Is Joe Johnson Worth A Max Deal?

Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks

Orlando's Matt Barnes gets a good sniff of Joe Johnson in their series: yeah, JJ stunk (source: Yardbarker.com)

I really love Manu Ginobili, and I would’ve loved to see what he could do as a Knick, but I gotta say I was kinda glad when he recently signed a 3-year deal to stay with the Spurs.  That meant he wouldn’t be available as a huge risk out there tempting the Knicks.  If you look at the players with the 30 Biggest Salaries from this past season, you can pretty much lump ‘em into two categories: the best of the best and the obscenely overpaid injured types.  There’s a serious danger that Manu will fall into Group B.   As exciting as it’d be to see how good he could be as a team’s focal point (rather than Tim Duncan and Tony Parker being the first two options), it’s a bad bet.

You can probably guess the Group A guys, many of whom could conceivably get even more if they became free agents today.  That’s Kobe (#2), Tim Duncan (#4), Dirk Nowitzki (t-#6), Paul Pierce (t-#6), Pau Gasol (#11), Kevin Garnett (#13), Amare Stoudemire (t-#14), Melo-Lebron-Wade-Bosh(all t-#19), Dwight Howard (#24), and Chris Paul (#30).

The injury boys, who also have diminished because of age, are headlined by our own Tracy McGrady (#1).  Most of these guys if they became free agents would be lucky to get half their current salary.  There’s Jermaine O’Neal (#3), Shaq (#5), Michael Redd (#10), Andrei Kirilenko (t-#11), Kenyon Martin (#23), Elton Brand (#26), Peja Stojakovic (#27), and our former boy, Larry Hughes (#29).  We’ve also got a couple of guys that the jury is still out on (Yao Ming #14, and Gilbert Arenas #17 — although many would argue that Arenas’ case has already been closed and found him guilty).

There are only five who are good, but overpaid players, like Ray Allen (#8 — although this post-season you could argue that he’s been the one who’s worthy of the max money while Pierce has taken over Allen’s underachieving ways from the last two years), Rashard Lewis (#9 — should your highest salaried player be your 4th most important player behind Dwight, Jameer & Vince?), Vince himself (#16 — maybe he’ll prove himself in the playoffs, but at 16.6 pts in the regular season, he’s basically getting paid a cool million for each point), Zach Randolph (#18 — this was probably the first year in a while where he earned that money, but we can’t ignore the last few seasons), and Richard Jefferson (#28 — he really should be in the completely overpaid injured section but he hasn’t been injured despite his game falling off a cliff).

Top NBA Salaries

1. Tracy McGrady New York $23,239,561
2. Kobe Bryant LA Lakers $23,034,375
3. Jermaine O’Neal Miami $22,995,000
4. Tim Duncan San Antonio $22,183,218
6. Dirk Nowitzki Dallas $19,795,714
-. Paul Pierce Boston $19,795,712
8. Ray Allen Boston $19,766,860
9. Rashard Lewis Orlando $18,876,000
10. Michael Redd Milwaukee $17,040,000
11. Pau Gasol LA Lakers $16,451,250
-. Andrei Kirilenko Utah $16,451,250
13. Kevin Garnett Boston $16,400,000
14. Yao Ming Houston $16,378,325
-. Amare Stoudemire Phoenix $16,378,325
16. Vince Carter Orlando $16,300,000
17. Gilbert Arenas Washington $16,192,080
18. Zach Randolph Memphis $16,000,000
19. Carmelo Anthony Denver $15,779,912
-. LeBron James Cleveland $15,779,912
-. Chris Bosh Toronto $15,779,912
-. Dwyane Wade Miami $15,779,912
23. Kenyon Martin Denver $15,363,636
24. Dwight Howard Orlando $15,133,800
25. Joe Johnson Atlanta $14,976,754
26. Elton Brand Philadelphia $14,858,471
29. Larry Hughes Sacramento $13,655,268

30. Chris Paul New Orleans $13,655,268

The one guy left is #25, Joe Johnson.  He’s almost the anti-ZBo in that he’s totally been worth the money for the last several seasons, and only just recently has his value perhaps pulled a 180.  And that turn was actually only in the playoffs, as during the regular season he still averaged nearly 20-5-5 (points-rebounds-assists) on practically 46% shooting.  Those are impressive numbers.  The question is which Joe would we get?  That one, or the playoff one who scored 17 points on 38% shooting.  Or even worse, the second-round-playoff-Joe who only noticed 12 on a lowly 29% shooting?

The other key factor is age.  Not because Joe’ll get injured, ‘cuz he’s been an iron man so far.  Ginobili could rip in two at any moment, but JJ’s a tough guy who takes care of himself.  However, traditionally perimeter players have their game go downhill when they hit their mid-thirties.  Unlike LeBron, JJ’ll definitely want as long a contract as possible (so five years if you get him straight out or 6 years in a sign-and-trade).   That means he’ll be making the most money when he’s 33 or 34.  Plus, he’s likely hit his peak, versus LeBron and Bosh are young enough that it’s conceivable that they could still improve.  Other players like Amare and Boozer could also possibly improve as they’ve been the sole focal point of an offense, versus Joe’s just spent the last several years being The Man with the freedom to do what he wanted.

The thing is that being the bottom of the barrel, how picky can the Knicks be?  Atlanta had to overpay to get Joe, and similarly Orlando had to overpay to get Rashard Lewis.  Free agents tend to need to see more $ in order to risk going to a losing team.  If we somehow get LeBron, then okay, Joe (& others) would likely join for less money, but otherwise the sole free agent who might give us a (slight) discount is David Lee.

Orlando Magic guard Vince Carter walks to other side of court with forward Rashard Lewis in Orlando.

Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis combine for over $35 million and less than 31 points. But as long as they keep winning, there won't be any buyer's remorse (Source: Yardbarker.com)

After the Hawks’ humbling loss, it proved that Joe Johnson can’t be the #1 guy on a championship team.  However, in that group above, only Kobe, Wade & Tim Duncan have shown that they can be the clear #1 guy on a championship team.  For instance, Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t lead the Mavs to the Promised Land, but with all the wins he’s helped provide in Dallas, there’s no doubt he’s worth the money.  Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, etc never lead their teams to a championship, but they helped create a winning culture on their teams.  Joe Johnson couldn’t take the Hawks all the way, but he helped change them from doormats to a top Eastern Conference team.  Isn’t that worth big bucks?  And maybe down the road we could get say a Carmelo Anthony to be the big dog?  If we offer Joe the max, will we be laying down the foundation for a great future, or establishing a low ceiling before the first floor’s even finished?

How much should the Knicks offer Joe Johnson?

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Topics: Atlanta Hawks, Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwayne Wade, Joe Johnson, LeBron James, Manu Ginobili, Orlando Magic, Patrick Ewing, Rashard Lewis, San Antonio Spurs, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph

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  • http://soaringdownsouth.com Kris Willis

    Good write up! I think you are all over this one and I can honestly say I don’t know how it will play out. I really expect the Hawks to offer him more than anyone else but at the same time I am not sure that is what they should do either.

    • http://bucketsoverbroadway.com Alex David, aka Short White Boy

      Kris,

      I recently read that Joe’s a small town guy so he ain’t a big fan of coming to New York. That said, even if he’s not a feasible part of NY’s future, the question still remains for Atlanta/Miami/whoever as to how much he’s worth. Two other potentially intriguing factors:
      1. Tons of teams have cap space, so on one hand that could drive UP his price because teams won’t want to end up empty-handed.
      However, on the other hand:
      2. Teams know that there will be a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) after this season which should be much more favorable to management. Will they hesitate to overspend now, knowing that they’ll get much better deals from here on out?

  • Pingback: Avery Johnson to Receive first Hawks Interview, and Other News and Notes | Soaring Down South | An Atlanta Hawks blog

  • Neil

    It’s funny that you mention Ginobli. A month ago (much before the Cavs collapsed)I was pretty sure we had zero chance to get Lebron, and thought the best and most feasible scenario was actually to re-sign David Lee and get two veterans for short term deals.
    I had Ginobli and a Marcus Camby as making the most sense. I didn’t think Ginobli will command more than a 7 mill contract in a team other than the Spurs (due to his age and health track record) and he could have provided the type of playmaking from the wing we desperately needed, while not committing ourselves to a long term investment such as Joe Johnson.
    If I was Donnie, and it looks like we will not get any max player, I would actually monitor the situation with Ray Allen. With him off the cap, the Celtics can actually get younger while replacing him with a legitimate 4th option (Joe Johnson here would actually make sense). At his age, Allen won’t be that expensive.

    • http://bucketsoverbroadway.com Alex David, aka Short White Boy

      Neil, I’m with you that we might not get any max player, but I’m not sure I agree with short-term vet idea. Well, if Camby was still available, sure, ‘cuz he’s different in that he’s a defensive player who can help teach your young ‘uns while not taking away shots.

      However, if you go for a Ray Allen, you have to at least partly/occasionally focus your O on having him run around & free himself up on picks for open shots. I’d rather those opportunities go to Gallo or Chandler. Maybe Ray Ray would give us 10 extra wins, but does he help us create a better foundation? You could argue that we need a winning mentality, and that if he brought that alone, it’d be huge, but I want more.

      If we can’t get the big guns, I’d rather us go for smaller contracts where we can try out younger less established players like Ray Felton and Brendan Haywood. If they can add say only 5 wins, but remain part of the future, I think it sets us up better. And perhaps could make us a more appealing free agency destination for ‘Melo next year, or I believe the year after CP3 becomes available. Hell, in three years LeBron might become a free agent again, and if we’ve got a decent non-aging core, maybe THEN he’d come.

      Yup, you heard it here first, start the campaign: LeBron in 2013. He’ll still only be 28 then.

      • Neil

        Yeah, I’m not sure how many more wins we’ll have with Ray Allen, but my whole thinking is more towards an “organic” growth of the program, with Lee, Gallo, Chandler and Douglas as the tentative building blocks.
        What I’m afraid of is overpaying an above average talent, and sacrificing David Lee for a bunch of expensive question marks.

        Also, I’m not sure there are any point guards in this free-agency season that have a considerably greater upside than Douglas. Simply put, none of them represent such a significant upgrade that would worth 5-6 mill a year.

        I rather stick with Douglas (and his rookie contract), and either keep Duhon on the dirt-chip or get another point guard in the draft. I have my sight set on Gonzaga’s Matt Boulding for three years now, I think he could be a really good point guard for us (though, admittedly, I think i’m very much in a minority based on the mock drafts I’ve been reading).

        Regarding Felton, I find it hard to believe MJ will let his starting Tar Hill point guard go. They made the playoffs with him, why wouldn’t they offer him at least the 6 mill he’s currently making?

        And yeah, though Lebron 2013 is not out of the question, the idea should indeed be that if we don’t hit a home-run this summer we still leave ourselves the option to hit a home run sometimes in the future. I’ve been a Knicks fan since 1985, I’m not going anywhere.

        • http://bucketsoverbroadway.com Alex David, aka Short White Boy

          Yeah, I agree that the worst-case scenario is overpaying for average/question-mark talent. Or as I call it, The 2000s Knick Way. So far Donnie Walsh has been smart enough to do that, even if it meant losing possible aging vets who he mildly pursued this past summer like Grant Hill and Jason Kidd. As you say, the key is to leave future possibilities open.

          In terms of Felton, he’s an unrestricted free agent, so it’s not really up to MJ — it’s just a straight-up bidding war. Since Felton’s not a max player, it’s not like the home team even has a financial advantage. They could’ve signed him to a long-term deal last summer, but Larry Brown’s supposedly had mixed feelings about him. Although that may have changed ‘cuz they traded away DJ Augustin and thus no longer even have a true backup PG, so now I imagine they’ll be forced to pay him more than they wanted to last year.

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