Overall the Hawks hiring of Larry Drew has been met with a positive vibe. Sure there are questions that are raised by the move but thus far Drew is saying the things that many Hawks fans have been saying throughout the last couple of seasons. Drew will get the opportunity to prove himself as he signed a two year contract with the club on Monday.
At his introductory press conference many of his current players were in attendance but there was one notable absence. Joe Johnson was not in the building and has remained virtually silent on the move. Don't read anything from his absence as it is probably customary for a free agent to be not to attend such gatherings until his contract is worked out. Drew indicated that he had spoken with Joe early in the hiring process and that they were on good terms.
Still a lot of the questions that were asked to Drew during his press conference revolved around the new offense that he planned to install for the Hawks. Well you don't talk Hawks Offense without talking about Joe Johnson. So how does Joe fit in to this new scheme?
More after the jump
First forget contract numbers and salary cap. Lets just talk basketball for a few moments as we will get to the monetary numbers soon enough. Hawks fans need to remember that Joe Johnson is a wonderfully skilled basketball player. Notice I didn't call him a pure scorer. Too often when Joe is talked about now he is only remembered as iso Joe. That is not really fair to a guy that has also led the team in assists throughout his tenure in Atlanta. Sure the ball did stop with Joe Johnson way too many times but there were just as many times that all player movement stopped as well.
If Larry Drew is installing some kind of motion offense then Joe Johnson is a perfect piece to run that offense through. The Hawks have been effective over the last few seasons when they played through Joe. When Joe actually initiated the offense. It is his passing skills that combined with his scoring ability that make Joe Johnson so dangerous. Remember he was brought here by then GM Billy Knight to play the Point Guard position. While that never really panned out, you could almost make the case that Joe has been the distributor for this team the entire time he has been here.
In a motion offense like Drew wants to run the ball will still be in Joe's hands a lot, just this time he will have options. He won't be the final option as he was so many times in Mike Woodson's unimaginative scheme.
“I know there’s been some criticism at times that he may go a little too much one on one. Certainly, I do believe that he’s a focal point of this team. I’ll implement some things that probably will take the ball out of his hands a little bit more but it will make him even more effective.”
Throughout the Woodson tenure Joe was option 1, 1a, and option 2. Joe relished that challenge but as this Hawks team has grown with Al Horford and Josh Smith now ready to carry a bigger part of the load and the acquisition of Jamal Crawford Joe doesn't and shouldn't be relied upon as much. Of course it is up to Joe to realize that but it is also up to the coach to script those other guys into the offense as well. That wasn't happening with Woodson and that needs to be taken into account anytime someone describes Joe as a selfish player.
I think it could work and I think Joe wouldn't have a problem maintaining his twenty point a game average but could see his assists per game rise back to around six per game which would make him much more efficient. Plus he would be a lot fresher and wouldn't have to shoulder the burden of carrying the team by himself any longer. Of course all of that sounds great coming from me but it is up to Joe to decide what is truly the best situation for him.
When you start factoring in the money that it is going to take and the long term ramifications of that contract combined with Joe's age and it can make you hesitant about such a deal. Still Drew has stated that he wants Joe back. General Manager Rick Sund has stated that the Hawks hope that they can sign him going forward. At the end of the day the Hawks can offer Joe the most money. At this point we don't know if they will or not but it is my guess that the highest paying offer still will come from Atlanta.
The question will be whether or not Joe wants to be here. Sure his role may be reduced in Drew's scheme but it will still no doubt be the biggest role on the team. He might not be by the time his new contract ends but in the short term he will still be the man for the Hawks. His role is going to change no matter what team he signs with unless he goes to a team at rock bottom once again. Joe already did that with the Hawks one time and I highly doubt that he wants to do it again.
This will be a hot topic in the coming weeks as free agency approaches. Ultimately if Joe Johnson determines that he doesn't want to be in Atlanta anymore then hopefully all parties involved will be able to work out a sign and trade. At this point, don't close the book on Joe returning just yet. He may once again be the perfect fit.