Every time the Hawks come to town I can’t help but think about the whole Joe Johnson Saga.
Suns fans (I think, at least) are past venomously booing Johnson upon his annual return to the Valley, but like a jilted lover I still think of JJ in a “What could have been” sort of sense.
When the Suns acquired J-Rich, I wrote how the franchise had kind of come full circle by finally bringing in another dynamic scoring threat to play the two-guard position and acquiring him with the asset received in the JJ deal.
Still, as well as J-Rich’s slashing and shooting abilities fit the Suns, they still haven’t solved the backup point guard hole that was created when Johnson headed for Atlanta.
JJ was and still would be a perfect player for the Suns because of his scoring prowess (22.3 ppg) and ability to run the team when Nash sits as a tall backup point guard who would fit well with Leandro Barbosa defensively.
Although it’s anyone’s guess as to if the playoffs would have been different the last three years if JJ were a Sun (or four years considering his injury in the 2005 playoffs), the Suns have still been an elite team without him, and as much of a joke as it was at the time to take all that money to play for a loser, Johnson has helped the Hawks become what looks to be a perennial playoff team.
It’s too bad that happened a year too early, as the Suns never did end up receiving a prime draft pick from the JJ sign-and-trade. The Hawks’ improvement meant the Suns ended up getting the No. 15 overall pick in last year’s draft from Atlanta, a pick they used on Robin Lopez.
I had spent the last two years furiously rooting against the Hawks, hopeful Phoenix would get a lottery pick to complement its core.
I would have been disappointed most days I checked the standings this year if that were still the case, as Atlanta had jumped out to a 21-10 start before losing four of five, including a game Friday in Orlando that the Hawks trailed 71-33 at the half.
Al Horford, the team’s leading rebounder averaging 8.7 per game, will be out tonight with a bone bruise in his right knee, and that leaves the Hawks fairly thin up front with Zaza Pachulia taking his spot in the starting lineup.
The Hawks were outrebounded 39-24 without Horford Sunday against the 76ers. Pachulia led the team with six boards, and no other Hawk grabbed more than four caroms.
Expect Shaq and Amare to take advantage of that against an Atlanta club that will need to shoot the lights out to beat the Suns tonight.