For GM Ferry, trying to trade Johnson is the right first move

Always a fan favorite, that Joe Johnson. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Always a fan favorite, that charismatic Joe Johnson. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Michael Cunningham of the AJC is reporting the Hawks have agreed to send Joe Johnson to the Nets for expiring contracts and a first-round draft choice.

Rick Sund arrived as general manager in June 2008 with the intent of keeping the Hawks’ young core intact. Seven days on the job, Danny Ferry is seeking to unload Joe Johnson to Brooklyn. Where Sund saw himself as a caretaker, Ferry  intends to be a catalytic converter.

There’s no way forward  for this franchise until the new GM finds room to maneuver. Johnson’s salary — he makes $20 million per season — means that anyone employing him is a third of the way toward the salary cap. Add Josh Smith ($13 million next season) and Al Horford ($12 million), and you’re at 75 percent capacity without having filled out a starting five.

The young core Sund inherited isn’t young anymore. Johnson is 31, and the other three — Smith and Horford plus Marvin Williams — are 26. Oklahoma City’s three best players are under 24, and the Thunder just crashed the NBA finals. The Hawks’ Core Four has been intact since 2007 and hasn’t reached the Eastern Conference finals.

Four years ago stability was the proper course. Sund took the job just after the Hawks made the playoffs for the first time this century and pushed the champs-to-be Celtics to a Game 7. Back then, nobody knew how good this team could be. Four years later, we’ve been given every reason to believe the window has closed.

The pivot point came in 2010. The Hawks won 53 games butwere swept by 101 aggregate points by Orlando in Round 2. That prompted three major decisions: Mike Woodson was fired as coach, assistant Larry Drew was promoted and Johnson, who was an unrestricted free agent, was handed $120 million over six seasons.

The decision was roundly criticized, but the only choices the Hawks faced were lousy ones: Had Johnson signed elsewhere, management would have been ripped for letting its best player — which Johnson was then — walk away; by spending $120 million to keep him, they were essentially hoping that a 29-year-old would become the superstar he hadn’t quite been and take them places they’d never gone.

My feeling was that keeping Johnson was the lesser of the two evils, and it might have been — had the Hawks not just hired a head coach whose intent was to de-emphasize Johnson. The Hawks overspent for a jump shooter at a time when everyone else was given license to shoot jumpers. Instead of being their best player, Johnson was rendered just one of the gang. In each of his final four seasons under Woodson, he averaged better than 21 points; he hasn’t averaged 19 since.

That, sad to say, was how the Hawks operated: They made moves that didn’t mesh. Billy Knight loaded up on wing players at the expense of more vital positions. Sund traded for Kirk Hinrich when Jeff Teague, whom Sund had drafted, was already on the roster. The Hawks re-upped Johnson at massive cost while trying to wean themselves from Iso-Joes. There was no grand vision, no sense of a plan in place.

Ferry darn sure has a plan. Reports hold that he’s seeking mostly expiring contracts from the Nets, and that’s the sign of a team prepared to bite the won/lost bullet. But what’s the alternative? Keep bleeding out 40-win seasons until the Core Four retires? Keep making the playoffs to no real effect?

The Hawks have become a team without upside: They can’t spend to get better because they’re capped out, and they’ve proved their best isn’t good enough. There will be other avenues to explore if this deal doesn’t get done, but trying to unload Johnson and his contract was always the place to start.

By Mark Bradley

65 comments Add your comment

Make it happen!

July 2nd, 2012
5:00 pm

Danny Ferry is giving me a reason to believe in the Hawks again… And that’s hard to do!

scott

July 2nd, 2012
5:04 pm

If he can trade JJ, or even dumpt him, then WOW!

Troy Everett

July 2nd, 2012
5:07 pm

Finally, some positive news for this moribund franchise.

Joe

July 2nd, 2012
5:08 pm

Blow it up and start over. I just can’t watch the same cast of clowns for another year.

The Grinch

July 2nd, 2012
5:11 pm

Trade him for anything…ANYTHING. This is the first time I’ve felt the Hawks had a clue and thus a chance since…well, the late 80’s. If he gets rid of Johnson he’ll be able to run for mayor.

SquillDog

July 2nd, 2012
5:13 pm

You can’t be great until you get bad. That’s how the NBA works.

Rick Sund

July 2nd, 2012
5:15 pm

I disagree Mark, there is always UPSIDE with this team.

Shawn

July 2nd, 2012
5:17 pm

I AM SO OPTIMISTIC RIGHT NOW.

Seriously, if DF can dump JJ’s contract, it will be miraculous and the start of a new era. Unfortunately, all signs point to this being very improbable, if not impossible. Too many things have to fall the right way (Dwight not going to BK, Deron staying, the correct expirings coming to ATL, etc.) for it to be likely. Despite Ferry’s best intentions, don’t look for the rest of the league to help us out on this one.

I AM SAD AGAIN.

juice sourcer

July 2nd, 2012
5:17 pm

Joe is right..blow it up….unless everyone is satisfied with one and done or worse.

Bucky Badger

July 2nd, 2012
5:18 pm

Can’t wait to see the moves Ferry makes from here! Hopefully his moves will put Atlanta Haws Fans back to Phillips Arena!

IlliniBrave

July 2nd, 2012
5:19 pm

Didn’t agree with signing Oh-No-Joe to begin with and can’t believe it has taken them this long to do what Barkely and Shaq and so many others have recognized – that this team will not get better until they get worse – beginning with dumping the most overpaid player in the NBA.

Hey, I might actually start following the Hawks again – something I haven’t done since the days of Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock and Dikembe.

PMC

July 2nd, 2012
5:19 pm

Danny Ferry apparently is a wizard.

juice sourcer

July 2nd, 2012
5:20 pm

Mark, please explain to me why anyone would want to buy into Joe Johnson’s contract…even the billionaire Nets owner.

Devil's Advocate

July 2nd, 2012
5:20 pm

Ferry for ASG President!

PMC

July 2nd, 2012
5:21 pm

or a Jedi….. “You want Joe Johnson’s contract he will get you to the 2nd round”

PMC

July 2nd, 2012
5:22 pm

The Nets have a ton of Cap room, so if they add Joe, to Williams and say Howard, they will most definately get to the post season each year.

shlomo

July 2nd, 2012
5:22 pm

Executive of the Year efter one week!

Shawn

July 2nd, 2012
5:23 pm

Juice, I’m not Mark but the answer is simple: if he can’t get Dwight then Joe is BK’s backup plan to convince Deron Williams to stay. Frankly, if I’m Deron Williams, I say, “Dwight? Yes, I’ll stay. Joe? No thanks, I’ll take Dirk and the other crazy billionaire owner.”

Troy Everett

July 2nd, 2012
5:28 pm

@ juice sourcer

New Jersey is looking for legitimacy and an instant payoff. They’re betting that pairing Joe with Deron will at least get them an 8th seed in the East, which will make them relevant again. We in Atlanta have grown jaded with making the playoffs and getting eliminated in the first couple of rounds each year. The two franchises are at different stages. We need to rebuild, and they need to fill that new arena in Brooklyn by any means.

Plus it doesn’t hurt to have a billionaire Russian playboy with money to burn as your owner.

Devil's Advocate

July 2nd, 2012
5:31 pm

Since we’re obviously in a collective dream, let’s make it more exciting. Reportedly the Nets are backing off D12. Wouldn’t it be hawt if D12 had an attitude adjustment in the past 8 hours and humbles himself enough to want to play for his hometown team with his friend Josh Smith? Man, that’s about the only thing that could make this day better as a Hawks fan.

Could it be???

July 2nd, 2012
5:34 pm

WHOA, David Aldridge is reporting that it is essentially a done deal. Expect the final word today re JJ to Nets in return for Farmar, Petro, Williams, Morrow, Stevenson and draft pick. Nets are talking to Deron Williams right now about the trade.

WoWOWOW — FINGERS CROSSED…

TomB

July 2nd, 2012
5:42 pm

Hard to do but you have to give some credit to the ownership here. They hired Ferry and I’m sure they knew and understood what he was planning to do. Kudos.

Agreed

July 2nd, 2012
5:49 pm

@ TomB

I agree. There is no question that Ferry made his plans very clear to them during interviewing, and he probably demanded a certain level of autonomy, which they’ve apparently granted him. Now, it will take several years but he can follow the gameplan he’s seen in action in SA and also emulate the gurus like Presti. Way to go, ASG, for giving me a reason to think positively of you for once.

Roy

July 2nd, 2012
6:07 pm

Hmm suddenly proud to be a hawks fan

merbertmoover

July 2nd, 2012
6:24 pm

Merbert is very very excited about this development. It’s win-win for both organizations (yes, even for the Nets).

To me personally, one of the reasons I’m most excited about this move is because as much as I liked Joe as a solid player and person, he’s boring. Atlanta is a basketball city and we need excitement. We need more exciting players (or at least our marquee player should garner more interest).

Freeing up the salary space is obviously the biggest boon in this trade (assuming it falls through…please please…)

Hawks fan for life

Sage of Bluesland

July 2nd, 2012
6:26 pm

I will sing DF’s praises if he can unload JJ, JS, and MW. Trade the overrated Al Horford while you’re at it.

Blow it all up and start again–and get into the lottery and hope for a superstar. Al isn’t it. He’s the most overrated player in this town since Keith “Ankle-grab-eight-yards-downfield” Brooking….

Well done and best of luck, DF. Blow it all up so it can be rebuilt the right way–and I will be patient and support these efforts….as that is the only way to move forward.

merbertmoover

July 2nd, 2012
6:28 pm

@ Devil’s Advocate:

That would be so badass…

Chris

July 2nd, 2012
6:30 pm

This trade and freed up money only works if they can convince Top Notch Free Agents to come to Atlanta. That is something the Hawks have never been able to do. Even though next season will now be painful (I believe the Hawks will have a new coach after next season as well), I applaud Ferry for being aggressive and trying something new. What he does with the money will tell the true story.

jlewis

July 2nd, 2012
6:37 pm

MC didnt report anything, lol, everyone was on this, he was the last report. Now next season, you’ll wish the guy was here, people figure out real quick in the NBA that you cant shoot. They knew ATL had only one, the guy played with constant double and triple teams, no point guard or center. Hawks are in the lottery because they cant get better and other teams have.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]

Danny Roundfield could pound the paint !

July 2nd, 2012
6:42 pm

Sage,
I’ll agree with Brooking, he went to Yech after all. But Al, really? I think he’s a perennial All Star
if we could move him to his natural position, PF.
Besides, Vick, Wohlers and Deion ( baseball Deion, not football) were all more overrated than Al
in this city’s pro sports history.

done

July 2nd, 2012
6:53 pm

What does lottery protected pick mean? If Houston is a lottery team then the Hawks lost that pick?

Mike

July 2nd, 2012
7:00 pm

Looks like its a done deal, and the Nets dont have to give up a pick either. Its not contingent on Williams re-signing either. This is essentially a salary swap…expiring contracts for Johnson. Call it addition by subtraction for the Hawks if you asked me.

Sam

July 2nd, 2012
7:00 pm

**Breaking News**

ESPN is saying the Joe deal is done!

Danny Ferry, you are now officially my hero!!!!!!

John

July 2nd, 2012
7:00 pm

It means if Houston is a lottery team we still get the pick. THIS DEAL RULES, we didnt get any great players but we got a whole lot of cap flexibility…Now to see what happens with Josh Smith.

Jfreak13713

July 2nd, 2012
7:00 pm

Who is talking about trading Larry Drew? If you want free agents then give them a proven coach who can win then add some good talent around them. You start by trading Johnson if you can. Not because he isn’t good we all know he is but because he cost too much which again we all know he does. Then go out and get a REAL coach. Stan Van Gundy is out there among other who have a history of wining that might influence some better players to come here. Van Gundy won with Howard and a team full of nobodys. Drew loses with a team full of pretty talented players. If you take a hit of a couple of years with wins then draft well and build with young talent. To keep going with what you had is silly. This team wasn’t going to win much with Johnson so why not trade him and give yourself a chance.

Sam

July 2nd, 2012
7:01 pm

The Nets are giving up Houston’s 1st round pick.

Mike

July 2nd, 2012
7:01 pm

My mistake, they arent giving up their own first round pick. The Nets are sending one they got from Houston to ATL for 2013.

Hawks Fan

July 2nd, 2012
7:01 pm

The 1st rounder is top 14 protected thru 2016. Since Rockets will stink for next 4 years, we won’t get the pick until 2017. Still worth it. Liked Joe a lot, but your franchise player needs to play with fire and lead. Joe was just too passive. Good job DF.

Sam

July 2nd, 2012
7:02 pm

ESPN is also reporting that the Magic are talking to the Hawks and Lakers about Dwight Howard.

Mike

July 2nd, 2012
7:03 pm

I was ready to roast Ferry if they screwed this up. Word is, the Hawks were trying to up the deal and get Marshon Brooks as well. I couldnt believe they would pass up an opportunity to get rid of this contract. As soon as the Nets offered, Ferry should have said “Where do I sign?” haha

Mike

July 2nd, 2012
7:05 pm

@Sam, according to sources, Howard has said there is only one team he will be traded to. Then he didnt say what team, but rumor has it, the team is Brooklyn. Thats not an option anymore with this deal.

Mike

July 2nd, 2012
7:06 pm

Another point…the deal is not contingent on Williams resigning anymore. They are done with Howard, so Johnson is their best shot at finding someone to help Williams out if he resigns.

Sam

July 2nd, 2012
7:07 pm

I proposed this trade first on an earlier thread several days ago and now ESPN is reporting it as possible: Marvin for Devon Harris.

Buzz Aldrin

July 2nd, 2012
7:08 pm

Marc Stein is reporting that Marvin Williams is gone to Utah for Devin Harris…whoa…what a day to change the makeup of this franchise. Somehow got rid of the awful contract and the awful draft choice. Time to move on!

Sam

July 2nd, 2012
7:10 pm

Mike, he may want to go to Brooklyn, but that doesn’t mean the Magic HAVE to send him there. Perhaps we could talk him into staying with us after this year…it’s not like Brooklyn will have cap space for him.

With the JJtrade, we could give him a max contract after next year. Where better than his hometown?

glacialspeed

July 2nd, 2012
7:11 pm

If Ferry pulls off Marvin for Devin Harris too, Ferry’s face should be etched into Stone Mountain. Dude’s been on the job ONE WEEK!

Dre

July 2nd, 2012
7:12 pm

What I’m celebrating to at the moment
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kAfjIAZQ_I

suggestion box

July 2nd, 2012
7:13 pm

This isn’t in Ferry’s realm of responsibility but there’s something else the Hawks need to work on. They need to work on the pricing structure of their tickets and try to pack the house every night. They currently keep a large percentage of their fanbase (or potential fanbase) priced out of the market and playing in front of a half-full (at best) arena. Hawks games are ridiculously expensive. Take a cue from what Arthur Blank did with the Falcons.

And no, I don’t care what price structure the rest of the NBA uses. Either you want to sell out your games or you don’t.

Ted M

July 2nd, 2012
7:13 pm

Wow, way to go Ferry! Rick Sund must feel like the biggest moron on the planet. Well he might just actually BE the biggest moron on the planet.