77 million dollars. I'll repeat that. Seventy-seven million dollars. That's what the Atlanta Hawks saved in the span of about two hours on July 2nd. They dealt away Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams in separate deals and saved $77 million after this upcoming season. I'm not counting the 2012-2013 season. The only thing that matters for Atlanta is the 2013 offseason. They firmly believe, and I don't think anyone can even try to dispute their notion of it, that they can actually make a serious run at Dwight Howard and Chris Paul in the 2013 offseason. That's where the $77 million comes into play. Now, obviously, they don't get that all in one offseason but let's take a look at what the Atlanta Hawks of 2013-2014 can look like following one great offseason.
$13.05 million is the guaranteed money on the books for the Atlanta Hawks for the 2013-2014 season. So going into the 2013 offseason they're looking at, roughly, $45 million in open cap space to use on free agents. Because they'll be in that 7-9 years of service range, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul will be eligible for maximum contracts that total up to 30% of the salary cap each. So they'll take up 60% of the salary cap. And 60% of the salary cap, as of right now, is, roughly, $35 million. So that would leave the Atlanta Hawks with $10 million to spend. They'd have a roster of Chris Paul, John Jenkins, Al Horford, and Dwight Howard at that point in time. Now, with that $10 million, they can re-sign Josh Smith to a lesser deal if he so chooses or go another route. Yes, Smith is a close personal friend of Howard. They played high school ball together, AAU ball together, and one was the best man for the other in a wedding. But who does Atlanta go with in this situation? Well ..
What about a draft pick from 2013? The Atlanta Hawks, as of right now, are probably poised for a .500 or worse season. I think they could make a run towards a bottom seed in the Eastern Conference but I don't think they'll get anything beyond that. Danny Ferry knew that the ceiling for the Atlanta Hawks, as of two days ago, was the second round. He wanted more. So, how do you get more? By accepting the idea that you need less .. at least for one year. The 2013 draft pick will likely land itself in the late lottery or mid-teens of the first round. That puts them, at this point, in the range for someone like Adonis Thomas, Tony Mitchell, Otto Porter, Andre Roberson, or Kyle Anderson. If you're looking for the perfect fit at small forward, look no further than Tony Mitchell. Either way, the Hawks have options that offseason to help at small forward. I think they could bring back Josh Smith, though, so long as he agreed to a lesser contract so that the Hawks could pursue depth on the bench.
The real reason for this little FanPost, though, is Joe Johnson. He has widely been called the owner of the worst contract in the National Basketball Association. I disagree. And to be perfectly honest, he's not even in the top fifteen of worst contracts in the NBA right now. The problem with people is that they simply look at the money. Saying Joe Johnson has the worst contract in basketball is like saying Kobe Bryant has the worst. They don't. They're just overpaid. That doesn't make them bad deals, though. If you want to understand some bad deals I think you should all go look at guys like Tyrus Thomas, Nene, Joakim Noah, Brendan Haywood, Arron Afflalo, Kendrick Perkins, Thaddeus Young, and Andray Blatche. That's just to start out.
In the market economy that the NBA currently resides in, overpaying is the only way to get the guy you want most of the time. In only a few select cases does the team that can't offer the most money win the player. Paying Joe Johnson $18 million this past year might have seemed like a lot but it really wasn't. And you have to look at it in a very special light. Would you rather pay Joe Johnson close to $20 million next season or would you rather pay Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas $20 million combined next season? How about paying Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins $19 million? Yes, the contract starts to become a problem towards the back end but how many contracts aren't in a similar situation? Not many. Not many at all.
A 34-year old Joe Johnson will make roughly $25 million in 2015-2016. A 34-year old Kobe Bryant will make roughly $28 million this upcoming season. A difference of $3 million. That's a mini-MLE. Kobe Bryant this past season made $25 million. Joe Johnson, when he's 33, will make $23 million. When you really think about it, at the same age as Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson will be making less money. This is not being done to compare the two guys as players but simply as contracts. If Johnson's is bad then why isn't Kobe's? That's the underlying question here. Is it because of the success Kobe has had in the playoffs while Johnson has had trouble advancing anywhere of note? Probably.
The Hawks and Nets performed a deal that should go down as one of the most equal deals of all-time. Saddled with the idea that Dwight Howard was not going to come to Brooklyn, the Nets made a move so that they can be competitive in their new home. They found a trade partner that wanted to build for the future because they were tired of being stuck in mediocrity. They became dance partners and by the time the music stopped the two sides had worked out a deal that was beneficial to both. One side got separation, the other side got aspiration. It was a win-win all-around in reality. Do you really think the Nets wanted to risk moving to Brooklyn with zero assets in hand? Hell no. They wanted a product they could put on the court and be happy about it. They got it. The Hawks wanted a future. They got it.
The reason this deal should be particularly worrisome to Clippers fans is because it clears cap space for the Clippers main weapon; Chris Paul. A free agent to be in the 2013 offseason. A native of North Carolina. A guy who wanted to be drafted by Atlanta back in 2005. Chris Paul could be playing alongside Dwight Howard, who is a native of Atlanta, and Al Horford, one of the best big men in the game today. The perfect pick-and-roll trio. One guy can hit shots from the mid-range, one guy can dunk, and the other can dazzle you with moves and passes. It's a perfect match. Throw in a dead-eye shooter in John Jenkins, a draft pick or Josh Smith at small forward, and you have the makings of a super team. And it's a super team that actually fits perfectly together. Let me just say this. Let's say, for instance, that starting lineup is Chris Paul, John Jenkins, Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Dwight Howard. How do you score inside? I don't think you can. At all. On anyone from that front line.
A few years from now when Joe Johnson's legs are gone, his jumper is struggling, and he's having a tough time averaging 15 points per game, people will look back on this deal and laugh at the Brooklyn Nets. In all seriousness, they shouldn't. At this moment in time, it was the right move. Just like it was for the Atlanta Hawks. Think of it like a relationship. Atlanta treated Joe Johnson like a king, gave him whatever he wanted, paid him beyond his dreams, then decided it wanted to see what the grass was like on the other side of the fence. The only suitor was Brooklyn, a desperate headcase that wanted something to hold onto. Johnson basically went from a great girlfriend to one of those psychos. Either way, it works out for all parties.
Let me just part with this, by the way. I don't think Chris Paul is going to leave Los Angeles. However, if he does, Atlanta is the only place that makes sense. It's close to home but not too close. It's a busy place, full of life, and it has its own style. It has a basketball team that will at least have some talent on it and has a guy that, as of right now, is probably the second best all-around big man in the game, behind Pau Gasol, in Al Horford. It has a shooting guard that can hit shots when left open, like he would be if Paul were there. It has a small forward that needs someone to tell him to check his ego at the door and go with the flow of the offense. It just needs that leader. And it needs a center. Paul and Howard are friends. Paul likes Atlanta. Howard is from Atlanta. Howard is close friend with Josh Smith. The pieces add up. We might not like what they add up to but they definitely do add up. The Hawks could be soaring among the NBA elite by this time next year.