Welcome back to our weekly dose of all things from the Highlight Factory!
We wanted to take some time to let the emotion pass once the announcement had been made that former assistant coach Larry Drew had been promoted to the head coaching position. Amidst the jubilation that Mike Woodson would no longer be manning the sidelines, questions surround this organization after Drew was chosen this past Saturday.
The biggest question is what to do with impending free agent, four-time All-Star guard Joe Johnson. Johnson, who didn't exactly endear himself to the Atlanta faithful with his critical comments of the fans during their playoff series with the Orlando Magic this past May, has made no indication that staying in Atlanta is his first priority. Also, it was well known that Johnson was a supporter of Woodson. That could be a big factor in whether or not he stays to receive the maximum contract under the NBA's "Larry Bird" rule, which states that a free agent can earn more with his current team than with any other organization.
Drew has been known for implementing an up-tempo offense during the team's summer camps in the past, which may appeal to players like Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. The Hawks are at their best when they are moving on the fast break, and that style of play could also entice Johnson to stay. Numerous times during the playoffs, it was the isolation offense that Woodson liked to employ that hurt Atlanta against teams with half-court offenses.
That said, I believe that it is in Atlanta's best interest to envision their future without Johnson. He has shown a propensity for disappearing in the postseason, seeing his average drop to 13 points per game against Orlando. Even when he is double-teamed, he hasn't shown the ability to lift the play of his teammates, which is required of the great ones in the league.
Although Drew has made it public that keeping Johnson is one of their major offseason priorities, wouldn't Atlanta be better off if they didn't commit so much of their salary cap to a player who hasn't stepped up his game when it matters most?
Atlanta could definitely obtain much-needed depth in a sign-and-trade with other teams throughout the league. Even with a run-first style offense, they need more depth in the frontcourt to go along with All-Star Al Horford to battle the likes of Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James, no matter where the latter two end up.
Should they decide to trade Johnson, they should do whatever is necessary to bring back former guard Josh Childress, who is still under contract for the Hawks. Childress has been looking to return to the NBA after the past two seasons in Greece, and now that Woodson is gone, it might improve his chances of playing for the Hawks again. Childress is the kind of player who doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective, and he will be hungry to play for a big contract.
Another issue with the roster involves guard Jamal Crawford. Crawford, who won last year's NBA Sixth Man of the Year award, had trouble playing alongside Johnson during crunch time. I think, with Johnson gone, he would have more range to shoot. Also, if Drew is planning on implementing more passing, it could open up holes for Crawford to find his way to the basket.
They must also determine what to do with Williams, who had a career-low in scoring this past year. He hasn't shown the ability of a second overall draft pick, as he was in 2005, to be that second banana scorer that Atlanta thought he was going to be. Moving him to the bench would be their best option at this point.
Speaking of point, Drew stated in his initial press conference that rookie guard Jeff Teague will get the chance for more playing time, which could mean that veteran Mike Bibby may move to the bench. One of Atlanta's biggest problems was the inability to move the ball, creating a lot of one-on-one match-ups—a weakness of the Hawks.
A lot can change between now and July 1st. That being said, Atlanta may have the right coach with the right game plan in place.