What if the indispensable Joe Johnson isn’t so indispensable?

There are more flattering points of reference. (AJC file photo)

More flattering points of reference exist. (AJC file photo)

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.

111 comments Add your comment

Andy

December 2nd, 2010
1:57 pm

First? Kudos?

Andy

December 2nd, 2010
2:00 pm

On topic though, I think it’s a great opportunity for guys like Mo and Marvin to shine. Joe will come back the same player he’s always been, but if one or both of those guys can gain a little swagger over the next few weeks, we’ll be better because of it.

StottsEra

December 2nd, 2010
2:02 pm

JJ’s huge contract cripples an NBA team much more than it would an MLB team

bfred

December 2nd, 2010
2:05 pm

If, if, if, then yes his return could be an issue. But the team’s definitely going to miss him.

Mark Bradley

December 2nd, 2010
2:06 pm

Kudos, Andy.

gabeaux

December 2nd, 2010
2:08 pm

I’m glad to see you are over your “Cam Newton Must Die” phase. Breathe slowly, perspective will return.

PMC

December 2nd, 2010
2:18 pm

Wait so…are we renaming the next 4-6 weeks “The Playoffs”?

Roymus

December 2nd, 2010
2:19 pm

I’ve never understood the logic of JJ’s $120MM contract. As I understand it, this is how it goes:
1. Joe required a max contract ($120MM) to avoid losing him to free agency.
2. Everyone agrees that Joe is not worth $120MM.
3. Everyone agrees that the Hawks are better (marginally) with Joe than without Joe.
4. If we pay Joe the $120MM, we anger a lot of people who believe he’s not worth it.
5. If we don’t pay Joe the $120MM, we anger a lot of people who (kind of) wanted to keep him.

If the above is true, logically you must let him go, as you have the same outcome (angering a lot of people) but you get to keep the $120MM and (presumably) spend it on players who can actually contribute, especially in the playoffs when Joe goes on vacation. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, Mia Roland. Mia Roland said: RT @MarkBradleyAJC What if the #Hawks' indispensable Joe Johnson isn't indispensable? http://bit.ly/gC1yS0 [...]

Mr. Phil

December 2nd, 2010
2:27 pm

I think some players (Horford, Williams, Smith) will benefit grately from J.J.’s absence individually. I think others ( Crawfords 1 and 2, and Evans) will get more playing time but not necessarily to the team’s benefit. I think still others (ok only one Mike Bibby) will get further exposed for the has-been ( I actually like the guy but please forgive me) that he really is.

This will all add up to a lot of losses. A lot of uneven play. A huge lack of stability. And the rise and succession of one Jeff Teague.

And I still don’t want Joe Johnson in a Hawks uniform. Forget the message it would have sent. The guy is a bumb, the elbows just a weak excuse.

Tosh.No

December 2nd, 2010
2:27 pm

PMC. I think you just won. Blog is over now.

Dr. Warren

December 2nd, 2010
2:29 pm

I too am happy UGA and GT and AUB have been put on pause to address more professional issues, and I too will watch the Hawks without JJ and hope that: a) Jordan Crawford will get a chance to play and develop. b) the Hawks will win most the games on their tough upcoming road trip. c) JJ will be traded for either Chris Paul or Carmelo. (OK, maybe I am dreaming, but it’s late here in China).

Terrell

December 2nd, 2010
2:38 pm

Roymus

The way the NBA contracts work are not like what you would think. Yes we gave Joe $120M because the NBA rules say that a team is allowed to go over the salary cap without penalty to keep their free agents. We only had maybe about 8-10M worth of cap space had we not signed Joe which means we were better off paying him than not and not get anything in return.

Bill

December 2nd, 2010
2:40 pm

Thank God you’re off the Cam crap..thanks again!

jon

December 2nd, 2010
2:43 pm

Thats one game last night, Trust me,where going to miss him. He does plenty on the court… It may go the other and you say: man we miss JJ!

Dannyboy

December 2nd, 2010
2:45 pm

RE: JJ and the $120M contract…if ever a player benefited from being in the right place at the right time it’s JJ…

Joey

December 2nd, 2010
2:46 pm

But didn’t we just bid against ourselves by making that offer before any other team did? He may not have gotten a $80M offer, leaving some money for a big . . .

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

December 2nd, 2010
2:48 pm

when did basketball season start ?

tremaine

December 2nd, 2010
2:49 pm

Last night Joe said he been dealing with elbow issues since last year. Did hawks management no about this before they gave him that big check?

TS

December 2nd, 2010
2:51 pm

I don’t care for the rationalizations that the Hawks “had to” overpay JJ, or that failure to do so would have sent the “wrong message” to the public. The bottom line is that even if JJ were averaging 30 ppg this season and the team could beat other playoff teams, that contract would STILL be a long-term albatross for this franchise. It’s similar to the Derek Lowe situation, but worse.

Mr. Phil

December 2nd, 2010
2:51 pm

Terrell;

You are clearly equating better off to wins, loses, comparable talent, etc. for the short term. Better off in the long term let’s see:

If we had not resigned Joe Johnson,

We wouldn’t have sent the message that the Hawks pay big money for underperforming and insulting fans.

We wouldn’t be stuck with such a no account loser for a leader for the forseeable future.

We wouldn’t have the fact that the Hawks will never win anything rubbed in our face everytime the cowardly number 2 took the court.

I would have reupped my season tickets.

Fresh

December 2nd, 2010
2:54 pm

Mark,

This is the million dollar question that everyone has been asking over the last two seasons. Over the course of the next month, we’ll finally get our answer.

balismith

December 2nd, 2010
3:00 pm

wonder what would have happened if they had let joe walk…120 mill to sign 2 free agents sounds sweet to me… maybe the hawks would have signed a legit center and another shooter… really do not see the greatness in jj…where does he really belong among the top tier ed players in the nba…do not believe many fans of the hawks would have really cared if joe would have been resigned by the hawks…judging by the crowds looks like no one really cares much for the hawks ..period

Section 303

December 2nd, 2010
3:04 pm

bailsmith, if you’re going to use the crowds as a judge of which teams people care about in this town, then we need to get rid of all our pro sports teams. Not a one (and don’t give me the Falcons. I’ve seen them not be able to draw flies to games in the past) really gets much support.

Ever been to Turner Field for a Braves playoff game and the place was not ever close to full? I have.

GT Alum

December 2nd, 2010
3:13 pm

To answer your question, it depends on what trade value JJ brings if all this happens. The silver lining to this contract was supposed to be that it’s tradeable down the line. If the rest of the team steps up to the point that JJ isn’t needed anymore and we can trade him for players that shore up this team’s weaknesses, then no, it’s not really that bad of a signing at all.

GT Alum

December 2nd, 2010
3:15 pm

Fresh -

Actually, it’s the $120M question.

Terrell

December 2nd, 2010
3:23 pm

Balismith,

It’s not that simple. As I stated earlier Atl was allowed to sign Joe to that contract because he was their free agent. The NBA system is set up to allow teams to keep their free agents by allowing them to go over the cap. If we did not sign Joe that doesn’t mean we have all that money to use elsewhere. We are paying him $20M/year. That doesn’t mean if we didn’t sign him that we would have $20M worth of cap space.

Mr. Phil

If we had not sign Joe Johnson.
-We would still have salary cap issues now and for years to come.
-We are telling other NBA players that may become free agents that we don’t pay our players.
-We risk going back to the rut we were in before Joe. You remember that right?

Joe has more value to us than he does to any other team in the NBA, so what would you think we would get back for him? Teams weren’t going to offer him a max contract so a sign and trade would not work because he wasn’t restricted. He could’ve signed with anybody else and we get nothing.

Hankie Aron

December 2nd, 2010
3:24 pm

I don’t think short term as in this year or next that JJ’s contract is tradeable

Hankie Aron

December 2nd, 2010
3:28 pm

Terrell, all valid points, The hawks were backed in a corner. Sometimes people don’t understand the logistics of restricted, unrestricted, sign and trades, and actual values of players to their last team as opposed to another team

Andrew

December 2nd, 2010
3:28 pm

I simply cannot imagine the Hawks suddenly clicking without JJ. That said, what I’m sure fans and Hawks officials are hoping for is that young Jordan Crawford can show enough that he could ultimately make Jamal Crawford expendable and tradable for a big man at the deadline

Hankie Aron

December 2nd, 2010
3:29 pm

I do still wish the Hawks could have payed less and Joe took less because it will be quite a while before trading him will become a viable choice

Terrell

December 2nd, 2010
3:31 pm

Joey

True, in regards to nobody bidding for Joe. Remember though we tried a 5-6 year/ $80M deal before last season and he rejected it. If he were a restricted free agent then we could’ve waited but because he wasn’t he had a lot more leverage. This is case where you have to chose do you let the market determine you player’s value or do you determine it yourself? Either way can send off a message that you may or may not to send.

Willy

December 2nd, 2010
3:35 pm

I can think of an even worse contract: The AJC actually PAYING Jeff Schultz to write!

chem

December 2nd, 2010
3:41 pm

Imagine what it’ll be like 6 years from now when he’s 35! The hawks will begin their decline by next year and one man’s salary will be the culprit.

GStateBen

December 2nd, 2010
3:48 pm

Joe’s contract cripples the Hawks? What are you smoking?

The Hawks have enough payroll to sign both draft picks in 2011 and at least one other player. 2011 Free Agents on this team are Jamal Crawford (who will not be retained), Mo Evans (who made $2.5 million and will not likely be resigned for anything more than that if at all) and the collection of Jason Collins, Etan Thomas and Josh Powell.

I reiterate for the 100th time. The Hawks are in tremendous financial health for 2011 and beyond, the salary structure will be altered in favor of the owners in this next round of negoitations and the Hawks will have plenty of room and roster exemptions to use.

Go take a look at the Heat and Celtics contracts for 2011-12. You’ll feel a whole lot better about what the Hawks have going on.

SWAT Native

December 2nd, 2010
3:59 pm

Once again, if the Hawks had not signed Joe Johnson to his $120MM deal, they could not have spent it on other players dur to salary cap requirements.

I think Joe being out is a good test for the Hawks. We’ll get to see how the other players respond and what would have happened if Joe had left. I wouldn’t read too much into one game; lets see how they do over the next few weeks (like Saturday night in Miami).

Ted Striker

December 2nd, 2010
4:00 pm

Interesting conundrum. Here’s why I say that. The Hawks are better with JJ — he’s their most talented player at this time. However being forced to play without him could speed the development and expand the game of other players.

As long as the Hawks still make the playoffs — did anyone here think they were going to win the divison? — then might not this actually work to their benefit?

p.s. Am I the only one who wishes that NBA contracts were more like NFL contracts?

SWAT Native

December 2nd, 2010
4:03 pm

…by the way, Mark, the Mike Hampton comparison is not fair. Joe’s played her six years, and he’s missed like 30-40 games at best. Hampton missed the better part of three seasons. The only thing they have in common is a big contract, and even Hampton’s contract was heavily subsidized by the Rockies for most of the time he was here.

Herschel Talker

December 2nd, 2010
4:15 pm

MB:

What if the indispensable Mark Bradley isn’t so indispensable?

HT

Mr. Obvious

December 2nd, 2010
4:30 pm

Joe Johnson is to the Atlanta Hawks what Ilya Kovalchuk is to the New Jersey Devils.

don

December 2nd, 2010
4:37 pm

he;s not even worth 10 million. it was stupid to sign him. he’s a selfish overrated piece of junk who can;t make anything with the game on the line. i say trade the piece when he returns.

Wow Ted

December 2nd, 2010
4:38 pm

The same words said today on 680 at noon. You must listen well.

Double Zero Eight

December 2nd, 2010
4:41 pm

There is no such thing as indispensable.

Not a NBA fan (until playoffs maybe)

December 2nd, 2010
4:50 pm

I figured out an easy way not to worry about Joe’s overpayment.
Don’t buy a ticket and let others foot the bill.
Cheers.

Robert Barron

December 2nd, 2010
4:53 pm

Mark is indispensable.
We all love to hate him.
Especially since his pay is a little less than Joe’s

Sarah Palin

December 2nd, 2010
4:53 pm

I would comment but Bradley works for the ajc which is part of the liberal media and I only talk to unbiased guys like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

Robert Barron

December 2nd, 2010
5:06 pm

To get off topic, Alexa Joel, Billy’s daughter is now a grown woman in the pics AJC provides on “The Black Swan”.
Just great.
That’s means I’m approaching 100.

dilla

December 2nd, 2010
5:10 pm

Joe is not worth it, we winning and all Joe is contributing is 17points. There are atleast 40 other players that can be subsitutted for Joe and we can still win. I think we should trade Joe for an active scoring center. I believe the hawks are deep enough to make up for his scoring and we’ll get more out of Al.

Ted M

December 2nd, 2010
5:13 pm

I believe it was 123.7 mil.

ProfFish

December 2nd, 2010
5:17 pm

The first game without Joe wasn’t a good one for Josh Smith. I was at the game and his lack of energy and intelligence was stunning. He made two quick fouls by lazily swinging his arms in the first half, and in the second half had four turnovers in two minutes. How’s that for leadership?

AJC writers seem obsessed with knocking JJ’s quiet leadership. He may be quiet, but he’s also this team’s leader and go to guy. What if his absence brings to light the immaturity of Josh, Marvin, and Al? That would be the disaster.