The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

We’re In Trouble

If this is true.

Let’s be clear about how I feel about Joe Johnson then in advance of free agency, just so my inevitable complaints have some context. I think he is a very good player, a solid B+/7-out-of-10 type who could be extremely valuable to some teams as their second star and to any as their third star. He seems a likable, respectable man who’s easy to root for, and his work ethic is impressive. But this is an essentially perfect example of wrong man, wrong place, wrong time if it happens; the context is atrocious, the equivalent of hiring, I dunno, John Wayne to star in your biopic of Genghis Khan. It makes no sense on a rather epic scale. Here’s the problems with this:

– Age. Johnson will be 29 by opening day next year as a wing where athleticism is key. He’s a decent but hardly overwhelming shooter, which means he’s likely looking at substantial decline over the length of his next major contract. The Knicks cannot magically make themselves a contender in one year if they sign Johnson; it will require time to find all the pieces and align them correctly, and they will be fighting Johnson’s aging the entire way if they go this route.

– Wear and tear. Dude’s averaged 37 MPG over his career with 4 seasons over 40 MPG, including leading the entire league in minutes played in 03-04. He is not a young 29. His durability to this point in his career has been impressive, but from the Knicks’ perspective, who cares? You sign players and pay for the future and not the past, and the minutes played so far for Johnson are a major worry.

– Contract. This year is a seller’s market with many teams having pinned their whole hopes on signing free agents this year, which means the price for everyone with a pulse is going to be marked up over their theoretical “true value”. Johnson is NOT a max player, but he’s likely to end up with the max due to negotiating leverage. It gets harder and harder to find enough talent to fill out a contender’s roster when you sell all your draft picks for cap space and then blow the cap space on over-paying secondary talents. The phrase “Allen Houston Contract” should be in the minds of every Knicks fan at this point.

– Ability. Defensively Johnson has a solid reputation, and while solid wing defense is not usually the vessel in which championships arrive, it’s helpful. Offensively, Johnson is really good. Not great, not amazing, not excellent- really good. This year his PER is 19.16, his best year since 06-07, and largely in line with his usual career level of performance. That performance places him 33rd in the league in PER currently, sandwiched between Marc Gasol and Danny Granger. Among SGs he’s 5th, between Manu Ginobili and Jamal Crawford (yes, really). He’s never cracked the 20 barrier in PER. Like I said, really good, among the better players at his position if not close to being the best. But there’s no way on earth that performance merits a max contract which will lock an enormous portion of the team’s resources up for 5 or 6 years, even less so if Johnson declines substantially over the life of the deal as he’s likely to do.

– Alternatives. Look, I’m not Rudy Gay’s biggest fan or anything, but his PER is only 2 or so in back of Johnson’s and he’s 5 full years younger. Johnson is better right now and might always be, but if we’re going to insist on spending idiot money and blowing all of the cap space in one year on whichever overrated wing player will take it, why not at least get a guy who has room to improve and is likely to get better as his contract goes along rather than one who’s likely to fall off substantially?

Signing Johnson doesn’t have to be a disaster if he’s being brought in at substantially below-max dollars in order to be a sidekick to one of LeBron or Bosh; I just don’t have any faith that that’s likely to be the case. This is the last big contract of Joe Johnson’s career, it’s a seller’s market, and he’d be a damn fool to settle for anything less than the best offer which is very likely going to be for max money. If he gets that from the Knicks, that’s it; the team is basically done in terms of making major improvements for a long time to come, as no one will take the Johnson contract off of their hands without massive bribery- bribery which the Knicks won’t be able to afford given their lack of draft picks for the foreseeable future, which will also cut them off from the best source of cheap talent available to a capped-out team. Johnson is highly unlikely to be a bust, he’ll just end up as an enormous contractual weight dragging the team down and slowly turning fans against him, a situation that Knicks fans should be intimately familiar with after it happened several times with different players during the Layden/Isiah era. That’s the part which would make me the angriest really; the idea that nobody learned anything from what happened in what Isola calls the “lost decade”. Building this team around Johnson has the potential to kick off another lost decade, a possibility only partly mitigated if Johnson is paired with Bosh.

Trivia fact about that Wayne-as-Genghis movie- the movie actually proved to be a literally deadly case of wrong time, wrong place in the long term as the cast and crew were exposed to radioactive fallout during filming. That’s what happens when you don’t plan ahead.

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March 13, 2010 - Posted by | The NY Knicks

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