If Joe Johnson Leaves, Atlanta Hawks Should Look at Manu Ginobili

Jack BenderCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 18:  Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game against the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena on January 18, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Last Friday night, the look on Michael Jordan's face after Atlanta's Joe Johnson beat the Charlotte Bobcats with a long range jumper at the buzzer was priceless.  Johnson ruined Jordan's first night as the Bobcats owner.  

The look on my face was one of resignation and fear. 

Joe Johnson probably is leaving the Hawks after this season. 

Fear?  I remember those years in the early part of this century before Joe's arrival in the ATL. 

Pain and suffering come to mind. 

Think about what the fans in Minnesota are going through now with Kurt Rambis playing the role of Terry Stotts.  Hawks fans have seen that horror movie just five short years ago.  Ouch.

This weekend, even more gasoline was thrown on the fire when Lebron James expressed his enthusiasm for playing with Super Joe. 

If JJ leaves for the Cavaliers to play with Lebron, or if Joe leaves the nest for the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden, the Atlanta Hawks must have a strategy to remain one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. 

The Hawks must consider making a run at the Spurs' Manu Ginobili.

When you look at the statistics, Johnson and Ginobili have comparable numbers.  Clearly, Joe has an edge, but he plays almost 11 more minutes a game than Ginobili.  Manu can score, rebound, and pass at an All-Star level.  He is not the defensive player that Johnson is, but Manu is crafty and plays the passing lanes. 

Joe is bigger and can post up smaller players, but otherwise on the offensive end of the floor, Ginobili does a better job at creating shots for other people than Joe does.  Ginobili is much better operating out of a screen and roll play.  He is just as dangerous operating one on one from the top of the floor. 

He actually might be more difficult to guard at times because he is left-handed and he has deceptively long first step.  Johnson often beats people with his dribble moves and not his initial offensive footwork.

I give the overall player edge to Joe Johnson, but Ginobili is not far behind.  Ginobili also has championship level experience in the NBA and internationally. 

Joe has neither. 

Both players seem to possess quiet, leadership ability.  I think Ginobili might hate to lose more than Joe.

Ginobili would be a risky move for the Hawks.  He turns 33 years old this summer and he has a ton of game mileage on his legs.  He is also more injury prone than Johnson.  So if he plays for Argentina in the summer, he could risk injury.  However, he is going to be about $50 million cheaper than Joe.

$50 million. 

Say that out loud.  Manu Ginobili is $50 million dollars cheaper than Joe Johnson.  Joe is looking for a max deal to stay with Atlanta.  He turned down a four year $60 million dollar extension at the end of last summer. 

He might take that to play with Lebron, but not to come back to Atlanta.  To come back, you have to figure five years for $80 million.

Meanwhile, you might be able to lure Ginobili out of San Antonio with Andre Miller money from last summer—3 years and $30 million.  Ginobili is making almost $11 million this year.  At 33 years old at the beginning of this new contract, $30 million might look very good to the crafty left-hander.

Also, it is clearly time for Manu to leave San Antonio.  The Spurs are going to start making moves to get younger.  They have not signed Manu to an extension; and as late as last month, the Spurs were wondering what Manu had left in the tank. 

Finally, Ginobili has to want a chance to start for a full season.  He would come into the Hawks and fit right into the starting spot at the shooting guard spot. 

Ginobili fits right in with a Hawks team that is now seeing the emergence of Al Horford and Josh Smith.  The Hawks still would have a go-to offensive scorer and playmaker at the end of the game.

Listen, I do not want to see Joe leave Atlanta.  He comes to play every night.  Coach Woodson has ridden him into the ground the past three regular seasons.  But, I do not blame Joe for wanting to be Lebron’s sidekick. 

Lebron takes all the pressures off and makes the game easier for all of his teammates.  

Maybe, he knocks down a couple of game winners in the Finals like a John Paxson or Steve Kerr.  

Maybe, Joe gets a championship ring.

Whatever the case, the Hawks need a plan in case Joe leaves.  The level of expectations in this town for NBA basketball and for winning has been raised. 

Hawks’ fans are not going to be happy going back to the bottom of the NBA.  Ginobili is a guy the Hawks could target to remain competitive at a high level without having to break up the young nucleus of this team.