Larry Drew wants Joe Johnson to remain a Hawk and share the ball. At issue now:
1. Was iso-Joe the plan, or did it reflect the absence of a plan? It was tough to tell if isolations became the Hawks’ default mechanism by design or … well, default. Was the offense designed that way from Day 1 of Johnson’s first season (2005-2006) as a Hawk, or was it just Mike Woodson’s convenient way of getting the ball in his best player’s hands with the game on the line? And will Drew, who is known as a more sophisticated offensive coach than his predecessor, be able to implement a system that gives Joe the big shots but not all the dribbles?
2. Will Johnson want to remain a Hawk if he’s no longer THE Hawk? Johnson wasn’t a selfish player at Arkansas or with Phoenix. (Indeed, he was the Suns’ fourth option.) He didn’t seem selfish as a Hawk until this season, when it became apparent he and Jamal Crawford didn’t mesh quite the way he and Mike Bibby had. A lot of teams are going to throw money at Joe come July. Would he choose to remain with the one club that has come out and said, “We want you to share the ball”?
3. If Joe Johnson shares the ball, is he still Joe Johnson? Drew hinted at it Monday: Nobody else in the NBA — not LeBron, not Kobe, not D-Wade — plays quite the way Joe does. Even those who are bigger stars aren’t dribble-dribble-dribble guys. If you’re looking for an antecedent, you might have to go back all the way to Oscar Robertson. And if Johnson isn’t dribbling and backing a man down, what should he be doing? Standing on the perimeter awaiting a kickout pass? Posting himself low and overmatching smaller defenders?
4. If Joe Johnson is no longer taking all the big shots, is he still worth max money? The short answer: Probably, because he’ll get his money elsewhere if he doesn’t here. But it does seem odd that a sales pitch would be worded thusly: “Joe, we want you to stick around, but we want you to change.”
5. How much does Joe Johnson want to win? Here’s the key question. He’s already a rich man, and he’s about to become a richer one. Does he want to retire with a bunch of points and a huge financial portfolio, or does he want to re-invent himself as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have? Each of them was what Johnson is — a great player/main man who could never sniff a title. They changed because they cared more about winning. We’re about to learn what motivates Joe Johnson.