The Hawks made a pre-emptive move to keep Johnson by offering him close to $30 million more than he could find on the open market. The deal, to which he verbally committed Sunday, will be criticized as too much money for a player who isn't viewed among the top 10 in the league.
But it is a smart play by Atlanta, which couldn't afford to lose him. The presence of their four-time All-Star and team leader enables the Hawks to approach next season with confidence of reaching the second round of the playoffs for a third straight year. Johnson's raise next season will amount to not quite $2 million, so for the short-term he won't have a disastrous impact on the Hawks' payroll structure.
Had they lost their 29-year-old shooting guard, the Hawks would have surrendered the momentum they've developed around him while improving their record each of the last five years. Consider this an example of a team spending money in order to make money. Apart from the calf injuries that cost him 25 games in 2006-07, Johnson has been a durable star who -- like Ray Allen and other stars in their 30s -- could be moved to a contender over the latter half of his contract, if necessary.