There have always been two things regarding the world of sports that I never understood: The continuous use of the BCS in determining the national championships and handing out enormous contracts to athletes in when it is unwarranted.
The BCS is a crisis that has gotten better over time; therefore, the public aren’t too discontent over it. However, issuing large million-dollar contracts to athletes that are under-performing is at an all-time high in all sports. You have the Vin Bakers and the Larry Browns—players who became victims of their over-priced contracts, with the latter fizzling out a couple years after a monster Super Bowl performance.
Yes, Joe Johnson has some great talent. He’s been a good player, but I’m using "good" loosely. His contract, however, of $123 million over six years is flat-out ridiculous. At this point in his career, a player like Johnson should not be in consideration to be in the franchise.
I know many will say that you shouldn’t offer anyone a large contract when their prime basketball days are declining, but Joe Johnson isn’t one of those cases. He’s different, since he hasn't demonstrated that he can lead a team to the league title. In fact, Johnson doesn’t show the drive to succeed that’s reminiscent of Wade, Kobe, Dirk or other greats in the playoffs at all.
Besides the fact that Johnson is an overachiever talent-wise, he is usually missing when it comes to key situations and games in the playoffs. A player of his caliber and talent shouldn’t be discussed as overrated, but neither should they be awarded lucrative contracts.
In the four seasons that he has led the Hawks to the postseason, Johnson has averaged just over 18 points while shooting at 41.3 percent clip from the field, and the Hawks have never advanced beyond the second round in this tenure.
With Johnson, the Hawks are a playoff contender, but without him they are stuck with his fellow underachieving teammate, Josh Smith. I remember watching ESPN right around “The Decision” hoopla, when Johnson signed his deal. I knew that, like everyone else that an organization has overreached to sign, Johnson would soon falter in his expectations to live up to that contract.
But the problem that arises is that Johnson hasn’t been living up to his own talent, either. He showed flashes of his skill during his stint in Phoenix and even in his second season in Atlanta, averaging 25 points per game—although he missed 25 games. Yet, showing flashes of greatness is the equivalent of "almost got it, but not there", and Johnson is almost-a-superstar player.
He averaged 18 points last season, with four rebounds and nearly five assists per game. Not to mention shooting 44 percent, which slightly dipped nearly two points from the previous season, and his three-point percentage (29.7 percent) was his lowest since his rookie season. Those stats are pretty good for a player who is second fiddle, but that’s a bad sign when hundreds of millions of dollars are invested into one particular player.
Joe Johnson has the skill set to dominate, night in and night out. He’s 6’7", 240 pounds, and easily one of the bigger guards in the NBA right now. But the begging question is: When Atlanta offered and issued him that contract, did they see something we didn’t as fans?
Of course, and don’t get me wrong at all: Atlanta is a money-making city. However, it is dwarfed by the titan cities of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City in terms of economy, team interest and revenue. Because of players like Joe Johnson, who are now large investments, teams must make sure they are prepared for these conditions. Handing out these types of contracts is like financing a big-budget record/movie deal.
If Joe Johnson continues to under-perform according to his contract and potential, Atlanta will be stuck paying a 35-year-old player $24 million to come off the bench. Revenue in home games, possibly future playoff games at home, merchandise, etc. will be lost. Atlanta will lose money because of this bad investment, and will obviously need to let him go soon.
Again, Atlanta doesn’t have the funds that the Lakers or Knicks have, so if a deal blows through, they can immediately recoup faster. Atlanta cannot afford this predicament, and that worries me. I seriously wish I could have been there during their negotiation talks in that LeBron-summer of 2010.
This brings me to my conclusion. An organization should never hand out big-money contracts unless it is not only financially equipped and stable to handle the load, but also the complete trust in a player's talent that it can transform its worth into playoff/NBA finals appearances, great statistical seasons and overall just prove that the team made the right choice.
Joe Johnson is none of that, and his clock is ticking. Hopefully, he can have a much better and consistent season this year and give his fans and critics 123 million reasons to smile.