Will Joe Johnson's Future Be in Atlanta?
It's long been expected that Johnson would sign an extension within the last few weeks, to lock him up with the Hawks for the forseeable future, without any question of him going elsewhere in the summer of 2010.
Turns out: not so much.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports today that Johnson has elected not to sign the extension the Hawks have offered and will become a free agent next summer. In doing so, Johnson has rejected a four-year, $60 million offer from the Hawks, which is kind of a lot of dough. You could make a lot of pizzas with that. You could feed all the Ninja Turtles pizza, including Michelangelo, almost a dozen times with that much dough. And Johnson feels he can do better.
Though Johnson has an impressive set of skills, being able to play as a shooting guard running point as well as filling time at the the three in a pinch, it's hard to argue with his age (he'll be 29 when he hits the market next year), minutes, and history that he's worth a max-max-max contract. He was 13th in scoring this year, and had an abysmal playoff run, especially when compared to the year before. It's hard to see teams lining up offers the same way they will for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and others in the '10 free agent class.
Still, even if the offers are dimmed for Johnson more than he seems, electing not to sign the extension may have been the best move. If he and his agent can generate a perception that the interest is out there, he can translate that into a bigger contract from the Hawks, which is probably a pretty likely scenario. Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops outlines the possibilities for Johnson and comes to much the same conclusion, though they're hoping Johnson signs for less money.
There are other options, though, if we whip out our crystal ball.
New York is obviously focusing all its intentions on LeBron. But in order to lure him to the Big Apple, they'll need someone else to show as his sidekick. You know, the player that the Cavs have failed to provide him with since he was drafted. Signing Johnson would pretty much make it so that as long as they have a breathing point guard (which is essentially all Chris Duhon is), and anything resembling a frontcourt that can just rebound (kind of like the Cavs have now), James will not only be facing the lure of the bright lights of the city, but a solid chance to compete with a talented and flexible roster IF Johnson signs.
If you're opting for the smaller markets, there's Charlotte or Minnesota. Both teams will have at least some cap space (depending on what the Bobcats do with Raja Bell and Raymond Felton), and signing Johnson would fill their most obvious need at small guard. Minnesota presents a young talented roster that figures to be on the rise over the next few years, with a glaring hole at two-guard. Minnesota also will have the money to throw at Johnson. Cold winters may not spark the interest of Arkansas' sixth or seventh favorite son, though.
There are other options if you put your imagination to the test (Boston, Houston, and Chicago to name a few), but the most likely scenario is still Atlanta. He's built a home and identity there, and if he can't drum up the interest elsewhere, making a home there could be his only option. It's a gamble Johnson has made, and this year represents his only chance to improve his odds.