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?