OK. Let’s play word association.
I say, “Joe Johnson.”
You say either: “Seven-time All-Star” or …. “AAAAAAGGGGGGHHH!!!”
It’s real. The Hawks are seriously thinking about.
When I first heard that the Hawks might be interested in bringing back Johnson should the Brooklyn Nets complete a buyout of his contract, my initial reaction was to laugh … and then drive into wall. But for a team desperately looking for answers — and make no mistake, if the Hawks sign Johnson, it would accurately illustrate just how desperate they are to pull out of this season-long rut they’ve been in — this might not necessarily be the worst idea in the world.
Or it could completely blow them up.
Here’s the background: Johnson was a nice player who never should have been given a max contract from former Hawks’ owners (whose names have been exorcised from my brain). He wasn’t cut out for a leadership role or the player most media members would rush to after games for comments. Johnson and Josh Smith became the poster children for the Hawks’ general dysfunction and postseason failures. The first move by former general manager Danny Ferry in 2012 was to find a willing team/sucker to take Johnson’s stupid contract, and he found a buyer in Brooklyn. Johnson, now 34, has seen his skills slowly deteriorate with the Nets, the team is dreadful and the new general manager, Sean Marks, is cleaning house. The next out the door: Johnson. The team has opened talks to buy out his $24,894,863 salary. (So clearly Marks and Ferry have something in common: Both believe any makeover begins with getting rid of Johnson.)
The Hawks, like other NBA teams, have been anticipating this move for days and they are among the teams interested in Johnson.
Here’s the potential upside: Johnson can still shoot a little. He’s hitting at 37.1 percent on three-point attempts this season and 40.6 percent overall from the floor. He can play both the shooting guard and small forward positions. (Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore have struggled. Even if Johnson didn’t start for the Hawks, there’s room in the rotation.) He wouldn’t be the star of the team and therefore wouldn’t be called on to be a leader or need to be the unofficial team spokesman after each game. (Korver, Paul Millsap and Al Horford fill that role sufficiently.) The Hawks are desperate for another scoring option and — here’s the biggest plus of them all — they wouldn’t be picking up Johnson’s near $25 million contract. Any team signing Johnson likely would pay him only a prorated portion of the NBA’s veteran minimum.
Here’s the potential negative: When you think, “Pace and space,” you don’t think, “Iso Joe.” Johnson never has been a share-the-ball guy so he would seem to be a poor fit for the Hawks’ offense. He wants the ball. He wants the minutes. He wants to be THE guy, without all of the other things that go with being THE guy. He sulks when things don’t go well. At least, that has always been the case in the past. When the Hawks struggle or coach Mike Budenholzer jumps him in practice or in a game, how’s he going to react?
It’s a move that could seriously backfire on the Hawks.
Then again, they have lost five out of six games and they’re down to seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
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