Larry Drew’s first issue: What to do with Joe Johnson? (UPDATED: Wade recruiting Joe)

Larry Drew needs to know what makes Josh Smith (left) tick, but Joe Johnson could be the centerpiece of his offense.

Larry Drew needs to know what makes Josh Smith (left) tick, but Joe Johnson will be the centerpiece of the Hawks' offense if he re-signs with them. (Curtis Compton/AJC)


Now that they have hired their coach, the Hawks need to resolve their coach’s biggest player issue: Joe Johnson.

You thought I was going to say Josh Smith, didn’t you?

Smith can be a headache for a coach,  given his fluctuating effort level (and maturity). But he’s not going to be the centerpiece of the Hawks’ offense. Johnson has been just that for the Hawks, and he’ll be that again next year — if he re-signs. The fact that Johnson is an impending free agent doesn’t give new coach Larry Drew much time to decide where he stands on the four-time All-Star. (Drew’s first chance to make a public  declaration will come at his introductory press conference Monday at 4 p.m.)

We have to assume general manager Rick Sund’s preference is to keep Johnson because he has said as much. Shortly after the season, Sund told our Michael Cunningham:

“I’m hopeful and optimistic we can sign [Johnson] going forward. I told him we’ve come a long way, and it would be great if he can continue to be an important part of our team going forward.”

Here are the three key questions regarding the Johnson-Drew dynamic:

1.) Does Drew want Johnson back? Answer: Probably yes.

Notwithstanding another disappointing postseason by Johnson — and his less-than-brilliant decision to give a verbal backhand to fans following a second-round, Game 3 loss to Orlando — he is the team’s leading scorer. That counts for something.

2.) Does Drew want Johnson back under any circumstances? Answer: Probably no.

Drew knows the oft-seen “Iso Joe” offense is limiting. He almost certainly would prefer more creativity in the half court. He needs to be certain Johnson is willing to give up the ball in certain situations and sets for the betterment of the team. This is a bit of an unknown because we don’t really know what Johnson’s desires are, nor what past problems are merely the result of  design by former coach Mike Woodson.

3.) Does Drew’s hiring sway Johnson’s desires one way or the other? Answer: Probably no.

I still believe this will come down to money. If Johnson can make more by staying in Atlanta, he will. If there’s a chance he can make the same (via free agency or a sign-and-trade) with another team that he might have a desire to play for, he’ll go. As much as Johnson likes living in Atlanta, part of him no doubt is a little tired of getting the blame every time the Hawks come up short. I just don’t think Drew’s presence looms bigger than either one of those issues.

What are you thoughts? Do you think Drew and Johnson can co-exist or should the Hawks part ways with Johnson?

(UPDATE: A story in today’s Florida Sun-Sentinel indicates Miami guard Dwyane Wade has spoken to both Johnson and Toronto’s Chris Bosh, another impending free agent, about signing with the Heat.)

Amid the promotional push by Pat Riley and the Heat marketing staff to retain the team’s All-Star leader this offseason, Dwyane Wade has gone national with his own push highlighting the benefits of South Florida to other free agents.

“It’s about who can come to Miami. It’s about who do you trust, who can fit the organization, who best fits you as a player, things of that nature,” Wade said, enhancing the perception that he will spend the start of the July 1 negotiation period more as a recruiter than as someone being recruited.

Wade told ESPN his conversations with other free agents, a group that includes Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh, Phoenix Suns forward Amare Stoudemire and Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson, would center on moving the Heat toward the “dynasty” vision that Riley has stressed.

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86 comments Add your comment

SWAT Native

June 13th, 2010
10:15 pm

Let’s see, 21+ points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds. Every night. Plays pretty much every night, too. Never gets hurt. What should we do with him?


June 13th, 2010
10:22 pm

The Bigger issue is trading Mike Bibby and Drafting Sherron Collins.


June 13th, 2010
10:22 pm

…but yes, we need Joe.

Reid Adair

June 13th, 2010
10:23 pm

The iso offense isn’t going to continue, and I don’t think Joe Johnson is willing to lose touches. Combine that with his horrible attitude in the playoffs (and popping off about the fans), and they need to let him move on.

All this talk of a free agent “summit” with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson? Johnson isn’t in the same class as those other three.

Astro Joe

June 13th, 2010
10:27 pm

SWAT Native, throw in the fact that he is our best perimeter defender to your previous post. If Drew can’t figure out how to use a 4-time All-Star still in his prime years, then Sund hired the wrong coach.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: [...]

C. Tampa Ironworse

June 13th, 2010
10:44 pm

Astro Joe, when you pondered if Sund hired the wrong coach…that was a joke right, right?


June 13th, 2010
11:01 pm

I’d be cool with or w/o Joe. With the same cast and inserting a new coach I doubt the team is going to make a big leap forward. Just if he goes somewhere else hopefully we can get something for him be it draft pics, money, a true center… Regardless it will be on Drew. Can he get Marvin Williams to show up more consistently? Can he get Josh Smith to stop sulking when things don’t go his way? Can he develop Teague and get the offense moving again while using Horford in the post when he does have a good match up?

Cedrick (Texas Hawk)

June 13th, 2010
11:02 pm

I posted on most of these Blogs that the Hawks would regret firing Woody. Whether you liked him or not Woody was here when we only won 18 games. Drew is an assistant that has been with Woody for the past what 6 years. Now what makes you guys think these guys are gonna react better with Drew. We should have went hard after Avery, at least we know Avery can turn a bench point guard into a nice winner (see Devin Harris). Let me say right now today, I think Joe Johnson will leave because of this hire and we might make the playoffs next year in 8th place….. I still Love the Hawks but I am disappointed today!!


June 13th, 2010
11:07 pm

I hope Drew brings in his own staff. Tyrone Hill is not cutting is as a big man coach!

The Sham

June 13th, 2010
11:19 pm

Joe isn’t worth the MAX contract bc he doesn’t put the MAX #’s up. He is a #2 at best, let him walk or more preferably sign and trade him for either a top tier draft pick or two, or for someone like Salmons. Same numbers but less $$.

In the mean time spend the money on a cattle prod for J-mooch and put the rest away for Horford…


The Sham

June 13th, 2010
11:23 pm

Cedric… I can’t counter your argument… and that scares me about this team…

nside hawkfan

June 13th, 2010
11:24 pm

Gotta bring Joe back. Allstars don’t grow on trees, especially peachtrees. With the Greek economy tumbling and general dismay oversees, I think Chill would rather be in Atlanta too.

Tyronn Lue

June 13th, 2010
11:24 pm

Hawks should let Joe GO.
Celtics NBA Champs!!!

Tyronn Lue

June 13th, 2010
11:26 pm

SWAT Native

June 13th, 2010
11:30 pm

The Celtics became what appears to be a two-time champion (and could have been three if they had stayed healthy) by not trading Paul Pierce or letting him go but adding other stars to him. If only the Hawks could do the same with Joe…

james jones

June 13th, 2010
11:33 pm

I think the Hawks will be okay as long as the return of Josh Childress(a beast overseas) and the currently group we have.


June 13th, 2010
11:38 pm

People who think Salmons can replace Joe’s production are really
out of touch with reality. However, if Drew feels JJ is not going
to buy into the team concept then he may be very willing to let
JJ go his own way. I have a feeling that Drew is smart enough to
build around his two young interior studs both offensivly and defensivly. He will also be a savior for Jeff Teague.


June 13th, 2010
11:50 pm


When you mention jj’s disappointment in the playoffs, also bring up the fact that he had no bench to spell him or guard the other teams toughest players. The guy was worn out, I would like you guys to mention who is going to replace Joe.

Section 303

June 13th, 2010
11:51 pm

I think I want Joe Johnson out of town. Will never forgive him for bashing the fans until he apologizes. If not, he can take his 25% playoff shooting to some other town.

Giving that guy a max deal would cripple the organization. He isn’t worth it. And, really, is not deserving. I was proud of the fans for booing him off the floor at the end of Game 4 against Orlando.


June 14th, 2010
12:05 am

If Joe bounces, possible compensation via sign and trade:

Miami – Michael Beasley, cash and draft pick

Chicago – Kirk Hinrich and draft picks; stay away from Deng’s contract

New Jersey – Draft picks, Courtney lee, Terrance Williams, Devin Harris if they are slippin’

New York – ?????????????????

Clippers – Chris Kaman or Deandre Jordan, draft picks, cash

Whopper Dawg

June 14th, 2010
12:37 am

I think you hit the nail on the head, Jeff, Mr. Drew has to figure out what makes Mr, Johnson tick. If it were me, I would have to sit down and have a frank discussion with him. Then I would approach the GM and make a recommendation one way or the other. I won’t be too excited if he stays or too disappointed if he leaves. I really think that sums it up and I think most people think the same.


June 14th, 2010
12:46 am

@ Jeff Schultz…
I’ll give you the conjecture on Joe, but he (Drew) as bigger problems. His concern no. 1 is Teague. If he does not get that kid righted or develop or acquire a player to lead the Motley Crue (Josh, Jamal, Horford, and Casper/Marvin)… This team is going to flounder. Bibby is going to give you 2nd team minutes and long range spot up shooting… Teague must us more and from Day 1 of camp too…

Beasley is almost as messed in the head as Delonte West, Corey Maggette, and Marvin Williams. Kirk Hinrich is more of the same, we need a perimeter defensive force who can give us some time and scoring at the two and three since Marvin continues to go “Casper” on us. guard


June 14th, 2010
1:01 am

“part of him no doubt is a little tired of getting the blame every time the Hawks come up short.”

The man proclaimed himself an NBA superstar in an effort to call attention to himself. He wanted every NBA GM to watch him shine in the playoffs. Homeboy vanished……….just straight laid an egg.

Should he be at the point where he considers himself an NBA superstar, he will assume responsibility for the losses, as well as appreciate the victories.

He aint ready……

Let him roll out….


June 14th, 2010
1:29 am

Let Joe LEAVE!!! He may be an all-star, but is not a team player, & doesn’t come through in the clutch when we need him to.

Hell let Jamal Crawford take over the spot! He was more of a factor in the playoffs than any of the Hawks players!

6th Man of the year, deserves to be in the starting 5 on plenty of ball clubs, why not the Hawks?


June 14th, 2010
1:47 am

People on here keep saying,’We must have Joe if we want to stay a 53+ win team, or Joe is our top scorer, assists guys, etc..blah, blah” Yeah, he was all that but only b/c he had the ball in his hand longer than anyone else on the team. I truly believe that’s why Josh Smith all of for sutten went back to his ole bad decision-making b/c Woodson kept allowing JJ to play one-on-one ball and not allow others to be involved in plays. Josh wanted to be part of some plays as well, but felt Woodson was once again showing favorites to Joe. If Joe stays, to me it makes it harder for Drew to get his team to play the way he intends for them to play b/c Joe will still want the ball 95% of the time which will ultimately have the team playing just like they were under Woodson. I say lets sign and trade him for some better pieces allowing Drew to have HIS own team and not the same team Woodson had!


June 14th, 2010
2:02 am

I think some folks may assume that Joe Johnson would not accept being in an offense that is not an Iso-Joe heavy offense. He probably didn’t ask Woody to feature that offense so it’s not his fault or necessarily his preference that the Hawks have run the Iso-Joe ad nauseam for the past 5 years.

Since the Hawks roster technically lists Joe as a Shooting Guard as opposed to a Point Guard, it’s entirely possible that Joe could be happy here with Larry Drew running a more conventional half-court offense where Joe gets the ball off of a pass from a teammate for an open shot, instead of having to dribble the ball for 14 seconds and then just hurl something up at the rack and hope that it goes in.

I am very interested in seeing all of the current personnel in a more creative offensive attack as there is no doubt that the talent is there for the Hawks to be more consistent offensively. That would go a long way toward fixing the problem of the long 4th quarter scoring droughts.


June 14th, 2010
2:03 am

I read people saying,”We should keep Joe if we want to stay a 53+ win team, or Joe is our top scorer, top assists guy, etc, blah blah..” Yeah, that may all be true but only b/c Joe had the ball 95% of the time. I truly believe Joe was the reason Josh Smith all of a sutton converted back to his ole bad-decision-making mentality b/c Woodson would allow Joe to be the only guy creating for himself and not involving others in plays. Josh wanted to be apart of plays too and thats why he would take matters into his on hands and create mess for himself instead of plays for himself. If Joe stays, I think that would make it much harder for Drew to get his team to play for him the way he intends for them to play b/c Joe WILL want to continue to have the ball in his hands 95% of the time which will ultimately have the team looking and playing just like Woodson had them. I say, do a sign and trade for Joe to get some really good pieces so that Drew could have HIS team instead of keeping WOODSON’S team!


June 14th, 2010
6:51 am

Let’s Hope Larry Drew is the new Mike Smith of the NBA.


June 14th, 2010
6:56 am


Native Georgian

June 14th, 2010
7:14 am

I’m questioning my faith in Hawks management with this hire. I assume Drew had the authority to develop our talent & influence matchups as the top assistant. Why would our results change any? This is just Woodson version 2. Another 5 years of shattered dreams and unrealized hope. Not sure I’m willing to pay for that.

I feel that Joe must go and maybe me too.


June 14th, 2010
7:21 am

Let Joe go. Understand that the team might slip back a little next year, but develop a philosophy that includes ball movement and more up-tempo basketball. Whether it’s his fault or not, Joe’s game is predicated on finding his defensive player physically and SLOWLY breaking him down.


June 14th, 2010
7:28 am

A quote from the above article: “The fact that Johnson is an impending free agent doesn’t give new coach Larry Drew much time to decide where he stands on the four-time All-Star.”

If Larry Drew has been an assistant coach with the Hawks for the past 6 seasons, then why wouldn’t he have reached some type of decision by now on where he stands with Joe Johnson?


June 14th, 2010
7:41 am

Leave Joe Johnson alone and get on with the game.


June 14th, 2010
7:44 am

He’s got to decide whether he can replace JJ, because the Hawks will never win a championship with him there. That Macho egotism, no smiles, don’t touch me attitude is not what champions are made of.


June 14th, 2010
7:50 am

Joe needs to go and the sooner the better.


June 14th, 2010
7:59 am

Why even fire Woodson if you are going to hire his assistant (Drew) ? Look at all the coaches in the NFL that were desciples of Bill Belichick
that coach JUST LIKE HE COACHES ? And now Drew will probably not even have a guy that can score 25 per night if JJ walks. I think the Hawks knew their financial restrictions and went cheap on hiring a coach since they knew if they hired Avery he would be handicapped with less talent. It is still very dumb to fire a coach then hire his assistant. Most teams fire all the assistants when they fire the head coach. But not a sorry franchise like the Atlanta Hawks…

Gray Mule

June 14th, 2010
7:59 am

Remember when, several years ago, the Braves hero in the World Series,
David Justice, blasted the Atlanta fans?
The relationship between D.J. and the Atlanta fans never healed.
JJ has done exactly what David Justice did. They may be right in
their belief about Atlanta fans. But, ultimately, the fans are the
people who pay their salary. No fans, no gate. No gate, no pay.
JJ needs to change both his style of play and his attitude or he
needs to go. If he goes, hopefully it’s a sign and trade. Can’t
afford to lose him for nothing.
To have JJ simply walk away, which he can do if he wants to, would
be another insult to Atlanta. Hopefully, he doesn’t hate us that bad.

Gray Mule


June 14th, 2010
8:01 am

His attitude overall, even discounting the stupidity of dissing the home crowd, does not merit the max money contract. Bottom line is that stars help tremendously but even in the NBA it is still a team game and he is not a team player and not really the star that he (and his agent) thinks he is. The money could be better spent elsewhere unless he is willing to seriously commit to becoming part of the team. I personally don’t think the leopard can change its spots though.


June 14th, 2010
8:02 am

So next year you are basically gonna have Woodson (Drew) without JJ. Good luck with that…


June 14th, 2010
8:04 am

Why would JJ agree to a sign and trade if he now hates the Hawks. He can walk freely. Hawks ownership takes the blame for signing him to that monstrous contract and crippling their salary cap for years.


June 14th, 2010
8:07 am

I wanted JJ to go too until I was told his guaranteed contract would hit the Hawks cap next year. I still don’t fully understand it. It seems if a player walks you aren’t responsible (cap-wise) for him. In other sports a player walks and you just replace him with no cap hit (no cap in MLB anyway).


June 14th, 2010
8:08 am

Mr. Shultz,

How high of a draft pick selection do you think we could trade Joe Johnson for? I don’t feel that starting Jamal Crawford looses you very much, and how can anyone be sure Teague is going to be a starting caliber point guard? It seems that a sign and trade for a top 4 draft pick would sure be exciting when you are building a young team. Think of the nucleus of #3 pick, Horford, Smith. Then we use some of the money we freed up to bring Josh Childress back which allows you to bring Marvin Williams off the bench!


#1-4 Pick PG/Jeff Teague
Jamal Crawford
Josh Childress/Marvin Williams
Josh Smith
Al Horford


June 14th, 2010
8:11 am

So long Joe.Josh may leave too. Coach knows who will play.Add some & sutract some. Ass”t coaches get on the bus too.Go after LeBron.Team owners need to commit to being a long term championship team or sell!


June 14th, 2010
8:21 am

Marvin Williams see ya.Josh Childress yes but team owners blew it.


June 14th, 2010
8:33 am

Robdawg08 some assistant named Phil Jackson took over for Doug Collins, and this guy named Pat Riley took over for Paul Westhead. These teams of coarse had tremendous amounts of talent on them. That leads to what really is the issue with these Hawks talent, or lack thereof, you see when all is said and done this team lacks significant talent to go deep into the playoffs. I know 53 wins look great, however it is fools gold, in the playoffs your weaknesses are magnified and multiplied and above all attacked mercilessly. These Hawks have a collection of pretty good athletes that really do not translate well into basketball players. Before we bash Woody one more time on his lack of development of players, please understand at the end of every season there is an exit interview whereby coaches will instruct players on what to specifically work on during the off season. Some players do, others don’t; the fact of the matter is it is the players’ responsibility to work on improving their individual game. Can’t you see it now, the tenth time Drew attempts to correct the same issue in Josh Smith’s game he will be accused by Smith and some knowledgeable fans of riding him too hard. Oh let the fun begin.


June 14th, 2010
8:38 am

I go fishing for a few days and come back to find out the hawks have hired Larry Drew. He may end up being a great coach but I have a conspiracy theory that he has been hired as a 1 year stop gap if he is a phenom and the hawks do well , the management can say we knew all along he would be great , if he fails they can fire him next year and go after Doc rivers , while begging off we tried to promote from within and we see now it was a failed experiment


June 14th, 2010
8:44 am

Sorry fans. Did someone say that this move has “caused them to lose faith in the ownership”?
ha ha ha…..ha ha ha ha….HA HA HA!!! WHAT OWNERSHIP???

It all starts at the top. Same old ASG = SOSDD. I’m lookin for a new team to cheer for. I just can’t take this ineptitude any longer.


June 14th, 2010
8:46 am

Get rid of Joe Johnson – he quit on the team. If he really wanted to play here, he’d have re-signed last summer. But he’s the type of player who believes that you can’t spell team without M-E


June 14th, 2010
8:55 am

I say sign and trade him to Philly for Iguodala and Sam Dalembert. We send Joe and Marvin. We would have the biggest and defensive front court. Iggy scores 20+ a game and he plays rugged defense.