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NBA Free Agency Watch: The Top Three Destinations for Joe Johnson

Joel C. Cordes@@bballJoelNBA Associate EditorApril 8, 2010

ATLANTA - JANUARY 29: Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks against the Boston Celtics at Philips Arena on January 29, 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

Is it too early to be doing this? I mean, we haven't even made it to the Playoffs yet.  Aren't we supposed to be looking forward to those first?

Of course, if we're talking about LeBron however, this conversation is already two-plus years old!

So, let's begin to speculate, prognosticate, and even commiserate with those players not named LeBron—maybe we'll get around to him eventually—who are facing tough decisions about their future locations.

We don't have to limit our conversations concerning these top-flight free agents simply to the teams with loads of offseason cap space—as sign and trades are certainly always possible—but we must give them special consideration, as the odds are in their favor to make a big splash.

So, with our first installment, we ask the question: "Where's the best place for Joe Johnson to wind up by the time this summer is over?"  We answer in descending order:

 

1. Atlanta Hawks

It's not that I'm opposed to change. Far from it, actually. 

In this case however, Joe Johnson's smartest choice would be not to mess with the good thing he's already got going.

If you're Joe Johnson, why would you want to move on to a rebuilding team like the Nets and spend a couple of years trying to gain traction? Didn't you just get done doing that in Atlanta?

Would you really want to pair up with another superstar in New York, have to become the team's second gun, and probably play on a roster devoid of role players and depth? 

Why do that when you are the undisputed top dog on your current team, which also happens to feature some of the most athletic and developed young forwards in the league?

Joe Johnson's three position versatility is rightfully going to be a coveted commodity this offseason.  However, his skill set has developed alongside a cadre of players who complement each other so well in a hierarchy that is already established.

True, there might be a few extra dollars involved to leave, but the actual chances of personal and professional success are greater alongside the likes of Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams. 

I would hate to see Joe cash out early on his investment of the past five seasons.  He came to Atlanta during one of the franchise's lowest points.  He has been a part of the Hawks' ascension to the NBA's near-elite.  Why leave now and miss out on the payoff?

 

2. Chicago Bulls

Could Joe Johnson thrive as the second fiddle to a LeBron or Dwayne Wade?  His versatility and relatively unassuming manner indicate that he very well could. 

However, as stated above with the Hawks, I believe that Joe Johnson will be most successful as a No. 1 star surrounded by a talented supporting cast of 1a. and near-star players.

Like Atlanta, the Chicago Bulls have an intriguing roster that is filled with legitimate near-stars in Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, while also possessing a player in Derrick Rose who could alternate with Joe Johnson as the lead on a nightly basis. 

Add Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, and James Johnson as the other Bulls scheduled to return next year, and Chicago could field a very potent eight-man rotation, while filling out the rest of the roster with adequate depth after Joe Johnson's signing.

A starting lineup of Rose, Joe Johnson, Deng, Gibson, and Noah would be more than athletic and multi-faceted enough to make up for the continuing lack of a post-up player. 

It's entirely possible that Chicago could still address that lessened need via a trade or reasonable free-agent signing.  With Johnson aboard however, a low-post signee no longer needs to be a star-caliber acquisition.  Instead, he just has to be a "different look" role player.

The Bulls will rightly make a big play for hometown hero Dwayne Wade, but in the event that he opts to go elsewhere, Joe Johnson is a perfect fit to step in and round out a Chicago roster that has always seemed just one piece away.

 

3. Minnesota TimberWolves

I know. I know. You're wondering whether this is Dr. Trade simply being a homer, since he's one of the five people left in the world who care about the Wolves—and he's writing in third person again...

True, teams like New York and New Jersey would give Joe Johnson the spotlight, the ratings, and the exposure, but look again at what Minnesota could potentially flank around him.

The T-Wolves horrendous season has been about pick-and-roll or off the dribble pegs being forced into a Triangle Offense hole. 

The bigger problem has been the fact that, despite Al Jefferson's considerable low-post ability, the Wolves do not possess a top-flight player who is capable of carrying them in multiple categories on any given night.

Enter Joe Johnson. 

He is the prototypical swingman whose size, ball-handling, and multi-range shooting skills could make him a perfect fit for Kurt Rambis' variation of the Triangle Offense.

Now, Johnny Flynn could attack the basket, while not always having to initiate the offensive cycle. 

Now, Corey Brewer could do the defensive dirty work for Johnson against the opposition's best wing, while being moved back to his own natural position at the Small Forward spot. 

This would also allow Ryan Gomes' return to a bench role that doesn't ask too much of him. Doing that would then give Minnesota a much less repulsive second-unit by adding Gomes to the current core of Ramon Sessions and Kevin Love.

While this still doesn't answer the Al Jefferson vs. Kevin Love question—believe it or not, if he stays, Darko Milcic actually fixes the problem of who should spot minutes at center, but that's another story for a different time—it helps to shore up the wing speed and scoring deficiencies that have plagued the Wolves this year. 

In a way, that will then help protect Jefferson and Love's dearth of shot-blocking ability.

Will Joe Johnson buy into the idea that the Wolves current 15-win roster isn't nearly as hopeless as it looks from the outside? Would he bypass the fame, alternative revenue streams, and slightly less horrendous winters available with a New York or Chicago? 

You're right, he probably wouldn't. 

However, Minnesota offers him a 1a. wingman with Al Jefferson, and an underestimated cast of supporting players who would benefit from having a legitimate star carry the burden and return them to more realistic roles.

Believe it or not, the TimberWolves and Joe Johnson could mutually benefit to an enormous degree from being paired together. Plus, out of all the available stars this offseason, Johnson would actually be the best fit for the current Wolves' roster. 

Come on. Let me dream once in a while...

- "Dr. Trade"

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