Much has to happen. The Hawks need to re-sign Mike Bibby, to work a sign-and-trade with Marvin Williams and to draft a guard, preferably Eric Maynor of VCU, in Round 1. But for this team to climb from pretty good to really good, something more must be done.
The Hawks must wean themselves from their reliance on Joe Johnson.
Almost every bit of the Hawks’ offense since 2005 has run through Johnson, and it’s past time for an adjustment. It’s not that he isn’t a fine player; it’s that this team has two younger players who require room to grow.
Come 2011, Josh Smith and Al Horford should be the Hawks’ best players. (And this assumes Johnson re-ups next summer.) Together, Smith and Horford took 1,443 shots this regular season. By himself, Johnson took 1,420. Save the occasional lob, the team doesn’t run many plays for Smith. It runs almost none for Horford.
Johnson isn’t a ball hog – he led the team in assists, ahead of Bibby – but he’s the focal point. You can be a focal point if you’re LeBron or Kobe or D-Wade, but Johnson isn’t quite. The Hawks would be better served if he played fewer minutes – he led the NBA in those – and took fewer shots.
Would Johnson be amenable? “I would,” he said Tuesday. “But I don’t know if that’s going to be the case. I have a passion and love for the game. Sometimes the coach tries to take me out, and I tell him to leave me in. It’s not that I’m selfish – it’s just my passion for the game.”
Is the goal to stoke Johnson’s fire or to win more games? He was demonstrably fatigued in the postseason and admitted as much. Save for the final three quarters of Game 7 against Miami, he was never the Johnson whom co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. calls “the greatest Hawk since Dominique.”Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
Johnson has filled an essential role. More than anyone else, he lifted the Hawks up from squalor. For this team to go further, he needs to work as well with Smith and Horford as he does with Bibby. He needs to become a leader, not just a scorer.
Horford won two NCAA titles with a team famous for sharing the ball. He’s not one to make requests. But here was his reaction when asked if he’d like more shots: “Yeah, every player would. Count me in for that.”
Do the Hawks run much for him? “They don’t,” said Horford, who took fewer shots than Flip Murray. “But I understand. I know what it takes: I have to work on my game and make them give me the ball a little more.”
Would Mike Woodson be willing to work Johnson less? “Without a doubt,” the coach said. “Did I wear him down? Sure. But I needed to ride him to get us where we needed to go.”
For this team to reach the next level, Smith and Horford must pull more of the load. They’re 23. (Johnson is 27.) They’re the future.
Williams is not. So long as he’s here, he’ll always be the guy who isn’t Chris Paul, and there should be teams willing to work a sign-and-trade. Bibby should stay because the Hawks went too long without a point guard. And another guard should be the focus of this draft because there won’t be a big man around when the Hawks pick.
But the big transition has to be internal. Johnson cannot be the lone star any longer. For the good of all, he must become one of the gang.