Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Unsolicited Advice on the Eve of Free Agency

Consider this my version of this post...

1. Don't offer Joe Johnson $125 million over 6 years unless you're absolutely sure he's not going to accept the offer and even then only offer Joe Johnson $125 million over 6 years if you're preoccupied with managing perceptions rather than winning basketball games.

Signing Joe Johnson to a max deal will necessitate making future decisions based on finances rather than basketball all in the pursuit of keeping hope alive for the opportunity to get beaten soundly in the second-round. Pushing up against the luxury tax in the short-term and sacrificing future cap flexibility throughout the prime of the careers of Josh Smith and Al Horford so as not to lose a player who, good though he is and has been, projects to be the team's third-best player before the half this hypothetical contract expires is not in the best interests of the franchise.

2. If you can't get Joe Johnson re-signed for a reasonable cost over a reasonable length (and, given this market, I don't think the Hawks can) hold out for useful assets that increase flexibility in the future even if this means taking a hit in the short-term.

In other words, don't sign-and-trade Joe Johnson for an older, less good player who's sort of like him (even if he has an expiring contract) especially if said player could render the resources spent on Marvin Williams even more of a waste than they currently appear. (Plus, adding another 2-guard or wing would seriously weaken the team's bargaining position if they have to or want to move Josh Childress in a sign-and-trade.) The future of the Hawks consists of Al Horford and Josh Smith and, if they're lucky, maybe one of Williams, Jeff Teague, or Jordan Crawford. All decisions should be based on adding to that core either specifically in the present or by creating the freedom and flexibility to take advantage of future opportunities. Young players, expiring contracts, and draft picks should be the only items on the team's wish list.

2b. Don't sign a free agent who is an older, less good version of Joe Johnson.

None of the Hawks' primary problems stem from a lack of guards who can dribble and shoot. At some point perimeter defense and defensive rebounding have to be addressed if this team is going to improve.

3. Convince Josh Childress to be willing to play in Atlanta on the qualifying offer for 2010-11.

The Hawks needn't commit to bringing back Childress but they need it to be an option, both as a short-term replacement for Joe Johnson who would complement both Jamal Crawford and Marvin Williams while splitting time between the two and the three, and to limit the chances they lose him for nothing.

4. Don't spend the MLE.

I don't think any serious person doubts the financial limitations of this ownership group. Spending money in ways symbolic (eight figures on an ex-famous person) rather than useful will only exacerbate those limitations.

5. Do fill out the roster with young free agents (especially those eligible to be assigned to the D-League) who can be had cheap in the short term and could be useful assets for the team, either on the court or when included in trades, in the future.

Because of those financial limitations the Hawks need to be more creative (and scout better) when filling out the roster. Signing Randolph Morris seemed a reasonable decision at the time but when he proved incapable of contributing and the franchise proved unwilling to eat his contract and give his roster spot to someone who might produce, it turned into a small but real waste of limited resources. As did using roster spots for entire seasons on other players unlikely to contribute ever (Thomas Gardner, Mario West) or those who can't contribute immediately but might in the future with the benefit of regular playing time in the D-League to develop either their skills (Othello Hunter) or basketball sense (Solomon Jones).

Presently, the Hawks have two borderline All-Stars (Al Horford and Josh Smith), three guys who fit in the average starter/good bench player bin (Jamal Crawford, Zaza Pachulia, Marvin Williams, two adequate bench players (Mo Evans, Mike Bibby), and two unproven youngsters (Jeff Teague and Jordan Crawford). If Rick Sund does a reasonable job of filling out the roster with role players (young or old) and no major injuries hit, the Hawks should still be able to make playoffs in the short-term while setting the stage to build for something more ambitious in the longer-term. It won't be easy. It probably won't be popular. But it's the franchise's best chance for real, sustained success.


Unknown said...

Is there anything we, as fans and patrons, can do to persuade ownership not to spend max money on Joe? Is there anything we can do at all?

Unknown said...

agreed, but here's the one thing I think we have in our favor on Joe. ASG has shown us that they are willing to talk big, but not do something BIG. So, I'm hoping that what happens is that they talk a big game to look viable in the market, but in actuality - they have ZERO intention of bringing Joe Johnson back at the max.

Like negative 100 intention, so I'm not really worried about them doing that - I am worried about them bringing him back at all. I don't think they would do the smart thing and say - you want $12M a year and then, we can put some pieces around you OR do you want to leave. That ain't happening, so I just have to pray that we get a clue. Seriously...

Bret LaGree said...

Every time Michael Gearon, Jr. speaks, I'm less inclined to think he's disingenuous.

Jonathan said...

can't we like start a petition. seriously.

Thank-you because you said what I have been trying to explain for weeks.

Anonymous said...

Once Joe is gone, then you will see the real value of the other players not named Joe. Jamal will face the double-teams if he gets hot, plus his one year diversion from his career shooting stats will be over and if LD doesn't allow all of the isos .... Al will be Al, but never enough against real big physical centers. Josh is and will continue to be a headcase and will fade in and out of the galaxy during important games. You can't win with this bunch as your centerpiece, you guys will soon learn this on your own. It may help set up the future with room under the cap and assuming Sund & ownership make good decisions with money & draft picks. They are capable of screwing that up too (bad decisions: resigned Bibby, Zaza & Marvin with long deals has tied up a lot of mula), but ATL fans want to win now. It wasn't too long ago this team won only 13 games, now fans and writers are complaining about getting beat in the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Hawks have enough talent without Joe to maybe win half their games. The Eastern Conference as a whole is getting stronger, so even making the playoffs is not guaranteed. Lottery anyone?

Jay said...

Agreed! If LD can get Josh Smith to be the player he can/should be and Al continues to grow, there's hope for this franchise. If one of the rookie's steps up, we get some kind of production from our PG the Hawks won't drop off the map. I don't see how you can pay max money for a guy who's past his prime and has never shown proof that he can be a clutch factor in big situations (i.e. the playoffs).

Anonymous said...

Gotta keep Joe; do whatever it takes. With Joe (and adding another big man with MLE), the Hawkshave a puncher's chance. The only way to do better than that is to get Kobe, Lebron, or maybe Dwight Howard, or we could draft the next one of these guys. The likelihood of any of those happening is next to nothing. Keeping Joe keeps us in the class with the Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Trailblazers, Suns, Spurs, et. These are all teams that don't have a good chance at winning the championship, but they have some chance (cf. Celtics this year). Everyone should remember that making it to the 2nd round of the playoffs (although would have liked to see us compete better) is a good thing, and there's no alternate plan to get us a Lebron or Kobe, so why not keep the exciting team together and have a small chance at Eastern Conference finals or NBA championship.

Aaron said...

What you're saying, in brief, is that the Hawks should wave a white flag if Joe leaves.

I completely (110%) agree with you, but know that it isn't reasonable to expect the ASG/Sund to do that. They will try to save face by acquiring a player like Butler, who at least has an expiring contract.

FWIW, there are more than enough minutes for Jamal (will see some PG time), Marvin (will see some PF time), and Butler on the wing. Mo Evans would likely be moved in the deal.

Evans/JJ -for- Dampier/Butler is the trade I think is most realistic from the Hawks' standpoint.

Anonymous said...

Aaron, was your post replying to mine?

My contention is that resigning Joe should be Plan A. I think that people are probably right that it will be very hard for us to win a championship with Joe as our best player. However, I also think that it has and will be difficult for Dallas to win a championship with Dirk as their best player, the Suns to win a championship with Nash as their best player, the Hornets with Paul, the Jazz with Deron Williams and Boozer, and Portland with Brandon Roy. This does not mean that all these teams (and the Hawks) should blow up their rosters searching for a way to get Lebron or Kobe or some future guy that guy. They are too rare. There is no path that the Hawks can take to get a guy like that. Instead, I think we should continue putting the best team that we can out on there, and 5 years from now, if all we have to show for it is a bunch of 2nd round playoff defeats and maybe 1 appearance in the conference finals (similar to the run the Suns, Jazz, Mavericks, Nuggets have had in the past few years), let's take what we can get.

Lest we forget, losing in the 2nd round is much better than 13 wins over an entire season.

By the way, regarding cap space, I don't think it works out much better for us to try to clear cap space for next year. Carmelo will probably be gone; Jamal will be a free agent; and Horford will be a restricted free agent (I think). So most of our free cap room would have to go towards at least keeping Al.

jrauch said...

You have to let Joe go, and work a decent sign-and-trade deal that gets some assets in return.
He's a soon-to-be 29 year old shooting guard with a ton of miles on him already, much less what he'll look like in the final three years of this deal.
Will it hurt the team in the short-run? Yes, but I think if managed smartly, it leaves us far more flexibility post-lockout to build something that can get to the title.

You dole out major contracts for what guys can do and what they will do, not what they've done. Joe's got more good years in rearview mirror than ahead of him at this point.
Joe walks, and I'm happy to see him go.

Bret LaGree said...

I'm sympathetic to the desire not to revisit the failures of the past but I also believe one shouldn't make decisions motivated by fear. Nor are the Hawks likely to get anywhere near 13 wins again as long as Josh Smith and Horford are around.

The Hawks have been content with "good enough" for a long time, going back to when they acquired Joe Johnson. Getting him was good enough they could sacrifice two first-round picks. Having him was good enough to pass on Brandon Roy for Shelden Williams. Taking the Celtics to 7 games as a sub-.500 team was good enough to give Mike Woodson two more years with the (tactical and tempermental) status quo. Not being Mike Woodson is good enough for Larry Drew to get his first head coaching job.

It's not Joe Johnson's fault. Ownership is the biggest impediment to building a championship contender and an irrational (though understandable) attachment to Joe Johnson would soon be another manifestation of their analytical limitations, one that would exacerbate their financial limitations.

Mr. Rob said...

I agree with almost all of the points above, except for the one which implies that the Hawks should not look at John Salmons as a temporary replacement for Joe. Considering the financial woes of the current market, getting Salmons to sign for a bargain would be a smart move in my eyes, simply because he's perhaps the only complete free agent SG in this free agent class who could come at a bargain. I agree that the Hawks have an abundance of guards at this point, but most of them are not the same caliber of player as Salmons.

Salmons is effective both offensively and defensively and is actually quite similar in his style of play to Joe Johnson. I'm not saying that he is at the level of Joe Johnson, but he is undeniably the best short term replacement, and does not conflict with the possible return of childress.

Considering Jamal's defensive deficiencies and size, I think it would serve best to keep him in the sixth man role. Acquiring Salmons would enable Crawford to remain comfortable in his unorthodox style of play, with less pressure coming off of the bench. Salmons can provide the much needed perimeter defense that the Hawks would be missing at the SG position if Joe leaves.

Furthermore, I think Salmons' style of play would complement a guy like Josh Childress, who does most of his work without the ball, very well. I could easily see Salmons and Childress as the starting 2 and 3 on the roster. If perhaps Williams remains the starting SF, this gives the Hawks true depth at the SF position with two players who have the size and versatility to effectively guard the wing and hybrid players who occasionally play on the interior.

The odd-man out in this scenario is Mo Evans, whom I don't see a significant role for if Childress returns, but that is a discussions for another time.

Let me know what you think of this scenario.

Natural Neutral said...

I just don't see how the ownership has the stones to pay Joe $125 mil when they hired Larry Drew to save $$ and went through all these silly moves just to save $300,000 on Jordan Crawford and get ~3 million from Oklahoma City.

But then again, I don't see how they have the stones to not sign Joe and risk something better from something known and not all that reliable.

Here's what we know: Joe isn't Kobe, Al isn't gonna gain 3 inches and 50 lbs. to be a true C, Josh isn't gonna ever stop jacking up shots and pouting, Bibby/Jamal aren't gonna learn good defense, and Marv is never gonna be good offensively.

Regardless of what we do here this summer, we aren't gonna be close to a champ contender next season unless Teague and Jordan C. are dynamite (don't hold your breath).

Therefore, don't put all your eggs in one basket: if Joe stays, we'll have a few more fun seasons with him. If he leaves, we get worse, but may get lucky w/rookies or get a chance to make a better draft next year or hire doc rivers.

Enjoy the ride!

Unknown said...

I am not a basketball fan well versed on X's and O's, so I really can't speculate as to whether or not re-signing Joe Johnson (at any cost) will or won't make for improved competitive fortunes. However, I do know the road to NBA hell is littered with $100 million-dollar contracts given to players who haven't put their teams over the hump towards being a contender.

I wouldn't hesitate to give Joe Johnson $100 million if he were a can't miss talent that elevates a team into contention. The fact that the only 'hot' suitor for him seems to be the Knicks (and as a Plan B pickup to LeBron), I say let some other team pay that max money. I would rather the Hawks gamble with young draft picks growing better together (Thunder) or even utilizing serviceable D-Leaguers (Warriors) than another stagnant team that will never get out of the first or second rounds.

Let Joe walk.