Fact: The Hawks paid $120 million to keep Joe Johnson.
Fact: Johnson will miss at least a month after elbow surgery.
Fact: The Hawks won their first game without Johnson.
Question: What if the Hawks play better without Johnson than they did with him?
I don’t think this will happen, mind you. I think he’s an excellent player. Was he worth $120 million? No, but the Hawks were always going to have to overpay to keep him, and not keeping him would have sent an even worse message to the public. (The same public, it must be said, about which Johnson said last spring he cares not one whit.)
I think his team will miss him. But it became clear recently that the Hawks weren’t adapting as well to Larry Drew’s share-the-ball offense as the new coach would like. For one thing, the $120-million man had become just another guy, which I don’t believe is what the Hawks had in mind when they paid him $120 million.
Johnson is averaging 17.1 points, down from 21.3 last season. Maybe this relatively tepid start and his run of lousy shooting — he’d made but 40.3 percent of his shots, down from 45.8 percent last season — was a function of a sore elbow. But the greater point is that the highest-paid free agent of his famous class shouldn’t be the league’s 44th-leading scorer.
But let’s say the Hawks forge a new coalition in his absence. And let’s say Johnson returns in January and matters deteriorate. Would we be justified in thinking the Hawks just made the worst outlay of $120 million since the Colorado Rockies paid that much for a stumpy lefthander a decade ago?
What was that guy’s name again?
Oh, yeah. Mike Hampton.