It's never a good sign when, a full week before a player is set to put pen to paper to ink his most recent contract, that a good portion of the NBA community regards that contract as the worst it has ever seen.
Not the worst trade, nor the worst draft selection. And we're not talking about considering Joe Johnson's(notes) new contract with the Atlanta Hawks (as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski) as the worst contract we've ever seen a few years into the deal, or a few years after it expires in retrospect.
We're feeling this way, right now. On July 1, seven days before he even gets to sign the deal. Worst contract, ever.
It's that bad. Six years, and $119 million dollars for a player regarded as a second option at best on a great team. At best. Johnson will be 29 years of age to start this contract, 35 to end it, so Atlanta will get his one peak season (unless last year's run of over 21 points and a combined 9.5 rebounds/assists was the best we've seen), and then the downfall.
At about $20 million a year.
Bear in mind that Johnson achieved those stats by absolutely dominating the ball for the Hawks. Just owning it, for large stretches, forcing either a potential score or a potential assist to be added to his ledger just about every other time down court. All while playing huge minutes, 38 per game in fact; which was actually the lowest mark we've seen from Johnson since his second year in the league.
[Photos: See Joe Johnson's moves on the court]
It's just an astonishing deal, on so many levels. A good part of me thinks that — because his stats are so inflated by his ball dominance and big minutes — that Johnson will be worth about half of his yearly salary next year (next year!), so imagine how far he'll taper off by 2016? Johnson isn't the most athletic player we've seen, he isn't tricky enough with the ball to get to the line much (a shocking 3.5 free-throw attempts per game, criminal for someone who has the ball so much, and for so long), and this isn't someone who will age well.
On top of that, didn't we watch him age quite considerably in the playoffs last season? Johnson averaged 11.8 points per game in the second round, shooting a terrifying 29.5 percent along the way. He seemed nonplussed as ever as his Hawks fell out of the second round again, and for the second time in five years, he's chosen big offseason money over a chance at a championship.
The Hawks? They're the big boys, here. They're supposed to be smarter than this, and in spite of all the talk about how this team had no choice but to stick with the status quo and see what happened? Bollocks.
This man could be nearly half of your salary cap in a few years. We have no idea how the new collective bargaining agreement will shake out, but even under the ridiculous payroll runs of the last six or seven years, handing nearly $120 million to a 29-year-old who has yet to do anything more meaningful than dribble a lot and shoot a lot and look real tired in January? It boggles the mind.
Yes, you're backed into a corner, and you can't afford to let your best offensive player go without any proper sign-and-trade compensation. I understand that, but signing above what you originally hoped to pay only goes so far. There has to be a cutoff price, at some point, and paying Joe Johnson around $20 million in 2015-16 has to be that point. Hell, paying Joe Johnson $20 million in 2011-12 has to be that point.
This is just an absurd contract that, even if the Hawks ownership is banking on selling the team midway through Johnson's deal as has been rumored, cannot be justified or argued-for in any meaningful way.
There's just no way around it. Joe is a nice player who might get to shoot himself into yet another All-Star berth next season. If he's lucky, the year after that, even. Give it to him. Let the Hawks roll to the second round again, earning the ownership a few more gate receipts as they take yet another first-round series to seven games.