NBA Free Agency Rumors: Is a Joe Johnson Sign-and-Trade In the Works?

Adrian V.Correspondent IJuly 1, 2010

ATLANTA - MAY 10:  Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks against the Orlando Magic during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 10, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Reports out of Atlanta suggest at 12:01 A.M. on Thursday morning, the Hawks offered free agent Joe Johnson a maximum contract worth $124 million over six years.

This offer makes it only a matter of time before Johnson, who can't get a better deal financially anywhere else, signs on the dotted line.

But I have a question no one—not even TNT's David Aldridge—is asking.

Does this contract mean Johnson will be in a Hawks uniform next season?

The simple but possibly naive answer is yes. Johnson was the leader of a Hawks team that won 53 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs last season. Johnson's return to a young, talented and improving team (Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams are all under the age of 25) all but ensures a similar run for the Hawks next season.

But, if Atlanta's front office was unwilling to give Johnson this kind of contract all season long, why are they so aggressively willing to do so now?  Especially, considering Johnson's atrocious showing—39 percent from the field; 22 percent on threes—in the playoffs.

Jamal Crawford, the Sixth Man of the Year, can seamlessly step into the starting two-guard slot and allow the Hawks to focus on their biggest need, a center. Isn't this a wiser alternative to giving Johnson, who averaged just 17.8 points and shot 40 percent in 29 playoff games with the Hawks, a contract that will pay him over $23 million when he's 35 years old?

Hawks management was willing to let him go all along yet, now they want him back like a high school girlfriend.

Don't get it twisted—something bigger is at play here. 

I believe Johnson could be mulling over a sign-and-trade to another team.