Despite his poor play and his team’s early exit from the playoffs, Joe Johnson is still going to have serious suitors in free agency this summer. He can be confident in knowing the New York Knicks are going to be one of them.
Regardless of whether Johnson choked in the playoffs (or caused the firing of Hawks coach Mike Woodson), the fact that he has helped ascend the Hawks out of the basement of obscurity should not be forgotten.
Since Johnson left the Mike D’Antoni-led Suns to experience stardom in Atlanta, he has become a four-time All-Star.
After escaping the shadows of the likes of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, Johnson has come into his own and proved he can lead a team; perhaps not yet to a championship but, at the very least, to a good standing in the playoffs.
As the city of New York clings on to the prayer that LeBron James signs with the Knicks, Joe Johnson is quickly becoming a “plan-B” front-runner.
All aspects of popularity and marketing aside, the Knicks have desperately lacked a leader in past seasons. A four-time all-star whose team finished third in the Eastern Conference standings certainly qualifies as one in my book.
While Johnson averaged 17 points as a third or sometimes even fourth option with the Suns, there were obvious times when D’Antoni just wanted to get him the ball and see an offensive explosion. But Johnson was still young back then and more notable stars were on the team.
Now in charge of a Knicks squad that has a still-developing supporting core of Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, D’Antoni would have no qualms about giving the reins of his offense to Johnson.
In addition to being an effective first option on offense, Johnson is a playmaker. The Chris Duhon experiment failed and, with Toney Douglas the only other point guard on the roster, Johnson would be asked to bring up the ball more times than not.
The Knicks are a team with many aspects appealing to Johnson—a big city with an even bigger market, a coach with whom he is familiar and has succeeded, and a maximum contract to offer.
Johnson left the Suns to be the star of the smaller market Hawks. With that type of experience under his belt and the Hawks’ next head coach still unknown, the bright lights in the city of New York seem to be an inviting next step in the progression of Johnson’s career.
With the Hawks a bit stagnant, still below the Cavs, Magic, and even the Celtics in power rankings, it may be smart to leave Atlanta now to build a winner in New York with the team’s massive cap room and few rebuilding pieces.
Now, of course, Johnson as a No. 1 option is still “plan-B.” It is important not to lose sight of the possibility of LeBron James joining the Knicks.
Even if that miracle does happen, however, Johnson would still be an option. Numerous sources, including ESPN’s Ric Bucher, have mentioned that James wants to play with Johnson.
When asked about the possibility of playing together, Johnson was quoted as saying, “I’ll sacrifice” in signing a lesser contract if it meant being James’ running mate.
Nevertheless, if James evades the Knicks, Johnson is an astounding consolation prize. His own signing could also lead the Knicks to sign Carlos Boozer or the former Johnson-teammate and D’Antoni-coached Stoudemire.
Some of the summer’s top free agents, including James, Johnson, and Dwyane Wade, are scheduled to meet regarding their free agent plans. Despite Wade’s remarks that he does not want to come to New York, Knicks fans should remain hopeful that something positive will come from these potential candidates coming together.
LeBron or no LeBron, the Knicks are poised to upgrade the team considerably. With everything Joe Johnson has gone through thus far in his career, a marriage between both parties just seems like the most logical next step on his quest to become one of the league’s elite.
The bright lights and cheering fans await.
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