It’s old hat to LeBron James, but it’s new to Joe Johnson. When you’re a big-name player and you’re about to become a free agent, a game at Madison Square Garden means getting asked, “Would you sign with the Knicks?” Joe got the full treatment Monday, and he didn’t, you should know, say no.
The three major New York newspapers — the Times, the Post and the Daily News – all ran the obligatory “Joe-to-the-Knicks?” story. In the midst of a season in which New York’s NBA entry has won three times against the Hawks and only 19 times against the league’s other 28 teams, star-based speculation counts as big news in the Big Apple.
Times headline: “Hawks’ Johnson, free agent to be, lurks as a prize without the hype.”
Post headline: “Joe: Knicks an option, if …”
Daily News headline: “Atlanta Hawks’ Joe Johnson may be best shot for the Knicks.”
If you have time to click on only one of the Joe links, the Daily News’ version, written by Frank Isola, is the ticket. From Isola’s report:
Johnson stands alone in the 2010 free-agent class in that the All-Star shooting guard may be the most realistic option for the talent-starved Knicks. Johnson already has rejected a “max” deal with the Atlanta Hawks and has a good history with [Knicks coach] Mike D’Antoni. Plus Johnson’s agent, Arn Tellem, is responsible for orchestrating the trading deadline deal for Tracy McGrady that freed up additional salary-cap space for the Knicks.
Team president Donnie Walsh traded two first-round picks to Houston to finalize the deal and the feeling around the NBA is that Walsh never would have given up so many assets if he didn’t have a good indication that one of the top free agents is strongly considering New York.
“I don’t think it’s a reach to say that Arn could influence Joe’s decisions,” said a Hawks official. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But we could still offer the most money.”
“Wink-wink” deals are against NBA rules, but they are next to impossible to prove and happen all the time. That doesn’t mean the Knicks have such an agreement in place with Johnson. In fact, Johnson was clear last night that his preference is to sign with a ready-made team, which would seem to include Atlanta but not necessarily the Knicks.
From the Post’s story, written by Mark Hale:
Question is, would the All-Star guard be comfortable in a major town like New York?
He insists he would be.
“Yeah, definitely,” Johnson said last night before posting 22 points, five assists and four rebounds in the Knicks’ dramatic 99-98 win over his Hawks.
“It’s nothing but basketball. I’ve been playing this game pretty much my whole life. I could care less where I’m at.”
Johnson raved about Madison Square Garden in postgame.
“It is the Mecca of basketball,” he said. “Everybody I think really gets geared up to come and put on a good performance.”
If I’m the Hawks and I’ve just lost to the woebegone Knicks by a point, I don’t know that I want to hear about MSG-as-Mecca. Nor would I want to see this in Jonathan Abrams’ story in the Times:
“I think everybody is going to be in contention,” Johnson said. “I can’t really say just one team that I’m looking forward to playing for. I don’t know. I think it’s going to be an exciting summer, and we’ll see what happens.”
An exciting summer? Doesn’t, like, spring come first? Isn’t it possible the Hawks will play games of consequence come April and May? Might those not be “exciting”?
Ah, well. That’s the way of NBA free agency. You’re nobody unless the Knicks want you. And the Knicks apparently want Joe Johnson. But he’ll wind up staying here. Because, as the unnamed Hawks official told the Daily News, they can offer the most money.
Besides, New York is the worst possible fit for Johnson. He’s famous among teammates for his ability to sleep anytime anywhere. A guy who loves to snooze working in the city that never sleeps? It’d never work.