Joe Johnson: The Mystery Free Agent
Johnson, though, is a bit of a mystery. For one, he's the oldest free agent. No one's entirely sure where he'll be by the time this next contract is up -- as opposed to the other dudes, who are expected to be signing away their prime. There's a convenient hierarchy in place: James and Wade are regarded as franchise players, and the big men, for better or worse, are all seen as second bananas. With Johnson, it's not so clear.
As is typical of Joe Johnson, he's almost a blank page, open to any number of interpretations. This adds yet another element of unpredictability to Free Agency 2010; for Johnson, it could end up being a good or bad thing.
Take, for instance, the various rumors involving Johnson. In one scenario, the Knicks lock him up -- presumably as a max player -- and then use him to entice LeBron into lighting up Madison Square Garden for the next few years. There are also teams that might find themselves with a chance to sign only Johnson, in which case they might have to convince their fans that he's a worthy franchise player -- something that, after his time with the Hawks, could go either way.
A high-scoring, multi-skilled wing who helped raise a team from the cellar and up near the top of the East? Sounds pretty impressive. On the other hand, he's also mentioned as a possible third wheel alongside Wade and a big man in Miami, in which case his salary might trail off after the first few big years.
Depending on the context, Johnson is just a cut below James and Wade, even a decent consolation prize for missing out there, or barely above Rudy Gay (who might be the better bargain, anyway). Realistically, are the Cavs going to be able to live with JJ as a replacement for LeBron?
Johnson can be slotted at the three, but back with the Suns, he sometimes relieved Steve Nash at point guard. He gained a reputation as something of a ball-stopper in Atlanta. Then again, Mike Woodson's offense was notoriously non-existent. Johnson himself seems unlikely to try and offer up anything in the way of spin. It's just not his way.
We pretty much know what a team will want from LeBron or, say, Bosh. The expectations placed on Johnson next season, as well as the role he finds himself in, could end up going in any number of directions. And it starts with the part he plays in the unfolding free agent saga.