When the heralded 2010 free-agent market opens this summer, most of the public's attention will be devoted to figuring out where LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) are going. But there's another prominent All-Star who figures to attract a lot of interest from NBA suitors, and he just might be among the most likely players to change teams.
Joe Johnson(notes) has the Atlanta Hawks contending now in the Eastern Conference, but several league sources say they wouldn't be surprised if the All-Star guard leaves this summer, specifically to sign with the Chicago Bulls. The Hawks' perch near the top of the East would likely keep them from moving Johnson – or any of their other core players – before next month's trade deadline, but rival team executives wonder if they'd be wise to field offers – even if league sources claim they see no reason to entertain offers now.
"At this point in my career, not too much is going to surprise me," Johnson said. "Who knows what's going to happen?
"I'm one of those guys that always prepares for the worst, but always hope for the best."
With Johnson, do-everything forward Josh Smith(notes), All-Star center Al Horford(notes) and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford(notes), the Hawks have assembled their most talented team since Dominique Wilkins was playing in his prime. The Hawks entered Friday's game against the Boston Celtics just a half-game behind Boston for the East's second-best record, and are legitimate contenders to reach the conference finals, even if they think no one is taking them seriously.
"We're still being viewed as underdogs," Johnson said. " … We can be as good as we want to be. We can beat any team in this league."
One of the reasons why the Hawks are often overlooked is that Johnson has little interest in the spotlight. He's turned down numerous marketing opportunities and when he did play for USA Basketball in recent years, he was overshadowed by bigger stars like James, Wade and Carmelo Anthony(notes). The most personality he's shown publicly came from some colorful tweets, but when the Hawks expressed concern about some of his comments, he immediately canceled his Twitter account.
"I enjoy playing under the radar," Johnson said. "I'm just a low-key kind of guy, man. I try not to grab too much attention. But I just play the game the right way and kind of go about my business."
Business looks like it will be good for Johnson this summer. He turned down a four-year, $60 million extension offer from the Hawks in the offseason in hopes of landing a more lucrative deal this summer. While the Hawks might be on the fence about giving Johnson a max deal, one of the many teams with deep pockets that miss out on Bosh, James, Wade or Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) could make an enticing offer. Even if the Hawks advance deep into the playoffs, expect Johnson to check out all of his options.
"I try not to think about it much," Johnson said.
Keeping coach Mike Woodson might help the Hawks' hopes of re-signing Johnson. Woodson has led the Hawks to the playoffs the past two seasons, and is contention to be the Eastern Conference's All-Star coach. He's also on this season's short list of Coach of the Year candidates, yet his contract expires after the season. Hawks general manager Rick Sund makes it a policy to not address contract issues until the offseason. Still, Johnson acknowledged that the decision on Woodson could play a role in his own.
The Hawks, meanwhile, would like Johnson to be more vocal and do more to promote the team. If he were to leave, Crawford could slide into his starting shooting guard position. Maybe the offense would even stagnate less if Johnson left.
But Johnson also is one of the game's most proven scorers. Letting him walk would be a big risk.
"We're having a good season right now," Johnson said in his usual unassuming style. "When July comes, that's when we will sit down and talk."
Staying or going?
With the trade deadline approaching, Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh can expect to hear his name discussed amongst all the speculation of possible deals. Multiple sources, however, said the Raptors don't expect to trade the future free agent prior to the deadline. Team officials are optimistic about their chances to re-sign Bosh, and, if they can't, the Raptors could potentially use him in sign-and-trade deals since they can offer the biggest contract.
"I know pretty much what's going on," Bosh said. "I knew coming into this there was going to be a lot of chatter, especially now that this trade deadline is coming. It's just a part of the game. That's what it is. I just keep doing my day-to-day and focus on what I'm doing right now."
After a slow start, the Raptors entered Friday having won four games in a row and seven of their past 11.
"We're playing OK," Bosh said. "We've had a good couple of weeks. We just need to work on being more consistent. I think once everybody gets totally on the same page … we can be a pretty good team.
"We have another big, huge push, if not two or three. I think we can finish out the second half of the season very, very strong and get some momentum going into the playoffs."
Charlotte Bobcats swingman Stephen Jackson(notes) returns to Oakland, Calif., on Friday night to face the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors sent Jackson to Charlotte on Nov. 16 after he repeatedly complained about the team's future and asked for a trade.
Jackson has flourished for the Bobcats, who are in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Warriors received guard Raja Bell(notes) and forward Vladimir Radmanovic(notes) in return for Jackson. Bell has been sidelined after having wrist surgery and Radmanovic has struggled.
With Monta Ellis(notes) now talking a leadership role and playing well and rookie guard Stephen Curry(notes) improving, Warriors general manager Larry Riley said he has no regrets about trading Jackson. Riley also laughed off speculation the Warriors have interest in trading Ellis.
"You never let things get personal," Riley said about the Jackson situation. "I'm convinced our team is better off. We haven't won more games, but it is a trade that helps both teams: Charlotte immediately, us as we go along."
League executives list Phoenix forward Amar'e Stoudemire and Philadelphia 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala(notes) among the biggest names most likely to be moved before the trade deadline – and there's even a chance they might be dealt for each other. If the cost-cutting Sixers did such a deal, they could try to use Stoudemire in a sign-and-trade during the offseason and not re-sign him. …The Dallas Mavericks figure to be among the most active teams before the trade deadline. The Mavericks' attractive trade chip: center Erick Dampier(notes), whose contract isn't guaranteed beyond this season. Rival teams also say to keep an eye on the Minnesota Timberwolves, who continue to struggle and are also suffering in the attendance and sponsorship departments. …After making two money-saving deals recently, New Orleans GM and coach Jeff Bower said: "I wouldn't say we're done. If there is something that presents itself where we can improve our team we will certainly look at it. But we're looking at it from as basketball perspective." Bower wouldn't give any insight on whether he'd like to coach beyond this season. …One GM said he wouldn't be surprised if Washington Wizards guard Javaris Crittenton(notes) is out of the NBA next season. Crittenton was suspended for the rest of the season for his role in the gun incident with Gilbert Arenas(notes) and will be a free agent this summer. "There are a lot of point guards that can do what he does without his drama," the GM said. Arenas, sources said, remains optimistic he'll receive probation and no jail time when he's sentenced on March 26. … The Oklahoma City Thunder are drawing trade interest for their two 2010 first-round draft picks: one is theirs; the other they picked up from Phoenix in the Kurt Thomas(notes) trade in 2007. The Thunder also own Minnesota's second-round pick this season. … Gerald Wallace(notes) is the Bobcats' first All-Star ever, and he understands what it means to the franchise. "It's the recognition that gives us an opportunity to be out there and be seen," he said. "We're not shown on TV as much and we don't have a lot of nationally televised games as a lot of other teams. It's recognition that we are one of the top teams in the East." … Two NBA scouts said not to be surprised if the usual Pac-10 draft pipeline does not produce a single first-round pick this year. Washington senior forward Quincy Pondexter is the only Pac-10 player who seems to be drawing strong interest from NBA teams. … New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul(notes) is expected to wear special black-and-gold Air Jordans in honor of the New Orleans Saints during Friday night's home game against the Chicago Bulls. Several Hornets are trying to figure out a way to get to see the Saints in the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Hornets play in Charlotte on Feb. 6 and then in Orlando on Feb. 8. …Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made headlines when he recently said he'd like to purchase the Warriors. Ellison attended the Warriors' home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 11, but sources say he went only because his nephew wanted to see LeBron James play. Warriors president Robert Rowell gushed over Ellison. While no sale seems imminent, hopeful Golden State fans are keeping an eye on Ellison, whose company has the naming rights to the Warriors' arena.