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The Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks surprised a lot of people yesterday when it was announced they had agreed to a trade involving Joe Johnson and his oversized contract. The Nets get Johnson while the Hawks receive Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson through a sign-and-trade, and Houston's lottery-protected 2013 first round draft pick. The trade can't be finalized until July 11, but the framework is in place.
In the short-term, I like this move for the Nets, especially if Deron Williams resigns. Johnson might be overpaid, but he is still a very talented basketball player. Even though he became much more of a scorer when he signed with Atlanta, I think his best years were in Phoenix playing opposite an elite point guard in Steve Nash. In the 2004-05 season, Johnson started all 82 games for the Suns scoring 17 a game and making a career-high 47.8% of his threes. He didn't have to be the primary orchestrator on offense like he did in Atlanta (with Mike Bibby at the point). If you pair him up with Deron Williams, a top-three point guard in the league, I think it would be safe to say his shooting percentages would rise and he would be a much more useful scorer if he doesn't have to be “the guy” like he was in ATL.
Should Williams stay and Brooklyn can tie up its other loose ends, the Nets have a formidable starting lineup with some decent scoring options off the bench. Williams and Johnson form a very talented backcourt offensively. Gerald Williams was just resigned to a four-year, $40 million contract. If Kris Humphries and Robin Lopez are retained, that's a decent starting five in the Eastern Conference. Bring in scorers MarShon Brooks and Gerald Green off the bench along with newly-signed big man Mirza Teletovic from Bosnia. Throw in rookie Tyshawn Taylor, Sheldon Williams, and potentially Adam Morrison plus some others and you have yourself a team.
Obviously a lot of this hinges on Williams resigning, which isn't certain. If he leaves, Brooklyn is in an odd scenario with their roster. Where things get even trickier for Brooklyn is in the coming years. Johnson's contract was heavily backloaded and when he is 35 (he's 31 now), he will be making around $25 million, or almost a third of the salary cap. Wallace will be owed $10 million. Williams, if he signs, is likely to receive a max deal. That's a ton of money tied up in just three players. It will be hard to put together a roster that can stay below the new hard cap, and any one that does will be filled with minimum contracts.
This is why this move (paired with the trade of Marvin Williams to Utah) are steps in the right direction for the Hawks and new GM Danny Ferry. Atlanta will have plenty of cap space for next summer when Chris Paul and Dwight Howard will both be free agents. They have solid pieces to build around in Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Jeff Teague. They have a solid coach in Larry Drew. This team has a legitimate shot to build in a positive direction now instead of lamenting in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture like they have been.
I think this trade made sense for both teams, even if it means the Nets might be in trouble a few years from now. Johnson will help the Nets because he's better than people give him credit for and should pair nicely with Williams and Wallace. The Hawks have a lot of flexibility now to really make a splash next offseason or potentially trade for a bigger star. Both teams definitely got a lot more interesting in the process.