The Hawks overpaid for Joe Johnson, but they had to do it

Some who cover the NBA are aghast that the Hawks have paid $119 million to keep Joe Johnson. Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports and the blog Ball Don’t Lie calls it: “Worst contract, ever.” John Hollinger of ESPN.com’s Insider (link requires registration) writes: “The Hawks might have won the battle here, but as a result they’ll almost certainly lose the war.”

The crux of these reasoned arguments: Johnson isn’t worth that much money now, and he absolutely won’t be worth it five years hence. I’d offer no rebuttal on either point, but I will offer a rebuttal. (I know that sounds weird. Hear me out.)

The Hawks have arrived at a precarious point. They’ve gotten good but not good enough. They were so bad against Orlando — historically bad, you’ll recall — that it cost Mike Woodson his job and threatened to override every painful gain made these past six seasons. The local audience, which never quite bought into the notion of the Hawks as legitimate, is again poised to tune them out.

Many Hawks fans aren’t crazy about Johnson — who, as we heard after Game 3 of Round 2, isn’t crazy about Hawks fans — but I submit that those same folks would have seized the loss of J-J-J-Joe as reason to wash their hands of this operation. Because there was no way the Hawks could have let Johnson leave and been as good next season.

They could have tinkered till the cows came home, but they couldn’t have offset the loss of sheer talent: Not with a sign-and-trade for Johnson, not with anyone signed to the mid-level exception as a free agent, not with the drafting of Jordan Crawford. They’d have gotten worse, and we saw earlier this century how we as Atlantans respond to a Hawks’ team that gets worse.

We stop caring. We stop buying tickets. If we mention the Hawks at all, it’s as an object of derision. And this team has come too far to retreat into rebuilding mode again so soon.

To state the obvious: Johnson isn’t Kobe Bryant or LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. He’s not a strap-the-team-on-his-back superstar. He is, however, a very good player who could be even more effective if he stopped trying to play like a superstar. This is what Larry Drew, the Hawks’ new coach, wants: For Johnson to be first among equals, not the leader of the pack.

Contrary to popular belief, the Hawks are not complete idiots. They know they’ve overpaid Johnson, but overpaying was the only way to keep him. And the consequences of not keeping him more than offset, at least in the short run, the outlay.

Had Johnson left, we’d have said: “See there? The Hawks’ best player no longer wanted any part of them.” And surely every other big-ticket free agent this summer and in coming summers would have noted that Johnson wasn’t willing to stick around even after his team won 53 games. That’s almost an indelible mark: If the chief Hawk didn’t think Atlanta could ever win any bigger, why should anybody else?

Yes, this contract will become an albatross soon. Johnson will not be worth $20 million in Year 4, or Year 5, or Year 6. But overpaying now was the price for being seen as a team willing to compete, and such is the nature of the Atlanta Spirit that these owners might not be the ones paying Johnson in 2013-2014.

By keeping Joe Johnson, the Hawks have left open their window of opportunity. They have four very good players under contract for next season — Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jamal Crawford — and with that nucleus they still have a chance. They’ll need Jeff Teague to develop and they’ll need to deepen their bench, but they have a chance.

They entered free agency with two choices: Overpay J.J. and remain a factor in the NBA East, or save the money and sink back to irrelevance. They chose to remain relevant, and good for them.

One thing more: This might well be a bad contract, but it’s not the worst in NBA history. It’s not even the worst in Hawks’ history. Alan Henderson’s was worse. Speedy Claxton’s was worse. Jon Koncak’s was worse.

194 comments Add your comment

Jazzy Tee

July 7th, 2010
1:05 pm

First! Speedy we hardly knew ye!

JJ

July 7th, 2010
1:06 pm

O'Brien

July 7th, 2010
1:06 pm

Good points Mark.

And we have also seen max guys get traded (Ray Allen, KG, TMac), so even if we can’t afford him in year 4, as long as he is still productive (which I think he will, because he doesnt rely on athleticism), a contender willl trade for him to get them to the next leavel.

JJ

July 7th, 2010
1:07 pm

should of commented before reading the article…

Gilley

July 7th, 2010
1:09 pm

I concur!!!!!!

Scotty

July 7th, 2010
1:14 pm

Mark, disagree with the arguments. By resigning Joe to the max, you are not telling your fans you want to compete, you’re telling your fans that you are happy with having a team with a 2nd Round ceiling. i think most Hawks fans would rather see us be worse in the short term, but with financial flexibility to spend money down the road to significantly improve the team through trade or free agency. now, we’ll be mediocre in the short term and bad in the long run, when the contract DOES become an albatross and we’re stuck.

Joey

July 7th, 2010
1:18 pm

Uh-oh. Bosh and Wade with the Heat now. Hawks have gotta make a move now, right Mark?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, Joel N and Chuck Prince. Chuck Prince said: The Hawks overpaid for Joe Johnson, but they had to do it: Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Sports and the blog … http://bit.ly/9Xt70D [...]

Michael Scharff

July 7th, 2010
1:21 pm

OMG, Mark, I haven’t thought of Koncak in years!
However, your picture of him reminds me – short shorts notwithstanding, I really like that old uniform with it’s logo and color scheme. I can’t stand the current unis – I think they’re ugly as homegrown sin!
Also, thanks for shouldering the blog load while Schultzie is on vacation – keep up the great work!

show me state

July 7th, 2010
1:21 pm

Without Joe Johnson over the past 5 years…..the hawks wouldn’t had made the playoffs at all…..point blank…..so all of the nay sayers need to give credit….where credit is due…..hawks fan for life……

Freshmaker

July 7th, 2010
1:22 pm

Scotty I wouldn’t call 50+ wins and making it to the 2nd round of the playoffs mediocre. You have to be willing to prove you want to win in order to get FAs to come here. Jamal Crawford can come off the books after this season, don’t forget that. So there’s $10M or w/e right there to sign someone.

Reeal Hawk Fan

July 7th, 2010
1:22 pm

Speedy Claxston I almost was luckienuff to forget that one

F-105 Thunderchief

July 7th, 2010
1:22 pm

And still, their biggest opportunity to improve is the one dollar store move they made … head coach. I’ll believe they’re not stupid when they prove it.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley. Mark Bradley said: The #Hawks overpaid for Joe Johnson, but you know what? They had to do it. http://bit.ly/9M71GP [...]

PMC

July 7th, 2010
1:23 pm

Ok, but just realise that Joe Johnson is not remotely marketable, he’s not galvanizing (IE a reason to fight traffic and go see him play) and he’s not doing anything to get you postseason victories… so is he a nice asset? Yes absolutely… if you have an elite point guard and other pieces to sell to the public.

You’re really going to pay this guy 119 million and have essentially a boring media hermit who comes up small when it really matters and craps on the fans as the face of your franchise for 6 years guaranteed?

Ok. Just don’t expect a return until you sell the team.

Jt

July 7th, 2010
1:25 pm

Well said Mark! And I completely agree. You may remember when Koncak signed his deal the Hawks’ justification for it at the time was, in essence, when you lack ONE piece of a puzzle, then regardless of the piece itself, it becomes worth overspending for. We now know that Koncak wasn’t the only missing piece but they thought he might be. Same with JJ. They had to overpay to get him five years ago and have to overpay to keep him now. But to let him go is to go backwards in the immediate future and the Hawks cannot afford to do so. It would create even greater indifference from borderline fans. They need some more complimentary pieces and they have some bargaining chips. I think another year of experience for Josh Al and others, a new offensive philosophy with an adjusted defensive philosophy, Rook getting a chance to start and you have the potential for improvement or at least for ownership to convince fans of that for at least another year.

Remarkable

July 7th, 2010
1:25 pm

I agree withn you Mark. Even if we cleared cap money, it is no gurantee that we can sign anyone else in a year of two. Look at all the teams with max room and no one to give it to who deserves it. Perhaps LD can show JJ the way to improve. If he catches that vision, and the Hawks get a legitimate center, and Jeff T. improves, . . .

PMC

July 7th, 2010
1:26 pm

With him they have a chance, without him they had no real shot for the next couple of years likely… but this contract has AL BATROSS all over it.

It’s not an expiring contract they can trade for 5 years… and it’s not like he’s going to just find guts in the playoffs laying in his locker.

HawkKingBibby

July 7th, 2010
1:26 pm

Yet all these media folks would have loved it if JJ went to thy’re city. NY and Chicago wanted him as did Dallas. These idiots would have ripped the Hawks if they kept him or if they lost him.

CJ

July 7th, 2010
1:26 pm

Joe + Josh + Horford is better than Wade + Bosh. I don’t think the Heat have leapfrogged us yet.

wawel78

July 7th, 2010
1:26 pm

none of the contracts you mentioned will cripple the team like the JJ contract will. This one is worse. I’m not even sure they will be able to get home court for one round in the playoffs next season.

Vomax

July 7th, 2010
1:27 pm

Completely agree with Scotty. We’ve seen the ceiling with the Hawks current configuration. The thinking that a new head coach – who’s never before been a head coach – will make a difference strains reason. I’d be perfectly fine with moving one, two, or three steps back this year if it meant jettisoning a good player who has demonstrated time and again that he’s (1) not great; and (2) not good enough when it matters most.

PMC

July 7th, 2010
1:28 pm

With this contract the Hawks are a playoff team…. and also with this contract they are admitting that they have absolutely no chance to win a title once they get there…. so Joe Johnson = more nights Phillips Arena is open every year and that I guess is worth 119 million over the next 6.

Dukester

July 7th, 2010
1:29 pm

This article 100% right. i have been here all my life and one of the knocks on this city is we dont pay our superstars. Now Joe being a superstar in our eyes is another story. But the bottom line he is considered one in the NBA. I still hope for a sign and trade but if not im cool with the decision they had to do it. Point blank.

Ant

July 7th, 2010
1:30 pm

So what people feel like they overpaid for joe the last time i check one person does not win a ring the hawks over the years have made bad decisions by drafting the Sheldon Williams and even Marvin Williams sorry Marvin but u gotta go bibby too…Bring in a big man and a pure shooter and we can talk about Eastern Finals or maybe the Finals.

Whopper Dawg

July 7th, 2010
1:30 pm

Scotty is right. Exactly right. Don’t forget the if the Bucks were healthy, we are probably out in round 1. Despite the regular season win increase, do you feel better about this team after the playoffs, barely beating a weakened Bucks team and decimated by Orlando or the one that took Boston to the limit in 2009?

The argument that we know we overpaid, but we have done worse things does not hold water, I don’t accept that type of argument from my 13 year old, I don’t think it is an appropriate defense for supposedly professional management.

atl die heart

July 7th, 2010
1:31 pm

the hawks need to sit lebron down and make a big push to show him that we are only a few peices away from a championship with wade and bosh playing for the heat. We could get him through a sign and trade send josh and chills or bibby to cavs and we would still be able to sign shaq that would put 4 all stars in our starting line up. pg teague sg jj sf lebron pf al c shaq with a good bench pg jamal crawford sg jo crawford sf mo pf marvin c za za

atl die heart

July 7th, 2010
1:33 pm

Enter your comments here

Craig

July 7th, 2010
1:34 pm

And we want to lose the sixth man of the year, why? Hawks def overpaid but MB is right they had no other choice or risk alienating the fan base that is just now starting to come around. Used to I couldnt get any of my friends to come to a Hawks game with me. They were all at the playoffs last year. All we need is the rook to develop and for Teague to grow into a man on the court. Hopefully that isnt asking too much…

NC Braves Fan

July 7th, 2010
1:34 pm

The FA market this year has an abundance of bidders and not many REALLY good players to match up — a lot of free agents are going to get a bounty this year. Joe did. Amar’e did. Others will.

We judge the contract now in terms of past playoff performance and of course – dollars and cents. Ultimately, Joe’s deal will be judged on how far the Hawks get into the playoffs in the next 2-3 years.

If Sund makes the right roster moves via trades and signings and the Hawks are able to play for a championship, that contract will be viewed somewhat differently than it is now.

DTC

July 7th, 2010
1:36 pm

Jon Koncack is probably saying “finally, someone else for them to place as the worst Hawks contract ever”. In no more than 3 years, the Hawks will be regretting the fact they have to pay him that kind of money for 3 more years.
They should have let some other team bid for him and let him come crawling back to get a better contract. He is not a number 1 player! AND DON’T EVEN TALK ABOUT SIGNING THAT WRECKED DIESEL, we call Shaq. His good years, were many years ago.

ParkerPuddwhacker69

July 7th, 2010
1:37 pm

The deal is done. Move onto something new or what JJ is talking about recruiting talent? What is his personality going to bring?

Hawk n the Ham

July 7th, 2010
1:40 pm

Sutton's Fro

July 7th, 2010
1:41 pm

Just like I tell fans who deride the Braves for “only” winning one WS during the Streak….how would fans in “name a city (like Pittsburgh)” feel if their team had done the same thing?

Would Grizzlies fans trade places with Hawks fans over the last 6 seasons? How about the Wizards, Warriors, Pacers, or Knicks? Hell, look at the Raptors: since getting Vince Carter (and then Bosh), they flirted with winning seasons and occasionally made the playoffs, with a first-round exit. When Bosh was scheduled to become a free agent, the Raptors were NOWHERE on his list of teams to play for.

I think this team is good enough to get to the conference finals, with some improved coaching/teamwork; and another star away from contending for an NBA title. Maybe Jeff Teague or Jordan Crawford will develop into that star. Maybe Josh Smith will final get his head straight, and play max-out within his own talents. Maybe a 55-win season this year attracts a FA signing next year.

Mark is right; this team should not have been “blown up” to rebuild. And letting JJ leave would have been step one of “blowing up.”

Time

July 7th, 2010
1:43 pm

What’s done is done. They signed JJ. Now we can only hope he steps his game up and tries to live up to the max money he’s receiving. If he goes back to the slashing catch and shoot Joe from his Pheonix days then he can atleast come close to living up to his salary. He also needs to step up in the leadership department. I get the sense sometimes that he has held down our younger players, not that I think he wants do hold them down, but the younger players look up to him and defer to him. He needs to be a leader, a max player should always be the floor leader. You wanted it Joe, now you got it. If you think the fans were harsh before, you’re not going to like what they say if you go ISO all the time and we lose and you’re making just as much as LeBron and Wade and Kobe.

I’m also amused at this notion that it was somehow automatic the Hawks would be worse without Joe next year. Sure, on paper, that would be the case. But the game is not played on paper. What couldn’t be seen, and won’t now, is how the young core (Al, Josh, Marvin) would react to a Joe-less Hawks. I believe that all three would have stepped up. Especially Marvin whose game takes the biggest hit with Joe out there dribbling away the clock half the time.

We Need Tree

July 7th, 2010
1:43 pm

I have asked before but I will ask again…does anyone know what Drew’s scheme/strategy will be? Is there any reason to believe he will speed the Hawks up? Is there any reason to believe the Hawks will play harder for him?

Mr. Phil

July 7th, 2010
1:44 pm

Granted Speedy Claxton was worse and Koncak debatable. However, I reject the idea that losing Johnson would have been the death blow everyone expected. More specifically, I reject the notion that losing J-J-J-Joe would have been a point of derision. I know of several including myself that are so fed up with Joe Johnson that we were willing to let him go no matter the consequence. I would point to my former twitter account as evidence but I will be deleting it shortly.

That said. I am a true Hawks fan. I forgave them for Dominique, Konwack, and many more horrible moves. I will get past this and continue to support whosoever wheres the uniform. No matter how much I hate his guts.

Mr. Phil

July 7th, 2010
1:45 pm

wheres=wears

odogg

July 7th, 2010
1:47 pm

The only good reason to attend a Hawks game is to past time. We know from day one they have no chance of winning a championship. They should have let Joe go and brought back Josh Childress to replace him. We would win a minimum of 45 games with Josh C. Jeff Teague would make up half of Joe’s 20 points scoring average. Josh C. would add 14 and rookie Jordan Crawford can add 8-10 points. Taking one step back would have been good for one year. The Hawks are done for the next 4 years.

Herschel Talker

July 7th, 2010
1:47 pm

MB:

You were quite prophetic. This is Troy Glaus in April. This contract is terrible, and in the short-run it will keep them winning, but in the long run, it will harm them severely.

HT

GT Alum

July 7th, 2010
1:48 pm

Mark, you completely missed the point on why fans abandoned the Hawks. It wasn’t because they attempted to rebuild. It was because their multiple attempts to rebuild failed miserably each time. The first time, they didn’t expect to lose Grant Long, for Hendu and Crawford to never contribute meaningfully again, and I think they saw Rider as a write off at worst, not expecting him to become the poison he was to this team.

After that failed, they assembled a lot of talented players who, for whatever reason, couldn’t play fundamental basketball together. If those teams had worked out the way a lot of pundits had expected, the Hawks wouldn’t have lost as much.

The reason the Hawks lost their audience and became a laughing stock was not because they decided to re-tune. It was because they willingly turned themselves into the east coast version of the LA Clippers. A team’s rebuilding process isn’t supposed to take a decade. How many coaches or GMs do you hear out there preaching a 10 year plan? And do you think anyone would listen to one that does?

A far more salient lesson from that experience is the dangers of blowing a good team up to try to build a better team. I honestly don’t think Babs and the rest of the Hawks organization had it that well planned out; it seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to losing to a much younger, more athletic Knicks team (which is probably another reason not to not re-sign JJ based on last year’s playoffs). However, no matter how good your plans sound on paper, there’s a good chance they won’t work out that well. Tinkering with a good team is a lot safer than making major changes to try to make it great.

brad

July 7th, 2010
1:48 pm

Enter your comments here

Stat Man

July 7th, 2010
1:49 pm

What’s the big deal? Basketball is just catching up to baseball, where the majority of players are also grossly overpaid. Why should this sport be different?

Also, the Stoudimire (sp?) contract in NY is worse, because they already had a player (Lee) that is as good or better (good article at ESPN-New York about this).

I agree – it’s a gross overpayment, but even without JJ the team is still too good to just blow up and start over. So stay very good (yet not elite) for a while VS. crawling in as the 8 seed, never getting into the lottery and get humiliated in Round 1 instead of Round 2 every year being the choices – I think the Hawks made the right choice.

Now we just need to hope all the “FIRE WOODY” people were right and Drew can tweak the team – which is possibly all they need, I mean 53 win seasons are pretty damn good!

brad

July 7th, 2010
1:51 pm

Remember, the Hawks did make it to the 2nd round. Only 8 teams in the entire league did that. If the Hawks would have drawn the Celtics instead of the Magic, they very well could have been in the Eastern Conference Finals.

atl die heart

July 7th, 2010
1:51 pm

MB is this possible

the hawks need to sit lebron down and make a big push to show him that we are only a few peices away from a championship with wade and bosh playing for the heat. We could get him through a sign and trade send josh and chills or bibby to cavs and we would still be able to sign shaq that would put 4 all stars in our starting line up. pg teague sg jj sf lebron pf al c shaq with a good bench pg jamal crawford sg jo crawford sf mo pf marvin c za za

Nick

July 7th, 2010
1:52 pm

atl die heart…are you in fantasy land? LeBron is NEVER coming to Atlanta…

Dukester

July 7th, 2010
1:53 pm

Fast forward to the future will Joe be playing at the level that Ray Allen is playing now if so then its worth it. And i understand the logic about taking a couple steps back but this is Atlanta and this is the hawks. Come on give me a break guys this team dont have that luxury man. Its hard to get to the top tier in this league and its even harder to keep top tier players. The hawks just did. Believe me the knicks and bulls have been down so long they would pay the lease on phillips arena to get Joe. I know its bitter fellas but its reality. So lets move on. Lets push for Brandon Haywood, and another free agent that can shoot the 3ptr and try again next year man. At least we will be in the hunt.

Luke Cage

July 7th, 2010
1:54 pm

KYLE KORVER KYLE KORVER KYLE KORVER KYLE KORVER KYLE KORVER

James

July 7th, 2010
1:55 pm

I’m not spending my money going to any hawks games they overpaid for a player that doesn’t show leadership or emotion on the court. They could have gotten two or three solid players for the price they are paying for Joe. I would have rather them signed and traded him to Dallas for Caron Butler and Brendon Haywood but they didn’t do that they want to keep the same team together which is not a championship team only a playoff team that’s gonna get bounced in the second round or maybe even the first round.

northcyde

July 7th, 2010
1:59 pm

Scotty

July 7th, 2010
1:14 pm

Mark, disagree with the arguments. By resigning Joe to the max, you are not telling your fans you want to compete, you’re telling your fans that you are happy with having a team with a 2nd Round ceiling. i think most Hawks fans would rather see us be worse in the short term, but with financial flexibility to spend money down the road to significantly improve the team through trade or free agency. now, we’ll be mediocre in the short term and bad in the long run, when the contract DOES become an albatross and we’re stuck.

**********************************

Come on now Scotty. This is the same fan base that FREAKS OUT after every bad loss to a sub-par team. The Knicks beat us 3 times last year, and you’d think that the world was ending each time they beat us.

This is the same Hawk franchise that couldn’t even make the dang playoffs, nor less make it to the 2nd round for about 10 years prior to the 2008 – 09 season. Matter of fact, we’ve NEVER made it out of the 2nd round since the franchise has been in Atlanta.

The average fan has called the ASG “cheap” ever since they’ve taken control of the Hawks. Now when they spend big money to retain their best player, the fans all of a sudden cry “fiscal responsibility”?

LOL . . come on now.

I disagree with Bradley’s takes 80% of the time, but he’s dead on with this one.

As you can see ( or can’t see ) this summer, we are in a NUCLEAR ARMS RACE. We have 2 potential superpowers in our own division ALONE. How in the heck are we supposed to compete against that, if we lose a key piece to the puzzle in JJ?

Orlando isn’t getting any weaker. Miami just got A LOT stronger. And if Lebron joins them, what the heck are we supposed to do for the next 4 – 5 years?

- Hope that Smoove develops into that offensive superstar by him finally making 40% of his jumpers and developing a post game?

- Hope that Horford turns into the next Karl Malone, while having to play center alongside Smoove?

- Hope that Teague turns into the next Kevin Johnson?

- Hope that some big time free agent WANTS to play in Atlanta, even though historically, that has almost NEVER HAPPENED?

The fact is that none of those players may never reach that superstar level. They may only be 3rd tier stars, because they lack things in their offensive games that will prevent them from reaching that next level offensively.

And there is no guarantee that “cap room” will bring in a major free agent. Chicago has a GREAT looking young team, but as of right now, their cap room hasn’t helped them ONE BIT. And we’re talking Chicago here . . not Atlanta or New Orleans . . . CHICAGO.

All of these free agents are coming EAST, or are being re-shuffled to form good teams in the East. If we’d blinked with JJ, we’re looking at a situation right now in which Chicago would be ALL OVER this guy right now, making them a much stronger team. And what would be left with? A “coveted” sign and trade involving Kirk Hinrich or Luou Deng?

Man please.

Not re-signing JJ would’ve had ramifications that not only would’ve seen us slip this season, but also kept us out of any contention for a EC Finals appearance for next 2 – 4 years.

MIAMI: Chalmers – Wade – Beasley ( who may be traded to make way for Lebron, or another decent free agent ) – Bosh – Jermain O’Neal ( possibly )

CHICAGO: Rose – JJ ( if the Hawks hadn’t gone aggressively after him, they’d get JJ ) – Deng – Gibson – Noah

MILWAUKEE: Jennings – Salmons – Redd – Ilyasova – Bogut

You’re lookiing at these 3 teams possibly jumping us, had we lost JJ . . along with Orlando and Boston still being very good teams. Then we also have to worry about these teams:

NEW YORK: Felton ( possibly . . they’ll go after him aggressively now ) – Douglas – Gallanari – Amare – Lee

CHARLOTTE: Augustin – Jackson – G. Wallace – Mohammad – Chandler . . ( Charlotte was the best defensive team in the league last year under Larry Brown, so they’ll still be in the mix for a lower tier playoff spot )

**************

So what in the world were we supposed to do if we’d let JJ make ANOTHER TEAM better than us?

JJ’s contract will become a trade asset in years 5 and 6, if JJ is still a relatively productive basketball player. If he can still shoot the 3-ball and knock down open mid-range jumpers, some championship caliber team looking for a shooter to compliment their star player, will trade scrubs for JJ. It happens all the time in this league.

LOL @ 2nd round ceiling. Our ceiling would’ve been #6 seed, without JJ in the mix here. By retaining him, we at least have a puncher’s chance in the next 2 to 3 years, rather than almost NO CHANCE.