When the clock strikes midnight on July 1st Joe Johnson will become a free agent and the New York Knicks will reportedly waste no time in meeting with him. ESPN.com's Chris Broussard is reporting that Knicks GM Donnie Walsh and Head Coach Mike D'Antoni will be on the West Coast meeting with Johnson and his representatives. While the Knicks have positioned themselves to try and convince LeBron James to come to New York it is in fact Johnson that they will meet with first.
Walsh and D'Antoni are also scheduled to meet with Amare' Stoudemire before finally meeting with James back in Ohio. While James may still be the biggest prize on the market we may be seeing the first signs of the Knicks back up plan in former Phoenix Suns teammates Johnson and Stoudemire. Broussard's story claims that Johnson is the first target because the Knicks want him to help recruit James to New York.
More after the jump
The main thing here for Hawks fans is not to get too excited by the story. While it may in fact turn out to be true, it is the first of many that will be reported once free agency begins on Thursday. The Knicks do make some sense for Joe given that he has a good relationship with Mike D'Antoni whom he played for in Phoenix. The Knicks are also going to try and use that connection to lure Stoudemire.
According to Broussard the Knicks are prepared to offer Johnson a five year deal worth 96 million dollars which is the maximum that they could offer. The Hawks on the other hand could offer a six year deal for about $125 million. Before the season began Joe turned down a four year 60 million dollar extension from the Hawks.
Much debate has been cast over whether or not Atlanta should offer Joe a max contract. Given his age and the likely decline over the course of six years has to make Hawks management at least pause. Still if the Hawks don't give the money to him someone else is going to. So it is either going to be pay him or watch him walk.
So is it all about the money with Joe? If it is then the Hawks hold all of the cards. They can offer him the most money and the opportunity to come back to a 53 win team that will be intact from last season albeit with a new coach in Larry Drew. Drew has promised more ball movement for the Hawks this season but that shouldn't factor into the equation as the "seven seconds or less" offense that D'Antoni employs is not going to look anything like what Joe had here last season with Mike Woodson.
Hawks General Manager Rick Sund has indicated all season long that the Hawks would make every effort to sign Johnson. He has noted the progress the franchise has made and how big a part of that Johnson has been. Even after the disappointing end to the season Sund has once again reiterated that they intend to bring back Johnson. In the coming days we will find out if that is indeed the truth.
In the mean time get ready because the hype machine has only just begun.