Most people thought Joe Johnson’s time with the Hawks was done. As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.”Thursday, Michael Cunningham reported that Joe is expected to take the money from the Hawks off the table, and why wouldn’t he? It’s more than he’s ever made in his life, and the most money he’s ever going to make as a basketball player. With ownership of his Bird rights, the Hawks had the ability to pay more for longer for Joe’s services. It was expected he’d walk away anyway, and the general consensus around the ATL b-ball blogosphere was that he would be doing the team a favor.
I get the criticisms, I do. There are justifications for them. But I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic about the continuation of the Johnson era.
Sure, Johnson is the guy who captained us to two straight playoff flame0outs, and the roster looks nearly the same as it did this spring-Plus draftee Jordan Crawford, who will have a hard time seeing the floor as the team is currently comprised-but that could change.
There are still moves on the horizon which will greatly effect the deal’s effectiveness, at least if you believe GM Rick Sund, who told Michael Cunningham that the team hopes is to add more pieces around Johnson, Al Hoford, and Josh Smith. More surprisingly, Sund told MC that the ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax. There’s no cap space left with which to sign a free agent, but the team does own a Mid-Level Exception (MLE), which could either be traded for an asset or used to sign a legitimate center. There’s also Josh Childress’s expiring contract, which can be dealt in a sign-and-trade in order to pick up another rotation player. “Chillz” is expected to receive an offer from the Wizards by July 8. The Hawks could match the offer and swing a trade, or they could just hang on to him if they think that a disgruntled Chillz is better than any of the sign-and-trade options.
It was long believed this franchise was too cheap to go for a title. Amazingly, when the team opens up the checkbook and opts to keep the center of its nucleus around for a few more years, with the hopes of gunning for a title, ownership gets panned. First ASG gets ripped for being cheap, now it’s a joke for spending too much money on its best player and keeping a winning team together. (I man, that is exactly what the Larry Bird rights are designed for, right?)
Joe Johnson might not be the best player on the team in 5 years, when he’s 34, but he’ll definitely be its highest-paid. I understand the trepidation there, I do. But if the team wants to pretend like its serious about winning basketball games, it had little choice here. He’s not just Joe Johnson, 4-time All-Star. He’s also the only franchise player since the last franchise player (‘Nique) got traded for a non-franchise (Danny Manning) player in ’94. Sure, he might not ever lead the Hawks to a title. But isn’t winning 50 games a year for the next 5 years better than stepping backwards, accepting mediocrity for the next two years, then if we’re lucky, maybe break through with a 45-win season a few years down the road? Why rebuild when you already have a nice house? Sure, it’s not the nicest on in your neighborhood, or even on your street. But isn’t owning a nice home satisfaction enough sometimes?
We’ve suffered through enough rebuilding. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take longevity, continuity and moderate yearly success over the painfully Sisyphean task that is building a basketball team from scratch. The re-signing of Joe Johnson ensures Atlanta remains a winner for the remainder of his contract. How exactly is that a bad thing?