If Joe Johnson is sitting back, relaxing, and soaking in his Jacuzzi bathtub tonight like Tony in Scarface , he has to be wondering, "Why should I stay with the Atlanta Hawks for the 2010-11 season and beyond?"
There really is only one answer for Joe to stay—and that is the max dollars and years that only the Hawks can offer.
Here are the top three reasons for Joe to get out of the ATL:
1. The Uninspired Atlanta Crowd
Fans will show up big for big games and the playoffs, but there have been a ton of empty seats at Philips Arena this year. It's hard to believe, considering that this is the best Hawks team in the last 15 years.
You can blame the economy, the 7 p.m. start time, terrible Atlanta traffic getting downtown, suburbanites being afraid to go downtown, etc. The fact is, the crowd is dead and uninterested unless LeBron, Kobe, or the Celtics are in town.
I have seen empty seats even when the Hawks played at San Antonio earlier this year, so you could argue that it is an NBA problem. The great thing for Super Joe is that he can choose where he wants to play for the next few years.
Atlanta is a town of transplants. These people do not love the Hawks or the NBA. This is a college football town. You cannot even really get good commentary and analysis from the local sports media on the NBA. You are more likely to get five great minutes this week on how short Tim Tebow is going to measure at the NFL Combine.
2. Johnson Is the Most Underappreciated Star Player in the NBA
Sure, he is not an NBA superstar. He is not Batman; he is not Michael Jackson. But he is a star. He is not a Robin or a Tito Jackson.
Joe is somewhere in between those two points on the NBA player scale. He started the All-Star game this year! He deserved the start because Iverson should have never been voted on the team in the first place.
Joe Johnson is a flat-out warrior who comes to play every night. Check the statistics for minutes played for the past few seasons: He is at the very top of the NBA. Coach Woodson has probably cost him two more full seasons by running this guy into the ground.
Super Joe had a stretch before the All-Star break during which he was shooting a high percentage and scoring about 30 points a night. He carried this team, but he received virtually no recognition for it.
Just today, I heard three different guys on Atlanta sports talk radio complaining about what has Joe done in the playoffs. All that needs to be said is that in the two biggest playoff wins in the last decade, Joe has been the Hawks best player.
He torched the Celtics in the fourth quarter of Game 6 two years ago—and last year, he outplayed Dwyane Wade in Game 7 against the Heat. His scoring numbers might have been down against the Heat overall, but he was guarding D-Wade for 30 minutes a game! Wade is an NBA superstar.
3. The Atlanta Hawks As a Franchise Are in a State of Uncertainty
Woodson does not have a contract. He thinks he is going to be a free agent in the coaching circles. Josh Smith is playing great right now, but does anyone really think that is going to last? Horford is playing out of position. Bibby is clutch, but he cannot guard anyone.
Joe has to guard the other team's quickest guard on a nightly basis because Bibby and Jamal Crawford cannot contain perimeter ball handlers. JJ has to guard Ronnie Price, Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis, etc. because he is the Hawks best on-the-ball defender. In crunch time, he will be guarding LeBron if Marvin Williams cannot get his head back into this season.
Joe has three options: Chase a championship, go somewhere else and continue his stellar All-Star-caliber play, or stay in Atlanta and listen to criticism for helping this team improve by 40-plus wins in four years. He could follow LeBron or Chris Bosh to New York, or head to Chicago or the Clippers to help turn those franchises into winners.
Hawks' fans should want Joe to stay, but many are wishing for him to go. Hey, some say, maybe we can do a sign-and-trade for two guys. That might give us championship pieces.
The problem is, the Hawks have two championship pieces—and Joe is one of them. Letting Joe go takes the franchise further away from being a championship contender.