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.