We believe there are three things that Johnson wants most: Winning, Money, and Usage.Matt Moore likes to give me a hard time* about my criticism of Joe Johnson (sometimes conveniently ignoring the criticism is of Johnson as a franchise (or ersatz-franchise) player) and my skepticism about his necessity to the franchise's future. The best answer he's drawn out of me thus far about what to do without Joe Johnson centers on the Hawks getting much better at the 1 and/or the 3.
Like most franchises, the Hawks are just not financially able to carry a thirtysomething year old former all-star to retain some continuity for a season or two and then have to eat the rest of the contact.
In the short-term on the court, the Hawks already have a capable replacement in Jamal Crawford for one more season if Joe does go. Crawford has not proven to be as efficient scoring the ball and certainly not defensively, but the Joe Johnson of the next six seasons would not be either. The Hawks cannot pay max contract terms (or even close to it) for production that has already happened and most likely will not happen again. There may be a dip in total wins initially, but it doesn't make them a lottery team if Johnson moves on---and the Hawks would have the future flexibility to address shooting guard needs through free agency, trade, or in the draft.
We also believe that the Hawks can't afford to give Johnson the Usage he's accustomed to either. Since Johnson arrived in 2005 and began to stabilize the team, the talent level has improved around him and is ready/capable to provide more value. Josh Smith and Al Horford have already proven this on the court, to the point where the franchise's old habits of giving the ball to Johnson and getting out of his way has become a very unpopular notion among ardent Bird Watchers.
*Were I also a staunch defender of Sherron Collins, Matt might have found his perfect foil.
That answer's more a theory than the start of a proof. I believe there's too much unknown to insist on a plausible series of transactions (and it would take a series of transactions) to accomplish these goals. Could a sign-and-trade package with the Nets (assuming they get to draft John Wall) for Joe Johnson that starts with Devin Harris happen? Would Chicago be amenable to a sign-and-trade involving Luol Deng if Joe Johnson's the best free agent they manage to sign? Could Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague bring back an above average point guard that the head coach (be it Mike Woodson or someone else) will play ahead of Mike Bibby the bulk of the time? If Williams and Woodson are both gone, would Josh Childress be willing to return to Atlanta? What about the rights to Childress and Teague for that hypothetical above-average point guard? Would Marvin Williams' production rise sufficiently to justify his cost were many of the possessions currently allocated to Joe Johnson spread amongst the frontcourt in Johnson's absence? How aggressive will the Hawks be in using the 2010 draft to acquire additional talent?
I don't know the answers to any of these questions. Furthermore, I acknowledge scenarios will exits about which I cannot now fathom.
I also submit humbly that this entire theory assumes that the difference between Joe Johnson (2005-2010) and one year of Jamal Crawford (unless they find a strong market for Crawford's then-expiring contract) and Mo Evans** at the 2 would not be so great as to undo any other improvements.
**Crawford and Evans being complementary players (especially as Evans appears to defend 2 guards better than small forwards) this might work reasonably well with a head coach capable of mixing-and-matching his players to their best purpose and/or to exploit or diminish mis-matches with opposing 2 guards.
I don't expect that assumption to pass with counter-argument. Nor should it.