Is it significant that Hawks surviving without Joe Johnson?

The Hawks are 5-3 without Joe Johnson after going 11-7 with him.

The Hawks are 5-3 without Joe Johnson after going 11-7 with him.

So I was going to blog this morning about how the Hawks are doing great without Joe Johnson — opening the door to more mocking of the six-year, $120 million contract they gave him this summer — but then they had to go and lose to the Detroit Pistons by 23 points Tuesday night.

Still, it’s worth noting the Hawks are 5-3 without Johnson after going 11-7 with him, and two of those losses came at Miami and at San Antonio. So this much we know for sure: They haven’t fallen apart without Johnson.

That’s significant. Why? Because part of the Hawks’ belief in re-signing Johnson and giving him that ridiculous contract was the belief that life without him would render the team irrelevant.

They might be right. But the idea should never have been: Don’t re-sign Johnson and do nothing to replace him. The idea was to use that money and spend it elsewhere.

But the fact that the Hawks are still competitive without Johnson is a positive and could bode well for the future, and here are few theories why:

♦ Coach Larry Drew: Yes, you mocked his hiring. But don’t discount that the Hawks are sharing the ball a lot more now than they were under Mike Woodson. That helps when a team loses its leading scorer/perceived best player because everybody is conditioned to not be dependent on one guy in the offense.

♦ Al Horford and Josh Smith: Both have been exceptional of late. Horford isn’t a surprise. Smith, as we know, can be a roller-coaster. But if he plays like this when Johnson returns, it will be a major plus. I’ve believed all along that the Hawks would be mistaken to trade Smith unless they’re blown away by an offer that brings back, in part, a starting point guard or center. He seems to have taken to Drew.

♦ Mental toughness: There have been a few lapses this season. But the Hawks, notwithstanding the loss to the Pistons, are 8-5 on the road this season. They never had a winning road record under Woodson, topping out at 19-22 last year.

The Hawks are 16-10, a pretty good record despite missing games from two starters (Johnson and Marvin Williams) and reserve Maurice Evans.

General manager Rick Sund said: “We seem to have the mindset that we can survive. That comes with maturing.”

So how do you look at this start? As proof that the Hawks are just as good without Joe Johnson? Or that they should be in great shape when he returns? Or neither?

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50 comments Add your comment


December 15th, 2010
12:33 pm

What everyone seems to forget is, there was no money if we didn’t resign him. It wasn’t like we could’ve not paid Joe and then gone after Lebron. Those are the rules of the NBA. We could have either resigned Joe to a very high contract, or gone after one or two mid-level guys on top of extending Jamal Crawford.

And if anyone thinks Jamal is really better or more valuable than JJ, well, you should really go back to high school and re-learn the game of basketball


December 15th, 2010
12:34 pm

Oh, and first!

Jeff Schultz

December 15th, 2010
12:43 pm

Labo — There’s a wide gap between saying team could have gotten LeBron (he wasn’t coming here) and saying there was “no money” (not true). Who could they have gotten? Honestly, I don’t know. But those are tough decisions a team needs to make, especially against the backdrop of committing $120 million limiting your options over the next six years.


December 15th, 2010
12:44 pm

It seems to me with or without Joe we will lose in the second round of the playoffs again. We didn’t do anything in the off-season to address matchups with Dwight Howard. We can hang with the celtics, but not the magic, but not sure about the heat. I would really like to see us trade Joe for maybe a 1st round pick and a mid-level guy or another big name player. I still wish we would have drafted Chris Paul and not Marvin Williams when we had the chance.

Mr. Phil

December 15th, 2010
12:47 pm


Please let’s not open the door to that discussion again. I think the question is could the Hawks have been just as good with adding a center or point and letting J.J. go. my answer is based on his play so far this year a strong and emphatic MAYBE.


December 15th, 2010
12:47 pm

The Hawks should have signed Amar’e Stoudemire instead of re-signing Joe Johnson.

rollo lawson

December 15th, 2010
12:50 pm

I applaud Drew for starting Collins at center and playing Horford at PF, his natural position. Jamal is finally coming around and Josh is ballin’. Management should think seriously about unloading Marvin Williams. I heard New Jersey was looking for a third team to initiate a their proposed trade for Carmelo. Rick Sund, what are you waiting for? This looks like the perfect time to unload Marvin. Even with Joe out, he still hasn’t found his game. I’m starting to think he doesn’t have one.


December 15th, 2010
12:51 pm

The Hawks organization is a joke they had so many chances to revamp the team but decided to keep the same team that they can’t get out of the second round with. I don’t think they can get out of the first round with the team they got now.


December 15th, 2010
12:52 pm

Schultzie chimes in with his Hawks opines of the month.

They could have signed John Salmons. The fact is if they had let Johnson go you are looking at yet another mid-term rebuild at best.

As Jeff said, it’s not his job to come up with the answers, just to criticize those who do.

Ted Striker

December 15th, 2010
12:54 pm

I’m pretty good with the rock.

Dennis Clinton

December 15th, 2010
12:55 pm

Regardless of the impact of not signing him, the impact of signing him will be the issue of the future, of not being able to sign someone else, because of the lunacy of this contract. Should have let him go, or signed him at the appropriate amount, which would have been a lot less than he is getting. Signing him because there was no choice but to sign him, makes about as much sense as Congress with their idiotic method of spending, “it wasn;t there, so we had to spend it.” I think both of these examples would merit a F in economics.”


December 15th, 2010
1:00 pm

Pitiful article. No mention that Joe was playing hurt at all. Don’t let reality interfere with someones agenda. They should be remarkably better when Joe returns because other guys have learned to step up without him and that big void at the starter 2 spot would be gone.


December 15th, 2010
1:03 pm


December 15th, 2010
1:09 pm

Labo, Schultz answered. Your turn.

Sanford Drive

December 15th, 2010
1:25 pm

(((((42-34))))) hahahahahaha

Reid Adair

December 15th, 2010
1:26 pm

I think the 5-3 record without Joe Johnson supports those who wanted them to let him go (not give him a max contract) and spend that money on 2-3 other players.


December 15th, 2010
1:47 pm

When we come out of this period without Joe Johnson (The Playoffs) we will see if they get significantly better.


December 15th, 2010
1:54 pm

I thought the JJ contract was revolting. I never bought that “we can’t bring anybody here” argument. What a bunch of garbage, particularly given that JJ wasn’t going to get nearly the money in free agency as he could in a sign-and-trade. It seems to me that Sund could have worked out a sign-and-trade and brought back a pretty substantial player at a position of need for the Hawks (like center). Jamal was sitting right there, perfect to plug into the SG position. But no– we throw the money at JJ.

Hawks will be good but not great for the foreseeable future. At least during this championship-less time, we’ll have a winning team.

Astro Joe

December 15th, 2010
2:02 pm

Jeff, did anyone take the time to ask Al Horford if he would have re-signed had the Hawks allowed Joe to leave (and brought in someone like Rasual Butler for $3M/year)? Showing financial commitment to fielding a quality team does more than benefit the player he gets the fat contract. For someone like Horford, it may have been the difference between re-upping to play on a 48 win team (with slim chances to advance beyond the first round) or waiting things out and trying to sign with a true contender. I’ll gladly welcome back a healthy Joe Johnson in a few weeks and will enjoy another 50+ win season… with knowledge that we have a solid nucleus in tact.


December 15th, 2010
2:07 pm

Must head to the liquor store. I seem to have found myself in agreement with JS. It is going to be an expensive trip to the liquor store.


December 15th, 2010
2:11 pm

Johnny Fever

December 15th, 2010
2:25 pm

Nothing will ever come from joe johnson. He will go down as one of the worst contracts ever paid. Not like we got kobe. This teams ownership needs to hire a basketball verson of John Schuerholz, to advise and to hire or fire a team. Not to use Dungons & Dragons die or Blacmajic role of chicken bones for advice. So, with that said, who could the hawks try to get? Carmelo Anthony? or anyone?

Johnny Fever

December 15th, 2010
2:27 pm

Let me ask this. Is joe johnson as good as scottie pipen?


December 15th, 2010
2:27 pm

The Hawks were caught in a bad position and signed JJ to the huge contract, but again, JJ is not the issue for the team. No Center and NO PG are the real problems. The big question for the Hawks: Is keeping Marvin, Teague and next year’s # 1 pick more valuable than attempting to contend for the ECF championship. JJ is a top 15 player, but with no paint presence and no PG the Hawks are limited in their hopes.
Simply Marvin has to go ;and unfortunately, he has reduced himself to a throw in player. The era of the great all around center is gone forever. The NBA of today is a PG driven league. The Hawks have neither. JJ’s value as a solid star player has been established, but if he and the Hawks are to be champions. The Hawks have to DO SOMETHING, NOW!!!
Portland has Pryzbillla on the trade block. Marvin and a 2nd round pick could make it happen. Even if you have to part with Teague and in return receive Portland’s 2nd round pick. Letting Marvin and Teague go for a decent starting center is a necessary measure to improve the team. In today’s’ game decent center play is enough to contend; but more inportantly, great PG play is more necessary. Another option is ZaZa, Marvin, and Teague for the Clippers’ Kaman. There are no great centers and certainly no one is going to trade one. Both centers have already peaked, but either will allow the Hawks to move Horford to 4 and Josh to 3. Next, the Wizard want to more Hinrich, a true lead guard who is expendable with the emergence of John Wall. Next year’s # 1 pick will a middle round choice that is not worth staying pat and missing out on a solid PG. The pick will ZaZa and MO along with the trade exception received from the Josh Childress would keep the Hawks of the luxury tax and give them their most deseprate need – a PG.
The fans need to believe that the Hawks are serious about contending and the current roster cannot with or without JJ.


December 15th, 2010
2:39 pm

Jeff, one of the numbers continuously brought up over the summer was that we only had 8-9 million dollars in cap space to pursue other free agents if JJ had signed elsewhere. While we could have done a sign and trade if all parties were in agreement, I think THAT really limited ATL Spirit’s options.

The NBA salary cap allows extra space to re-sign your own players, but less to sign other team’s free agents. That’s the reason JJ makes mor money than LBJ, Wade or Bosh.

But the Hawks are still pretty underwhelming either way. Just good enough to lose in the second round with JJ, lucky to make it to the second round without him.


December 15th, 2010
2:44 pm

Grandmasterflash, you sound like you know what you are talking about. The Hawks would not got have got any of the big three and Carmelo is looking at going to NY and no where else. The Hawks need to get rid of Williams, he had a decent season at NC and has not met up to his hype. They need a Center and Point Guard, and a low post player. Williams at 6 foot 9, should been worry about playing in the paint instead of shooting jumpers. JJ can play, but you can only play as good as your supporting cast.


December 15th, 2010
4:02 pm

The Hawks would have been just as good with a decent-priced role player than they are with Joe and his max contract. It’s because without Joe, they have to go to more effective offensive options and actually run an offense. Even better if they could have found someone who could play defense. And they wouldn’t have compromised the future of the team in doing so.


December 15th, 2010
4:03 pm

You know, it seems like every other team can be “creative” with their payroll, via sign and trade, or whatever means at their disposal. Yes, we need a center. Yes, we need a better point guard. No we cannot get one with this stupid contract. He is being paid Level 1 salary, when he is at best a Level 2 player. If he is so dadblame good, then why did no one else want him, when he was available during the Free Agency period? He is not worth the money. I would rather have not signed him at all, left the money on the table and worked on coming with a way to better alocate the money, to definitively improve the team. Even if we had to wait a year to do it. Adversity is a great magnifying glass of opportunity, for those players that have to step up to the next level, to better themselves, beyond their glass ceiling of complacency. Josh Smith is stepping up to be a better player than what most people thought he could be. Josh Smith has the potential to to be a Level 1 player, if he can figure out how to consistantly be what he is being now, . . . . . . .without Joe Johnson.


December 15th, 2010
4:25 pm

Hawks mediocre with JJ and without…

Hawks made no move to shore up the hole in the middle. Drew has been wise to cover it up with smoke and mirrors, i.e. Jason Collins to the degree that he can, but Collins is no Shaq, as we’ll see again Thursday.

Bibby still cannot defend and will haunt us until he leaves. Jamal Crawford has played better as of late, but it’s undetermined whether he is a long term piece or not. Probably the latter.

Pistons exposed the Hawks as still not tough or good enough to be compete at the highest level. Spurs were expected to win. Josh Smith’s cramps allowed lingering delusions of competitiveness to still seep in, but the Pistons, behind Tracy McGrady of all players, put an end to that.

Nothings changed since this summer, because nothing happened this summer to change anything. The Hawks are 6-7th seed that still may not get outta the 1st rd and definitely wont get outta the 2nd.

Everyone knows this, witnessed by all the empty seats at the Phipp – its like watching Training Day for the umpteenth time. The first 3x were still good, but not worth spending money on now.


December 15th, 2010
4:50 pm

In July, I was vehemently opposed to re-signing JJ (”Let Joe Go”). The play of the Hawks in his absence only proves my point. While it is true the Hawks would have taken a step backward without Joe (40-45 win season probably at best), they would have been in a much better position to improve themselves in the next couple of years than they are now. The Hawks are a now a team that will win 48 to 55 games a year as long as this core remains together and probably never get past the second round. Don’t kid yourself, while Larry Drew has done a decent job, he was no one’s first choice and, personally, I can’t see him ever kissing the Larry O’Brien trophy after his Hawks team wins a World Championship. I truly believe the Atlanta Spirit were left no choice but to hire Drew after they committed all of their spare change to paying JJ $20 million a year. Let’s face facts: JJ is not an elite player. He is not on par with Kobe, Lebron, D-Wade or Carmello. But the Hawks are paying him as if he was. The point many of you make in his defense (the consensus being that JJ needs a PG and center to be a good player) is the main argument for NOT paying him $20 million a year. Let’s look at the Heat 2006 Championship starters: PG-Jason Williams; SG-Dwyane Wade; SF-Antoine Walker; PF-Udonis Haslem; C-Shaquille O’Neal. The names certainly sound impressive. But if you recall, going into the season, most people thought team was over-the-hill. My point is that the Hawks starters (PG-Bibby; SG-Johnson; SF-Smith; PF-Horford; C-somebody with a pulse) match up well with the 2006 Heat on paper. The difference: Pat Riley v. Larry Drew. Note: No one on the 2006 Heat roster made $20 million a year. Who thought that the Hawks would be in this positon after Jon Koncak’s contract killed the Hawks teams of the late ’80s and early ’90s. But, alas, here we are. Just like Koncak wasn’t a difference maker, this current stretch (and his performance over the last couple of years) shows that JJ isn’t either. If D-Wade and Pat Riley could will that 2006 Heat rosterto a championship, I expect a player worth $20 million a year to do much better for the Hawks than 11-7. I stand by my position from July with one addition “[We Should have] Let Joe Go!”

Mike Woodson's eyebrows

December 15th, 2010
5:11 pm

The Hawks are back to where they were in the 90’s. A slightly above average team that will lose every year in the 1st or 2nd rounds.

Whopper Dawg

December 15th, 2010
5:16 pm

The real problem is that are not markedly better with Johnson playing. That contract will haunt the franchise for a long time.


December 15th, 2010
6:02 pm

What don’t you people get? You don’t get the full amount back when you let one of your FA contracts expire. It is not dollar for dollar. What it does is it allows to exceed the cap to keep someone… You would have gotten value only by doing a sign and trade. You have to only look as far as Josh Childress to see that there was no market for what we have to offer…

The Hawks had options but they did not pursue their mid level exemptions well at all… If Johnson comes back as damaged goods, then it is a bad contract… But only then, the rest is conjecture…

Bill Stanfill

December 15th, 2010
8:39 pm

Schultz is just calling it like it is. This team peaked during the regular season last year. Their performance in the play-offs was embarrassing.

That fact was compounded shortly afterwards with the absurd contract given to Joe Johnson. The Hawks have really limited their options in future years.

If the Hawks aren’t a much better team with their $120 million guy on the floor, then why did they give him THE MAXIMUM deal possible? If you believe that contract was necessary, then you believe J.J. hasn’t peaked and will miraculously lead the Hawks beyond the 2nd round this year and for years to come.

Najeh Davenpoop

December 15th, 2010
8:57 pm

“There’s a wide gap between saying team could have gotten LeBron (he wasn’t coming here) and saying there was “no money” (not true).”

“No money” and “no cap space” are two different things. The way the NBA salary cap is structured, the Hawks could not have signed a max player, or even close to a max player, if they had let Joe go. Unless you are comfortable with either a) replacing him with someone like John Salmons for a mid-level sized deal, or b) sign-and-trading him for a trade exception and draft picks which could have then been used to make a run at CP3 or Melo (a pursuit that has a greater chance of failure than success), getting rid of Joe probably wouldn’t have been in the short-term best interest of the team. Four years down the road? Maybe. Right now? No.

And I should also add that aside from the Jamal Crawford trade, Rick Sund hasn’t really done a whole lot to impress anyone as Hawks’ GM. I’m not all that confident that he would have found a creative way to replace Joe if he had let him walk.

Najeh Davenpoop

December 15th, 2010
9:01 pm

I should also add that projecting an 8-game stretch over an entire season — or multiple seasons — is an exercise in futility. It’s like projecting a backup quarterback’s initial success over an entire season — there’s always a good chance the defense figures him out. Similarly, there’s always a pretty good chance defenses start figuring out the Joe-less Hawks and limiting their opportunities. In fact, we’ll have a good chance to see that this month, as they have a lot of quality teams coming up on the schedule.

Najeh Davenpoop

December 15th, 2010
9:05 pm

And this isn’t like the NFL where you can build a team of solid but mostly unspectacular players into a contender by hiring a good coaching staff, the way the Falcons have done. If you don’t have superstars, you are not going to win a title, period. The argument against locking in Joe to his max deal generally has been that the Hawks will be pretty good but not great for the foreseeable future, which is a valid point. But nobody has yet come up with a reasonable plan for acquiring the superstars necessary to replace him and turn this team into a true title contender. That’s not going to happen through the draft unless the Hawks luck out and win the lottery, it’s not going to happen via trade unless some team is backed into a corner and forced to trade their superstar (like the Nuggets right now) AND that superstar wants to sign an extension with the Hawks right now, and it’s likely never to happen in free agency again the way it did this past summer, a summer in which the Hawks could not participate anyway because Rick Sund handed out $20 million per year to Bibby, Marvin, and Zaza the year before.


December 15th, 2010
9:11 pm

@ GMF and Davenpoop…
Co-sign, True!!!


December 15th, 2010
9:59 pm

The Hawks made a huge mistake signing JJ to that big contract. He is way too inconsistent to deserve that kinda money. He has his good games but Hawks need 25 points,10 assists,and 4 steals EVERY night for that kinda money. Hawks management is just plain stupid for signing JJ to a long contract.


December 16th, 2010
12:00 am

I think the tempo they play at is too slow…but that’s because Bibby is at point guard. I love Mike Bibby but he is more of a backup at this point in his career. Even though he is a leader, not afraid to take the last shot, hits tough shots and has vet savvy…he just plays too slow. We have athletes on this squad and we need to be running.

All those young boys on the Hawks they want to run around trust me. However with the tentativeness and lack of what seems like desire from Jeff Teague, he has not been able to replace Bibby in the lineup which Coach Drew wants him to do.

Also the team understands that defense is the way to go…however its taking them time to adopt the mentality…meaning there have been flashes of how the team can play defensively but inconsistent. I believe 6 years of non-accountability can’t be wiped away in 25 games. I highly expect by the All Star break that the Hawks will be in the top half defensively. Damien Wilkins intensity seems to be rubbing off on the team.

I don’t see center being a problem. Jason Collins has more than proven his worth and he has a very high PER rating. Couple that with rotating with Al, ZaZa & Powell when it’s necessary I think we are solid enough on the block.

Roundfield on Roundball

December 16th, 2010
7:18 am

The Hawks are a nice team but with over-HEATed Miami, the resurgent Knicks, the Celtics, the Bulls, Magic … they get no national pub or love. Joe Johnson is the most faceless “star” in the association. Does anyone buy a ticket in Dallas or Chicago to go see Joe Johnson play? Or the Hawks, for that matter. It’s no wonder that ESPN and TNT almost ignore them and we’re left with Rathbun (yeesh.) Holman is much better on the radio. They look like a 4 or 5 seed max and early out in the playoffs.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PistonsFanZone, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Is it signficant that Hawks surviving without Joe Johnson? [...]


December 16th, 2010
8:35 am

Sorry, but to me, nothing about the Hawks is significant.

Mike Jay

December 16th, 2010
8:51 am

JS wrote : “They might be right. But the idea should never have been: Don’t re-sign Johnson and do nothing to replace him. The idea was to use that money and spend it elsewhere.”

Hasn’t this been covered months ago? It doesn’t work like the above. The way the salary cap works it was either resign JJ or let him walk. Hawks were NOT 15 million under the cap so they could not just ‘use that money elsewhere’. If you are going to bash the hawks be fair and truthful about it. Don;t worry it is still easy to do.


December 16th, 2010
11:25 pm

This article is looking worse and worse after every game. If you want to be an elite team or a close to an elite team you need all of your talent and skilled players to be healthy and at their best. Losing is not fun nor proves anything if not healthy. We need to get healthy.


December 16th, 2010
11:28 pm

The guy played hurt, I guess that counts for nothing. I hope ATL loses the Hawks, you never appreciate what you have until its gone.

Steve E

December 17th, 2010
10:26 am

I disagree Joe is worth every dollar they gave him…..Stop with the hate because before Joe came to Atlanta the Hawks never made the playoffs….

Steve from Little Rock…go Hogs…Central High 02…

Jamie Iomo

December 17th, 2010
2:41 pm

Good evening

Thanks for writing this blog, loved reading it

Is it significan that...

December 17th, 2010
3:15 pm

Schultz spoke too soon?

The new hawks are a picture of mediocrity

Larry Drew Suck!.


December 17th, 2010
4:50 pm

Is it significant that Jeff Schultz STILL doesn’t understand the NBA salary cap?

Is it significant that Jeff Schultz posts more frequently about the Braves’ offseason than he does about the Hawks’ regular season?

Is it significant that when Jeff Schultz does wake up one day and decide to write an NBA article, they contain no information beyond what one could glean from checking the box scores and watching some of the Hawks’ nationally televised games?

Why yes, it is significant. It shows that Jeff Schultz is both ignorant and indifferent when it comes to the NBA but chooses to parachute in every few months and write something totally inane and idiotic about the Hawks. But hey, as long as Cox Media is dumb enough to keep sending this fool checks, he might as well keep talking out of his butt right?