After missing one game with a sprained thumb, Joe Johnson returned to practice today and appears to be set to return to the Atlanta Hawks lineup tomorrow night when they host the Orlando Magic. Hawks Vice President of Public Relations Arthur Triche relayed the news via Twitter:
#Hawks' Joe Johnson has returned to practice today - so he will play tomorrow night vs. Orlando.
Johnson has played in 64 of the Hawks 74 games this season and is averaging 18.5 points and 4.9 assists per contest. Hoopinion writer Bret LaGree reopened the discussion yesterday during his Cleveland recap about what might have been had the Hawks chosen not to resign Joe Johnson.
With Johnson (more or less), the Hawks have taken a damaging step backward. They're sufficiently better than the bottom feeders of the league (and the majority of the Eastern Conference) that they will cruise into the playoffs despite looking futile most of the time against the other 15 teams that will make the playoffs. With another $107 million owed Johnson over the next five seasons, the Hawks appear stuck with this collectively mediocre bunch for the foreseeable future.
Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham offered his opinion this morning in reply to LaGree's post saying that even with the subtraction of Johnson there was no guarantee that the team would be better off in the long run.
Considering the team’s recent history of drafting, player evaluation, and resource allocation (both in terms of money and player roles), there would be some understandable skepticism about the prospects for such a scenario bearing fruit.
Cunningham goes on to pretty much agree with LaGree given how things have turned out this season.
So, even if you are skeptical that the Hawks could have competently embraced LeGree’s J.J.-less "alternative present" and then made smart moves for the future I’m sure they could have sold the plan. It turns out that would have been better than what they are selling right now.
You guys pretty much know where I stood in this discussion. I wasn't opposed to bringing back Johnson given that I had no confidence that this team could take a step back and come out ahead in the long run. I wasn't the only one that thought Atlanta had to keep Johnson. Former Hawks beat writer Sekou Smith told us that the Hawks had to keep him and couldn't afford to let him walk without getting anything in return. If I was critical of anything, it was that they didn't follow that Johnson signing up with any other significant moves and basically brought back the same roster with a much higher payroll.
While I will offer that hindsight is 20/20, many of you like Bret voiced your displeasure with the signing loudly. Now that the Hawks have given Johnson his money and they have taken a step backwards anyway the situation doesn't look near as promising as it once did. I will close with something I wrote shortly after the contract was signed.
No matter if the Atlanta Hawks bring in more players that are capable, this signing cements the fact that the face of the franchise is Joe Johnson. Joe has to be ready to meet the challenge head on. Much of the criticism surrounding his contract was made because of statistics showing that perimeter players tend to drop off in production in their early thirties. Joe is 29 years old and has to make sure that he is the exception to that rule.
So far Joe hasn't been the exception to the rule however he still remains a now very expensive face of the franchise. There is still time but now there is even more doubts.