- LeBron James
- Dwyane Wade
- Chris Bosh
- Manu Ginobili
- Amare Stoudemire (should he opt out)
- David Lee
- Rudy Gay
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Paul Pierce (should he shock everyone and opt out)
- Carlos Boozer
- Tyrus Thomas
- Raymond Felton
- Ronnie Brewer
- Marcus Camby
- Shaquille O'Neal
- Brendan Haywood
There are a couple of factors at play here. First, Johnson's statistics have never matched his reputation. Second, players of Johnson's ilk--above-average starting wings--have tended to decline in a hurry in their early 30s. By year three, just two of Johnson's top 10 comparables (Steve Smith and Jalen Rose) were offering their team any kind of value. A max deal for Johnson could end up very ugly.Now, I don't think Joe Johnson will actually be less valuable than all of those guys but the odds are he will be less valuable than many of them and I think it's unlikely that the value of his performance will not match the cost of his contract before the deal ends (and I think most people agree, though the point at which this is expected to occur is a reasonable matter of debate) should he sign a max or near-max contract.
Which is what makes it a shame both that the Hawks never acquired sufficient assets during Johnson's prime to acquire an equally good or better player to pair with Johnson and that they've put themselves in a cap situation where re-signing Johnson for more money than he can reasonably hope to be worth may be the lesser of two evils.
Joe Johnson turns 29 in four months and five days. He's averaged at least 39.5 minutes per game for each of the last six seasons (during which he missed just 28 games total) and is averaging 37.9 minutes per game so far this season.
Should the Hawks gamble on signing Johnson, getting one more good year out of him and then attempt to trade him before he craters in attempt to rebuild the team as Al Horford's extension eats up most of the cap space the expiration of Jamal Crawford's contract would create?
Or, would they be better off letting another team win the bidding war for Johnson by agreeing to a sign-and-trade with Atlanta, hoping to find a bargain free agent, and (finally) getting something of value for the rights to Josh Childress?
I don't know the answer. This franchise has built a playoff team by making a series of decisions that counter my deepest beliefs about how to build a championship-quality NBA team. Rick Sund may have a plan to extricate the franchise from the corner it's in (and that he largely inherited) that I cannot grasp and it may work perfectly. Or it might not work at all but even that wouldn't mean it was a bad plan, just one I couldn't grasp beforehand. Either way, we're in for a fascinating (and, I predict, a contentious) off-season. It'll be intersting but I can't say I look forward to it.
*I missed this excellent FanPost by YaoPau on Blog-a-Bull two weeks ago that compares Johnson to other big guards in their late 20s and early 30s. It's worth your time.
**Which accurately projected Mike Bibby's ineffectiveness and Josh Smith's resurgence before the season.