Wednesday, July 7th, 2010 at 1:43 pm  |  45 responses

Links: About That Joe Johnson Contract…

Making sense of JJ’s max deal

by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

In some ways, the Joe Johnson free agency was a lose-lose situation for the Atlanta Hawks. If the Hawks bid somewhere lower than the max and lost Joe, the chorus of “The Hawks are afraid to spend money” would have rang out. And if the Hawks *had* bid lower than the max, they probably would not have re-signed Joe. As it turned out, the Hawks decided not to be cheap, and when free agency began they aggressively offered the most money possible to Joe, who happily agreed to take that money.

The Hawks really had just two options:

1) Spend whatever it takes to keep Joe Johnson

2) Let Joe go and have about $7 million to spend on a free agent to replace a four-time All-Star

In the NBA, there’s no such thing as wrong or right. Instead there are levels of correctness, shades of gray. And what the Joe Johnson max contract comes down to is this: The Atlanta Hawks overpaid for Joe Johnson. Probably. Maybe. Or maybe not. Hey, it’s easy to look at $120 million being wired into the account of a guy who got knocked out in the second round of the Playoffs and say he’s not worthy. But Wade, Bosh, LeBron…none of them went any further than Joe in the Playoffs this season, did they?

A lot of people are predicting Joe to have a precipitous decline before this contract is over, and maybe he will fall apart. He is already 29 years old after all — six months older than Dwyane Wade, BTW. Then again, maybe Joe won’t break down. Talk about it all you want, but we just don’t know. Still, there’s a chorus of fans protesting not only the finances of Joe’s contract but also the length, because they’re afraid of where this could leave the Hawks somewhere down the road, in maybe 2014 or 2015. If Joe’s skills fall off a cliff or he suffers a debilitating injury, will the Hawks be stuck with a terrible contract that leaves them unable to move Joe and trapped behind a boulder of luxury tax space that makes them incapable of rebuilding?

I’ve often said there’s no such thing as a bad contract in the NBA. Guys with huge or “untradeable” contracts get traded all the time. Like Shaq or Vince Carter or Jason Richardson or Antawn Jamison. They’ve all been traded despite having contracts that got their teams pilloried at the time. Hell, Shaq and his massive deal got traded twice. It’s all about finding a fit and meeting a need and pulling the trigger at the right time. That time will eventually come for Joe Johnson, and it will be up to the Hawks not to miss it.

If the Hawks had lost Joe, they probably would have had to shift Jamal Crawford into the starting line-up. I know he had a great season last year as a sixth man, but considering Jamal Crawford had never posted a Playoff appearance in his previous nine NBA seasons, he clearly seems better positioned as a sixth man. Maybe they could have signed someone else to take Joe’s place, but they’d have been limited by about half under the luxury tax on money they could spend from what they lavished on Joe. And there was no guarantee they’d even get anyone nearly as capable as Joe to fill that spot. Kevin Pelton wrote that there were 16 free agents likely to be more productive than Joe over the next three seasons. As it turned out, Ronnie Brewer was the only one in Atlanta’s price range available in free agency, and as much as I like Brewer, he is no Joe Johnson. (The oft-mentioned replacement possibility John Salmons, who is two years older than Joe, ended up getting about $8 million a year.)

If we’re searching for certainty, I know this much is true, and I think this is the key to making sense of Joe’s contract: If Mike Woodson was still the coach of the Atlanta Hawks, then the Hawks definitely overpaid for Joe Johnson. Despite winning 53 games this season, we saw how inflexible Woody’s offense was, and how Joe Johnson in particular seemed to repeatedly be a fly in the ointment. Time and again the ball would swing around to JJ and time would freeze, as Joe would patiently dribble in place, his teammates all watching Joe watch the shot clock dwindle, and usually the Hawks’ scoring percentages ticking down along with it. I still have a hard time blaming Joe for this, as Mike Woodson seemed to endorse and enable this plan. Joe was a willing participant in it, of course, and he was actually pretty good at going one-on-one against above-average defenders. It worked, for a few years, to a degree. And then it didn’t.

Enter Larry Drew, who told me a few weeks ago, “Offensively, a lot of people are seeing the same thing. When you have five guys out there playing together, five guys out there moving the basketball, and five guys out there who are a threat, you become a much more potent team, and that’s something that I’m definitely planning on implementing, so we can have all guys out on the floor being a threat.”

So Larry Drew, a much-coveted assistant coach who Hawks players have told me they respect and who is currently the lowest-paid coach in the NBA, says the Hawks are not going to play Iso-Joe any longer. Maybe Joe will embrace the new offense, save himself some wear and tear and be able to score more efficiently for the next four-five years.

The Miami Heat are spending about $40 million next season on two players who they feel will significantly alter the way their team plays.

Maybe the Hawks paid Joe Johnson too much money. But in overpaying for Joe Johnson and underpaying for Larry Drew, the Hawks seem to be betting that they can achieve results that are just as profound at nearly half the price.

Now we sit back and see what happens.

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  • http://coco-vents.blogspot.com Co Co

    Lang, the bottom line is we know the ceiling for this team as currently constructed. I find it hard to believe you needed to pay Joe $120 million to barely make it out of the first round and get swept in the second round. Why is everyone acting like this summer is the absolute last summer of free agency ever? There’s no justification for paying Bentley money for a Lexus. It’s not like this team is just one move away from a championship anyway. It will take several moves and unless some former Hawk becomes GM of another team and gift wraps their best player to Atlanta for little to nothing…….. Whatever, re-signing Joe at least takes the suspense out of next season.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ Matt Lawyue

    Good points about Drew and the Hawks predicament. I’ll just say I’d rather it be ATL than NY to overpay Joe, just so I wouldn’t have to try and make sense of the spending. Then again, the Knicks threw $100 mil at a guy with bum knees and eyes, so I guess I have some explaining to do..

  • IndyB

    Is keeping Joe Johnson this year worth losing Al Horford next year?

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @CoCo: Actually, you’re missing my point: If Mike Woodson was back, I’d agree with you that we know the ceiling for this team. (Well, we’d know a little more clearly, because you still don’t know exactly what you’re gonna get from Teague, Smoove, Marv, Al, etc.) But I think Larry Drew is the gamechanger here. Did they overpay for Joe? Maybe. But the market seemed pretty much agreed upon at $20 mil.

  • http://www.slamonline.com riggs

    how did joe even become franchise worthy player in the eyes of some people? wasnt he just a role player in PHX who got tired of that role?

  • http://coco-vents.blogspot.com Co Co

    I also have a hard time buying Larry Drew as a game changer when you consider he sat closest to Mike Woodson over these last 6 years. Yeah he’s talking a big game, but for all we know he could be a clone. And, who’s to say Joe is just going to change his stripes. Joe can’t be a fool, so I’m inclined to think that he himself was aware of the numerous times the Hawks had a lead while moving the ball and lost said lead when he decided to “take over”. Are you sure he’s just going to abandon what he’s been doing for the past 5 years? I’m not.

  • Jas

    “would have rang out” = would have RUNG out

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @Jas: Whoops. Fixed.

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  • http://coco-vents.blogspot.com Co Co

    I should also mention I am happy for Joe. If you can get someone to pay you $120 million for a service you are okay with me. We should all be so lucky. I still don’t like the deal because the ASG is cheap so sinking a good majority of their allotted resources in one player just isn’t a good idea, but whatever.

  • rainman10

    @ Indy B, Jamal Crawford’s $10 mil a yr comes off after next season. They will keep Horford.

  • http://slamonline.com JL

    i can’t imagine there was one other team willing to pay joe johnson 20 mil a year. the hawks would not have been called cheap if they offered him 15-16 mil a year. On top of that they have the extra year for him, and I think that would have been enough. what the hawks really need other than resigning him is to get a real center. al horford is too small to play center against some of the other bigger more physical centers. they don’t have a 7 foot center on the playing rotation. their PF in josh smith is only 6’9. that makes them athletic but not big enough to cover on a low energy night. of course it’s easier said than done to get a legit center.

  • Overtime

    Think I must agree…in reference to how long JJ’s contract is, he strikes me as a player who could still make a big impact on games long, long into his career. And definitely, as you say Lang, if he saves some wear and tear and is able to stay away from injury

  • barnabusb

    Joe who?

    Oh snap!

  • MikeC.

    I’m glad NY didn’t overspend for Joe. Overspending for Amare was bad enough. Joe’s contract seems like Allan Houston’s contract all over again. Once NY moved to Amare, the Hawks were bidding against themselves. I didn’t hear much speculation of Joe going anywhere other than NY or staying in ATL. Unless I zoned out of a couple days of rumors.

  • hoodsnake

    Joe Johnson will never be no Shaq. More like Jim McIllvane or whatever his name is.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/officerbarbrady what

    I’ll believe it when I see it that Larry Drew is a huge upgrade over Woodson. I’ll also believe it when I see it that Joe Johnson will fall off a cliff in 2 years the way all the stat geeks think he will. I think the Hawks had a choice between maintaining the status quo for a few years and guaranteeing themselves that playoff ticket revenue or trying to clear cap space to make a future run at a guy who actually deserved the max, and they chose the safe route. The clincher was probably the fact that the Hawks’ already tenuous fan support would fall off the cliff if they tumbled out of the top 4 or 5 of the East.

  • tavoris

    JJ’s isn’t gonna fall off anytime soon. It’s not like his game is dictated by running fast or jumping high.

  • deano

    @tavoris EXACTLY fam, he’s a crafty player. He doesn’t look to beat anybody off the dribble or finish overtop of anybody, he just knows how to get his shot. He’s not even a Ray Allen who has to run around the court to get open all the time. He’s just an old school baller who knows hot to create space and fire off. Like a bigger taller version of Andre Miller. Old School baller, Atlanta’s done the right thing to make sure he stays….but hopefully he’ll do the right thing like Gil did 2 season ago and give back some of the dough for the squad

  • Fat Lever

    Lang, justify this all you want, but I think that if JJ had walked, they would have had more money freed up to also address the PG situation, which I feel will cause the Hawks to take a step back this year, especially if Drew plans to implement a “motion” sort of offense. I can’t see Joe playing significant mins at PG with that offensive implementation in place. To me, having a solid PG that can push the pace in the ATL is more important than ever. I see what you’re saying in presenting your point, and you’re right, you can move a contract like this eventually, but a lot of times I feel a team can’t move a contract of this magnitude at the right or opportune time.

  • http://www.clownpenis.com Tarzan Cooper

    Why have all my posts today disappeared?

  • http://twitter.com/darrellma dma

    As long as they have Mike Bibby as the starting PG, I don’t see this team doing much in the playoffs.

  • Atrain

    Two words: Michael Redd

  • Supra

    yea… isnt michael redd a free agent now too?

  • tekno

    There are only a handful of guys in the league ‘worth’ that much money. And Joe Johnson is not one of them. Go ask Orlando how things are working out with Rashard.

  • underdog

    “In the NBA, there’s no such thing as wrong or right.” – so drafting Darko as #2 was kind of right?

  • Chief KnockaHoward

    Lang Whitaker is good for Hawks Nation. For the first time I feel a little better about this whole thing.

  • Jay

    If you get a Max deal it has to be based on your play off performance. Atlanta are now a pretty solid team, with good players at each position, and an alright bench. Yet Joe averaged 12.8 points on under 30% fg against Orlando and they were knocked out in 4. For that series you would have been better off with rashard, who got 17 on around 50%. And everyone says rashard is a bust. How can it be justified? He is at his peak age, with athletism and iq, and yet he can’t take over. And he’s not getting any younger. I’d say Ickes York wants him for that much let ‘em have him. There are probably ten players that deserve that amount, and Joe ain’t one. Also, partly the reason to give a max deal is surely the income the player generates? If you’re Kobe or lebron, or even shaq or kg you shift a lot of product. Outside of Atlanta does Joe? Does anyone say Joe Johnson, he’s my favourite player? (also 120 is too much for anybody. It’s basically gross. People should pay less attention to sport, then maybe these players would earn a little less and loose the ego a bit. Throwing a ball through a hoop, whilst fun, isn’t like getting shot at in Basra.)

  • era

    have you seen joe johnson against orlando? thats your best player for the next 5 years? sky’s the limit, if the sky is getting beaten in the cf’s by 4:2 by a real contender.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ Tariqُُ

    Did ATL overpay? Not maybe.

  • michael

    the problem with the the NBA has been and will continue to be that there are TOO MANY TEAMS!!! There are 10 or 12 max guys spread amongst 30 teams all with money to spend and seats to fill. You cant blame JJ for taking the cash, he has done well for himself as a discard in boston, to the 4th or 5th option on a good suns team to now a max guy. Completely overpaid of course, and the hawks will not win a chip in the foreseeable future, but good luck to him for taking the money now. Durant 5 years for 86m or JJ for 6 years at 120m, hmmmmmm. One is a game changer and franchise player, one is the first option on a first round exit squad. The NBA is great!

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @Tarzan: We changed servers yesterday so things were a little dicey during the afternoon. Everything should be cool now.

  • giogolo

    Seriously, unless we are Joe or ATL fans we can’t feel bad for an ownership and GM who shoots themselves in the mouth right?

  • giogolo

    Take back the seriously with the shooting comment. But really something is horribly wrong and I really don’t think a lot of NBA TEAM personnel KNOW their basketball more than casual fans do. Seriously..this is some indescribable agony over someone like JJ get a max deal. They could have used the spare for additions. I’m really starting to have serious second thoughts about following the NBA today. Lot of STUPID GMs and Owners who don’t know how to gauge value. They should just stick to their businesses than try to be geniuses in basketball which is clearly NOT their Forte. It’s hopeless really.

  • The Black Rick Kamla

    @deano spot on

  • Trout

    I don’t hate the guy for taking the money but seeing as though there wasn’t an avalanche of suitors pursuing the guy at that money. That should tell you everything you need to know about the guys market value.

  • Thirdfalcon

    Actually it’s very likely that someone who missed out on the Lebron/Bosh/Wade sweepstakes would have offered Joe max money. It’s just that the current players team have the right to offer a player another year and ap. 30 millions dollars more.

    So the fact that no one was going to offer 120 million is a function of the CBA and not of Joe’s worth as a player.

  • http://slamonline.com tealish

    Only a Hawks fan can defend $124 million over 6 years to Joe Johnson.

  • peter

    The thing with investing so much money in JJ is, will you ever recoup that investment? He doesn’t nearly have the marketing power that guys like Lebron, Iverson, Kobe have in terms of merchandising etc. He won’t bring them a championship. So what’s the point?

  • giogolo

    I dont care about any pukin CBA. JJ is not worth 120Million.Period. Dumb Businessman.

  • chase

    eff all yall bibby haters… hes a floor general he played well in the playoffs 2… hes the only pass first guy the hawks have… his d is a lil weak but nobody gives him credit for playin good d in the playoffs go review the tapes.

  • chase

    man all yall bibby haters need 2 get a clue… hes a floor general he played well in the playoffs 2… hes the only pass first guy the hawks have… his d is a lil weak but nobody gives him credit for playin good d in the playoffs go review the tapes.

  • GM

    I guess I’m one of the few Hawks fans who’s glad they resigned Joe. Yes, he will be overpaid, but the Hawks didn’t have any other options, and people seem to forget that he’s a great player. I don’t think he would be fully appreciated in ATL unless he went elsewhere and the Hawks actually saw what it would be like without him. The only flaw in his game is that he isn’t assertive at times, but I think he is one of the best all around players in the league. The fact that he didn’t play well in the playoffs should have lowered his market value, but when you have all of these teams who cleared cap space for 3 players who all went to Miami, Joe would have gotten big money from NY or NJ easily. People underestimate their desperation right now.

    I’m excited about Drew, and I really hope he does implement a new offensive system. I heard he plans to give Teague more minutes, which is great and is already a good sign. Woody never seemed to be impressed with the guards he drafted even though they played well in limited minutes, Teague included. This guy was chasing down opposing teams on fastbreaks and swatting shots off the glass JSmoove style and he’s only a PG, yet he wasn’t impressive enough to get more minutes from Bibby who clearly struggled defensively all season. And that’s not a knock on Bibby. Bibby is a savvy, clutch player with a great jumper and I think he would serve as the perfect role player coming in off of the bench.

    I’m sure Joe’s decision was based on the size of the contract offered, but I also heard the Hawks guaranteed that they would do all they could to upgrade the lineup which leaves me with a few questions:
    #1- What is Josh Childress’ status for next season? I believe he must make a decision by 7/15 as to whether he will return to the NBA next year. If he does return, are the Hawks planning on keeping him (and if so, which role will he play), or do they plan on trading him? If they do trade him, which teams would be interested and what can we get in return? I hear there is plenty of interest.
    #2 – Is there any truth to the Shaq rumors? Shaq isn’t the player he once was, but I feel like he would be a nice addition to the bench. He is a big body that can help us in a playoff series versus Orlando. You know Shaq and Howard will continue to fight over who the real superman is and that can only bring the best out of Shaq. Instead of restructuring a whole team because of back to back meltdowns in the second round, I feel like a few small realistic acquisitions can help the Hawks get over that hump. The Hawks played well against top tier teams all season with the exception of Orlando. Think about it.
    #3 – Is there any truth to these Chris Paul rumors? I hear the Hawks are interested in trading Josh Smith for Paul, but New Orleans also wants Horford and Crawford and they would throw in Okafor in return. I think that would be a terrible trade for the Hawks. I’m all for trading JSmoove for Paul one for one, but they can’t give up half their team for him. Who’s he gonna throw alley oops to? Zaza? And I like Zaza, but seriously.

    If anyone has any info, it would be much appreciated. Peace.

  • DPhenomenal1

    Yep, personally I like the Hawks’ odds with $120,000,000 Joe Johnson than with a $7,000,000 whoever else.

  • atlien85

    Let me start by saying that regardless of the fact that we TOTALLY overpaid for Joe Johnson, I am still a huge Hawk supporter. That being said, it makes absolutely no sense to me that we would commit that much money to someone who is not even willing to publicly announce that he is the bonified leader of the team. Joe Johnson is a great player, but as far as his leadership skills go, I’m not convinced. If you are making the kind of money Joe will be making in the years to come I expect a few things:

    1) YOU SHOULD BE THE VOCAL LEADER. PERIOD! All this silent leader stuff is total BS. Nearly every other team in playoff history had a vocal leader, especially championship contenders (which is what he claims he wants to be). The vocal leader holds his teammates AND himself accountable for lackluster performance. In my estimation, Joe did neither, which tells me he is not an effective leader.

    2) TAKE COMMAND OF THE GAME! When things aren’t going well for a team, great players take it upon themselves to take over the game. Does this mean shoot everytime you touch the ball? No. It means taking an active role on both sides of the ball to make sure a great play is made. I’ve seen Joe fold too many times and defer to other players when the pressure is on. Excuse me Joe, but that is not what we’re overpaying you to do. In other words, we need him to be a superstar when the pressure is on too. I’ve only seen him do it once, and that was two years ago in the Boston series.

    3)Lastly, I’m not confident in the Atlanta Hawk’s front office. Obviously they are privy to information I am not and have inside knowledge regarding players and coaches. However, it amazes me how we had such a poor performance in the first two rounds of the playoffs this year and we essentially commit to bring back the SAME team we had last year. FAIL! How the hell are we supposed to compete in the east when we have done nothing to improve our team? We weren’t able to compete last year so why would the same team with the same coach (Larry Drew was sitting right next to Woody last year cosigning that bland offense) be able to compete now. Our division just became considerably more competitive boys and girls. Miami and Orlando are better than us right now. Charlotte is making noise as well and won’t make the same mistakes we’re making.

    I’m not a gloom and doom type of person, but I am a realist. Being a realist means stating the obvious. Obviously, our best shot at going deep in the playoffs is when we have one of the top four spots. Miami, Boston, and Orlando have the top three on lock. Chicago and Charlotte are up and coming teams and we need to make sure that we don’t allow them to gain any ground on us. I’m confident that we will make the playoffs, BUT if we have to see any of those top teams in the first round, it’s pretty much a wrap.

    First order of business should have been securing a legitimate center, but that’s a rant for another day.
    RANT OFFICIALLY OVER… for now anyway.