Posted May 2 2011 10:30AM
CHICAGO -- Joe Johnson will get his chance after all, playing deep into the NBA playoffs at United Center the way the Chicago Bulls told him he could.
Of course, when the Bulls pitched the idea last summer, their intent was to woo him away from the Atlanta Hawks as a max-contract free agent. Now Johnson will participate on the Bulls' court as a visitor, a rival in the teams' second-round Eastern Conference series that begins Monday night.
For a variety of reasons -- not the least of which was the $123 million contract Atlanta gave Johnson, the fattest deal of the biggest free-agent shopping spree -- the 6-foot-8 scoring star spurned Chicago's offer. The Bulls, similarly snubbed by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, went to Plan B and plugged the shooting guard spot by committee.
How did it work out? No one can gripe: Johnson made it to his fifth NBA All-Star Game. Atlanta is in the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, with three straight trips now to the conference semifinals.
Chicago won 62 games, most in the NBA. It got Coach of the Year and (presumably) Most Valuable Player performances out of Tom Thibodeau and Derrick Rose. The Bulls have reached the second round for only the second time since the Jordan-Pippen-Jackson dynasty ended. And the shooting-guard-by-committee convened, as committees are wont to do.
Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer -- at least two of whom wouldn't be in Chicago had Johnson signed -- combined to give the Bulls 19.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Of course they did it in 59.9 minutes, so for a proper comparison to Johnson's output, you'd have to calculate their numbers for the 35.5 minutes Johnson averaged for Atlanta.
Now you're looking at 11.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg and 2.6 apg, which is about two-thirds the scoring that Johnson gave the Hawks (18.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.7 apg) as their go-to guy for the sixth consecutive year.
But there are other ways to slice it. Three guys sharing the job, with Brewer's 22.0 minutes tops and starter Bogan's 17.8 the least, gave Thibodeau match-up options that a star at the position might not. He could shuffle through his deck of shooting guards as needed, addressing offensive or defensive factors. Foul trouble is less of an issue, especially on nights when Chicago's play seems indifferent to whoever is next to Rose.
Then there is financially: Johnson's $16.3 million salary for 2010-11 was about 43 percent more than the Bulls' $11.4 million tab for Bogans-Korver-Brewer. But come 2015-16, Atlanta could be paying $24.9 million to a 34-year-old Johnson; the Chicago trio will have cleared the books after 2012-13, with replacements available through Draft, trades or free agency.
That's how the Bulls view it long-term. Short-term, they expect Johnson to be as dangerous as ever, maybe more so with backcourt mate Kirk Hinrich iffy or worse for the series with a strained hamstring. Backup Jeff Teague is expected to get the first turn in the tank against Rose, but Teague averaged just 13.8 minutes and 5.2 points in the regular season.
Forward/center Al Horford actually was the most dangerous Hawk in three games against Chicago, averaging 17.0 points and 8.7 rebounds, and sixth man Jamal Crawford scored most (20.5 ppg) in the first-round ouster of Orlando. But Johnson knows and gets paid for times like this -- though his postseason scoring has dipped from his regular-season numbers in each of the past four years -- and Chicago expects a more aggressive look from him.
Bogans, whose offensive responsibilities pretty much end if he can nail a 3-pointer in each half, said he intends to pester an opponent he has faced since some Southeastern Conference battles when Bogans played at Kentucky and Johnson was at Arkansas. "Not giving him anything easy, making him work, not letting him move freely," the Bulls guard told the Chicago Tribune of his J.J. strategy. "Just make every pass, every cut, every shot contested."
The series could be determined elsewhere -- by the benches, in the frontcourt, on defense, by Hinrich's hamstring or Carlos Boozer's turf toe or with Rose simply being Rose. But the Bulls' and Hawks' divergent approach at shooting guard fits nicely into these playoffs.
Of the eight remaining teams, four lean on All-Stars at that position: Boston's Ray Allen, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Miami's Wade and Johnson. Three by choice or circumstances go heavier with defense or committees: Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha, Dallas' DeShawn Stevenson and Bogans. One, Memphis, is somewhere in between, given Tony Allen's impact since the All-Star Game (13.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg vs. 6.9, 2.1 and 1.1 prior to it).
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