I'm growing tired of listening to Sam Smith plug Johnson on the radio and in his blog. KC Johnson recently plugged Johnson as well, saying that we might be best served locking in Johnson instead of waiting on LeBron and getting nothing.
If Joe Johnson is the primary piece we sign this summer, then this summer was a complete failure. This doesn't apply to a Bosh/Amare pairing with Johnson. Then one of those guys would be the primary piece and Johnson would just be the supplemental one.
However, if Joe Johnson is the main guy, we lost big time.
For starters, let's first dispel the notion that Johnson is worth a max contract. That's patently ridiculous. If he was operating on the first level max contract limiting him to around 15 million per season, I might be persuaded to say it's not that bad. You could at least make the argument. You'd be ignoring his age, playoff performance, and paying him for his past rather than his future, but you could make the case.
His max deal would run the Bulls 18.6 million a year. A top 5 player is a bargain at that rate. A guy in the 6-10 range is on a fair contract. A guy in the 11-15 range you're getting into the overpaid range, but maybe he's worth it if he's the final piece.
Start paying guys in the 16-20 range that, and you're okay if they're on the rise and likely to continue improving, but otherwise, you'd better be ready to win immediately with this guy because it's a lot of cheddar and won't look pretty as time goes on.
You start drifting into the 20+ range, and you start dipping into the "complete idiot" zone.
So where is Johnson in the NBA?
LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Carmelo, Paul, D. Williams, Roy, Amare, Bosh, Nowitzki, Nash, Duncan, Howard, and Durant are inarguably better than Joe Johnson. I mean, you can't even make a case for Johnson ahead of any of those guys right?
Gasol, Pierce, Garnett, Billups, Parker, Ginobili, Rose, Rondo, Boozer, Josh Smith, and Granger are all guys you could make a case for over Johnson, and there might be a couple more if you want to stretch it out there, but I probably wouldn't argue anyone else, and I'd probably take Johnson over several of the guys listed above for sure.
So say Johnson falls somewhere in that range. He's presently, right now, somewhere between the 15th and 26th best player in the NBA. Hey, that's a nice player, we'd all like to add that guy to our team, but not when you are paying him the fair contract value of a guy in the 6-10 range when he's on the down side of his career.
Especially when you look closer at Johnson's game.
Click here to see what you're getting into. Take a look at another 28 year old shooting guard the Bulls added whose game and place in the NBA hierarchy were extremely similar to Johnson's at the time he joined us.
The thing is, the old adage about a guy's prime being from 28 to 32 is a bunch of crap. A guy's prime is 26-30, maybe 25-29 is even more accurate. Sure, they don't all turn into dust at 30-31, but the signs of decline are inevitably there. Joe Johnson has maybe two prime years left, and on a max contract, his talent level at present is somewhere between overpaid and oh my god what the hell did we do?
Now if that were the worst of it, that'd be bad enough, but it's not. It gets even worse. I've just been discussing Johnson in the context of what he is overall and whether he deserves a max contract, which he doesn't.
Look at his specific fit on the Bulls:
Joe Johnson runs more isolation plays than just about any guard in the league. His whole game is predicated on dominating the ball. Do you want to bring in a guard who's going to dominate the ball for the next five years?
I know what you're going to say already, "But Johnson's a good spot up shooter", do you want to pay a spot up shooter 18 million a year? That's a bit ridiculous isn't it? Johnson's not the kind of guy who's coming off screens to get his shots, he's not a guy who's going to help you off the ball, he's not a great up tempo player at this stage of his career either.
Joe Johnson is also not a great defender and as he ages and loses lateral quickness he'll become a greater liability. The thing is, speed kills in the NBA, and Johnson isn't fast. There's a reason why there aren't 6'8 SGs in the NBA as a general rule, they aren't fast enough to defend the position, and neither is Johnson. He's a SF masquerading as a SG.
With all of his glorious height, Joe Johnson rebounds about as much as Ben Gordon which should tell you something, and in my opinion, he defends about as much as well.
Joe Johnson would help out a team that needs a dominant ball handler and play maker considerably. He'd maximize his skills on a team like that. The Bulls aren't that team. If the Knicks sign Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson would be a great addition for them to add to Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Amare for example. However, he's not the guy you add to a team that has what you hope is a top 2-3 PG in the NBA in the next couple of seasons.
I'm okay talking to Johnson. Talk to him after you've tried every other avenue, and then talk to him about a 12-13 million dollar a year contract. Otherwise, just wait it out. It might feel worse now not getting anyone, but in two years after signing him he's either going to go down the Jalen Rose path or the Ray Allen path.
Rose declined fast enough that teams couldn't wait to get him off their team whereas Allen carried enough value to still be helpful to some franchises. Unfortunately, Johnson's game is so on-ball dominant that the Jalen path is far more likely than him becoming a good supporting player.
In a nutshell, this is why teams who sign guys like Iverson, Marbury, McGrady, etc.. after they decline hoping to rekindle some of the magic always lose out. Those players can't contribute as role players. When their skills decline too much to feature in an offense, they no longer have the ability to help a team as a secondary guy because their games don't fit that role. Johnson's probably not as bad off the ball as those three, but his game certainly isn't built for off the ball play.
In the end, it adds up to this, you do whatever you can to get Bosh or LeBron, if that fails, your next step is to do whatever you can to get Amare. If that fails, your next step is to cautiously pursue David Lee and Carlos Boozer. If that fails, you see if Johnson's willing to be reasonable or not, and the odds are not, since the Hawks have already thrown out the unreasonable offer.
The odds look better and better that the Bulls are going to get someone better than Johnson, let's hope so, because if it comes down to Johnson at 18 million, fear the rest of Rose's career.