stoudemire. Im not saying we overpaid for Joe cause Billy Knight did what he had to do whether Steve Belkin liked it or not to get a player of Joe’s caliber to come here cause at that time we couldnt even convince Eddy Curry to come and play here. What I am saying is all this team lacks is leadership. Joe Montana didnt have to be a leader because he didnt have to, Bill Walsh took care of that. And to a point Joe doesnt have to be one either, only problem is no one else on this team wants to be one and that includes Mike Woodson. The only time I’ve seen this team be what everyone says/wants this team to be was in games 3,4, and 6 in the 2008 playoffs against the Celtics when Josh Smith was swatting every Rajon Rondo layup into the fifth row and Joe was making his defenders fall down off the dribble and then step back and hit a clutch three after staring at him on the floor for two seconds. Woody is a really good x’s and o’s coach but cant motivate. It has gotten so bad that Mike Bibby has been the one trying to lead this team more than anyone else and it would be working if Bibby was still the player he was in his prime is Sacramento, but he isnt. What I’m saying if either of this team’s two de facto leaders (Joe and Woody) decide to actually lead then we might witness something special. Josh Smith might start playing more like Danny Granger than Andrei Kirilenko and the Hawks might win a Game 7 of a playoff series on the road. We might never know, but we definitely won’t if neither Mike Woodson or Joe Johnson decide to be a leader this year.


October 28th, 2009
7:15 am

Can anybody remember what the HAWKS were like before Woody and Johnson came to town? The new arena was EMPTY! No, we haven’t gotten a Championship, but we’ve raised attendance and excitement in our City. I think that these guys have done a great job for what they were working with. Maybe if we all gave them more encouragement and support, it will help them to know that people are in their corner. Oh, Mr. GM, give Coach a new contract! He’s done a great job, not only with the team, but in the Community.

Jeff Schultz

October 28th, 2009
7:31 am

Derek, it will be interesting to see if the Hawks extend Woody during the season if the team gets off to a strong start, or if it’s put off until after the season.


October 28th, 2009
8:29 am

What happens when teams pull horford out the paint

Reid Adair

October 28th, 2009
9:00 am

It is indeed “prove-it time” for the Hawks. When you look at the results so far in the poll, Jeff, it certainly doesn’t seem that the fans have much faith in Coach Woodson – or Joe Johnson.

I would be shocked to see the Hawks offer Woodson a renewal prior ot the end of the season. I think it would take a really strong start, and I’m just not sure that’s possible.


October 28th, 2009
1:05 pm

In this article it seems that Woody and JJ’S futures are tied together.

Jeff Schultz

October 28th, 2009
2:20 pm

Fanatical … Never really thought of that. But if team has a great season, it certainly strengthens chance both are back.


October 29th, 2009
4:07 pm

Well, well, well hello to “Hawk Nation” and I hope everyone had a good off season (even you Jeff although I was very surprised to see you were still with the paper…interesting). I wonder if there was another writer who wrote for the AJC who constantly criticized your writing and asked repeatedly to have you replaced and implied you have not done a good job even though things improved every year while you were there even to the point that you were among the the top 25% of the writers in the country. When not too long ago you were ranked at the absolute bottom, how you would like it?

I wonder if that writer would be “fair and balanced” (no pun intended) if every single frickin time they wrote about you, no matter what, the writer was saying how bad a job you are doing…hhhmmmm!!! Again, I wonder if you would think that writer had an agenda or it was personal. You have been an absolute jerk Jeff (seriously) when it comes to your balanced reporting on Woody. Not the Hawks or the current GM, just Wood…hhmmmm!!! With all of the current talent out there with Newspapers closing, cutting back and so forth, I am certain the AJC could find a much better writer than you and even you would have to agree to that, right? Take Tony K and Mike Wilbon to name a couple from our paper here locally and I know Tony has resigned from the Post. By the way, there talent would CRUSH yours. Why don’t I ever see you on any of the national shows for geust spots and expertise occasionally (like they do on the Sports Reporters or Around the Horn or the Colin Cowher show?), Just wondering?

Jeff, you should be removed, Fired!!! If I or you had a child in a physics or calculus class, who got off to a very, very slow start, and over the school year, studied hard, asked for help, kept working, met with the teacher, got some tutoring, stayed positive, formed a study group and over the year their grades got better and better and by the end of the school year was one of the top 8 students in a 32 student class, I and you would praise and compliment and really appreciate what they has accomplished!!! This is exactly what coach Woodson has done over a 6 year period with the Hawks. That is a hard job and he has done very well, given the degree of difficulty!!! Again, I live in a town, that has a football team, the Skins, whose coach and team has been terrible and we are not as hard on him as you are on Woodson. He deserves it, Woody does not.

Finally, that is why I agree with Russ, you are unfair, and if anyone should be replaced it’s you!!! In fact, I wish AJC ran a Poll; here are a couple of questions: should Jeff Schultz be fired? If AJC could get a top writer or whatever your position is, should he be replaced? Who thinks Jeff is fair and balanced in his coverage of coach Woodson. I am done with asking you to be fair, I have moved to wanting you fired!!! I wonder if the Mayor, Shirley Franklin, Mr. Brave, Hank Aaron, Mr. Hawk, Dominique, and the honorable Andrew Young feel the same as allot of us that you should be fired or at a minimum extremely unfair in your writing about coach. I am the “official band leader” for you being removed completely or to another part of the paper at a minimum. Again, I would feel a little different if you criticized other parts of the organization equally, then I could conclude it was not personal.

Kudos to Russ, Derek, Mitch!!! Remember the Big 3 (Boston, Cleveland and Orlando) are really, really good. The Hawks could win 50 plus games this season and be better than last year and still lose in the 2nd round and the season still be a whopping success and coach should get a ticker tape parade, c’mon who are we kidding, it was not long ago we were the Clippers and now we are like a Utah or better!!!


October 30th, 2009
3:50 pm

I am a die hard Hawk, Brave and Falcon fan. I think that the Hawks ought to have one goal in mind. Championship. Not Finalist or Div. winner etc. They are deeper this year than I have seen in a long time. I had hoped that Collier, Siler or somebody could solidify that Center position but I am very happy that Horford is meeting the challenge. If we have the confidence that we wont accept second or mindset that Boston, Cle and Orland o are beatable teams, then the championship is ours for the taking. Go take it HAWKS


October 31st, 2009
1:50 pm

The Hawks were so bad for so long, just enjoy the fact that they are now competitive. No one needs to go anywhere. See what happened when Mookie, Lenny Wilkins and those guys had to go. Sports purgatory.


November 1st, 2009
6:53 am

Jeff Schultz is an idiot ! A redneck and a racist !
You have not accomplished anything in your life so you choose a profession where you can poison the world with negative comments. Get a life! Try selling used cars. Better yet , try washing used cars.


November 4th, 2009
6:45 am

why are you still hyping on mike woodson having a job?woodson has transformed the hawks into an nba contender for the championship and you’re writing an article about him having ajob?shows you the racism that goes on .if anyone should not have a job is bobby cox. he is no longer commited to winning and you never hype on him being fired. this is totally racial. who’s going to take the hawks to the next level? no one except woodson. leave woodson alone. he is a bonafide top notch coach in a racial environment.last time i looked the hawks were on top in their division and is going to remain there because of woodson

Mz. Hawkdafied

November 11th, 2009
11:03 am

I believe Mr. Schultz is right on this one.