The Hawks have a problem. While they match up extremely well with Boston, they've now lost three double-digit games to Orlando this season and have also been swept by Cleveland. They've been lights-out against bad teams, but are just 1-7 in their last eight games against teams 13 and up on this list not named Boston. SB Nation's Peachtree Hoops is not concerned about such matchup problems, but if I'm a Hawks fan, I am. Atlanta has few tradeable assets to improve their club (more on this tomorrow), and one of their best players, Joe Johnson, is a free agent after the season. As much as Hawks fans want to say they have time to keep getting better, in reality, the time is now, before Johnson potentially bolts.
Perhaps this is just the natural evolution of a franchise. Perhaps. The only problem is that rarely does a franchise evolve while their marquee player faces free agency.
- Letting Joe Johnson go for nothing will be moderately crippling next year and a risky move banking on the draft, future free agency, and ability for Josh Smith and Al Horford to lead the team.
- Signing Joe to max money will be cripplingly financially for years to come.
- Signing Joe to a reasonable deal will officially set the team's course for this segment of its history, will require a greater distribution of the offensive burden for it to be successful, and could lead to the only team oriented contender in the league.
- Signing and trading Joe to another team will be, like number one, risky, but not necessarily crippling for next year.
I think sign and trade is most likely because Atlanta cannot afford to go too far over their summer offer, teams will be looking to shed salary even as they sign salary, and Joe has made it clear he wants max money and a S&T gets him the most money.
All sides are risky. Resigning Joe only works if Al Horford and Josh Smith get better, and they only get better if Joe Johnson and Mike Woodson let them. On the other side of things, if Joe leaves and Al and Josh don't get better, the Hawks are done being even what they are now. Almost contenders.
What I do know is what ever direction they go, the easiest one to maneuver out of if it fails is the one that does not have a max contract weighing it down.