When is turning down $63 million a good idea? That question is best posed to the Hawks’ Joe Johnson, so we’re playing through him first in the Weekly Post-Ups:
• Johnson has been a very good/borderline outstanding player for the past few years, averaging 20-plus points four years in a row on a team that has improved every season. But a four-year extension for about $63 million would seem to be a no-brainer for a player who’s never had true superstar impact and who will turn 30 in 2011. Not so fast. Johnson passed, instead opting for the chance to get a more lucrative six-year deal next summer – either by staying in Atlanta or achieving a sign-and-trade arrangement to play for another team of his choice. But there’s more to this equation that could wind up paying off very handsomely for Johnson. With so many teams having money to spend next summer, what happens if LeBron James stays in Cleveland and Dwyane Wade stays in Miami? Regardless of what happens with Chris Bosh, there will be at least 10 teams standing around with massive cap space and nothing to spend it on. Enter Johnson, a nice fallback option. “Does it cross my mind from time to time? Yeah,” Johnson told me last week. “But for the most part, I’m just trying to do whatever it takes for us to be as good as we can be.”
• The perception that his system can only take a team so far still haunts Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. Speaking with a few reporters before a game against the Nets on Saturday, D’Antoni admitted that the pressure to prove critics wrong and advance past the conference finals got to him during his last days in Phoenix. “Without a doubt,” D’Antoni said. “And I was probably leading the charge there. It got to be where winning and playing great and having fun wasn’t good enough. It got to, ‘Yeah, but you haven’t won a championship.’ Then when you lose … they go, ‘See, you can’t win that way.’ San Antonio was a good darn team, and they beat us. And Joe Johnson goes down with a broken face. Well, if (Manu) Ginobili had a broken face and Joe Johnson played, we would’ve killed ‘em. But that never came into the equation. Raja Bell and Josh Howard go down at the same time. Josh Howard comes back, and Raja Bell doesn’t come back. If Josh Howard stays down and Raja comes back, we win that one. The pressure got to us. It got to me, for sure.”
• Dwight Howard asking Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to lose the negativity only underscored what league observers already knew: Van Gundy walks a fine line between inspiring his team to reject mediocrity and losing the locker room with his nit-picking. Van Gundy is not a good tactician; he’s a great one. But he rarely encounters a victory he can’t find fault with, and his dour nature gets old – especially for the ebullient Howard, the leader of a new generation of players who aspire to win and have fun at the same time. Howard could use more of a killer instinct, and Van Gundy could use less. It remains to be seen whether that long-term balance can be struck.
• The fact that Nate McMillan can send the Blazers’ prized free-agent acquisition, Andre Miller, to the bench and watch his replacement, Martell Webster, respond with 21 points and 13 rebounds, speaks to the depth and versatility he has at his disposal. But it also underscores the delicate balance McMillan must achieve – both starting and finishing games – as it relates to Miller’s level of happiness. This is a situation that will bear watching all season. When I caught up with Miller in Atlanta last week, he didn’t seem sold on how he was being used. “Any player can tell you in this league, any time you get that opportunity to get on the court, you get more confidence and you get more comfortable,” Miller said. “You just have to go with the flow.” Miller didn’t get into much of a flow Saturday night against Minnesota, recording four points and four assists on 1-for-3 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench. Portland beat the lowly T-Wolves, though, 106-78.
• Despite the obvious difference of opinion between Tracy McGrady and the Rockets as to when he’ll be ready to return to the lineup, one NBA front office source wondered if Houston might be better off seeing this through and letting McGrady’s $23 million contract expire after the season rather than trading him. Now that the Knicks have turned down Allen Iverson, they’d be a perfect suitor for T-Mac. New York needs some scoring punch, and Chris Duhon’s anemic play at the point could be partially solved by McGrady’s ability to handle the ball and initiate the offense. T-Mac also doesn’t possess the alpha-male tendencies that, in the end, scared the Knicks about adding Iverson. McGrady was scheduled to undergo an MRI Monday on his left knee, which underwent microfracture surgery in February. Feeling he should’ve been back in the lineup by now, McGrady reportedly forced a meeting with coach Rick Adelman by suiting up before a game at Minnesota last week. The next clue as to McGrady’s immediate future will come Tuesday when the MRI results are back. The Knicks’ motivation to add McGrady would be to pawn off future money, which is something Houston doesn’t want in return. In fact, the Rockets have yet to begin shopping McGrady to anyone, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
UPDATE: The Rockets released the MRI results Monday night, via a vague statement saying that McGrady has "no change" from the previous exam in September. The team said McGrady is "on a normal course of recovery and has the expected level of performance for someone at his stage following microfracture surgery." McGrady practiced Monday, but there was no word on when he might actually play.
• The Celtics’ Ray Allen raised an interesting point about the 10-game suspension served by Orlando’s Rashard Lewis for ingesting an anti-fatigue supplement that was on the league’s list of banned substances. “When did he take the drug test?’’ Allen said in an interview with the Boston Globe. “Because if he took the drug test during our series, we’re supposed to be playing in the conference finals.’’
• Warriors coach Don Nelson has been notably effusive in his praise of Monta Ellis lately, which is no coincidence considering that Ellis’ agent, Jeff Fried, flew to Oakland last week to meet with the Golden State brass. No long-term solution was reached; it is believed that Nellie still wants to trade Ellis and the feeling is mutual. But getting into verbal confrontations with a player and making him a miserable scapegoat is no way to get full value in a trade. The situation between Nellie and Monta will be further cooled by Monday’s diagnosis showing that Nelson has contracted pneumonia. Nelson, closing in on the NBA’s all-time record for coaching wins, will miss games this week against Dallas and San Antonio.
• After publicly pleading for his job last week, Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy might have saved it with a victory over Denver Friday night. The race to be the next coach fired is on between Dunleavy and Lawrence Frank, whose 0-13 Nets left for a West Coast trip Monday with their coach aboard the charter.
• A great read on the San Antonio mafia by our content partner, SI.com’s Ian Thomsen.
• If you haven’t seen the clips yet of Kobe Bryant making a basket over the backboard or Nate Robinson infuriating his coach by shooting at the wrong one, let me be the last to break the news.