On paper the price the Hawks paid for Joe Johnson in their sign-and-trade with Phoenix seems exorbitant: a five-year, $70 million contract, plus the two conditional No. 1 draft picks and 2003 first-rounder Boris Diaw. After all, the 6'7" Johnson was only the Suns' fourth-best player last season. And like the top talent that Atlanta already had--Al Harrington, Josh Childress, Josh Smith and the No. 2 pick from North Carolina, Marvin Williams--Johnson is best suited to playing the two or the three.
But after six straight losing seasons (including a league-worst 13--69 record last year), and after being jilted by high-profile free agents such as Kenyon Martin and Carlos Boozer in 2004, the Hawks were desperate to lavish some of their $24 million in cap space on a potential All-Star who reciprocated their interest. The 24-year-old Johnson fit the bill. "I grew up in the South [Little Rock], so that definitely had a role in me wanting to come to Atlanta," he says. "I think we have some special players here." Because of the logjam on the perimeter, the Hawks will need Johnson to start at the point, a position he has manned with mixed results during his five-year career. He'll also be asked to reprise his 47.8% three-point shooting from last season; Atlanta shot an NBA-low 31.2% from beyond the arc in '04--05.
Second-year coach Mike Woodson won't hesitate to put all five swingman-sized players on the floor at once. "This thing of ones, twos, threes, fours--we've got to start throwing it out the door," he says. "Because it limits guys and their skills." --B.R.
Enemy Lines An opposing team's scout sizes up the Hawks
"The tragic death of backup center Jason Collier should be a rallying point for this team. I'm hoping coach Mike Woodson can help his young players focus on what is really important in life and draw strength from that.... Josh Childress is a fearless offensive rebounder, but he only shot 23.2% from the three-point line. He needs to develop a step-back move to create space or improve his quirky shooting stroke. It takes him too long to get off the shot against good defenders.... Marvin Williams can run the floor and face up for a 17-footer, but he can't create off the dribble, so he'll have to start out as a power forward before eventually switching to small forward.... Salim Stoudamire will be as effective scoring off the bench as Ben Gordon was for the Bulls last year. Not only does Stoudamire possess NBA range and confidence, he'll be stoked to show other teams they made a big mistake by not picking him in the first round.... The question about Josh Smith is whether he'll be more than a dunker. Woodson has been on him about putting in the hard work to become a complete player.... Al Harrington sets a good example. He went to the trouble of developing a low-post game, and he's known for working hard during the summer. He'll put forth an especially good effort this year because he's playing for a new contract."
Last season Joe Johnson became the fourth player to make at least 150 three-pointers while shooting better than 45% from beyond the arc.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004--05 statistics
Record: 13--69 (15th in East)
Points scored: 92.7 (28th in NBA)
Points allowed: 102.5 (29th)
Coach: Mike Woodson (second season with the Hawks)
FG% 47.0 2
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (college stats)