Update: In his blog on Huffington Post, agent Arm Tellem confirms that Joe Johnson has agreed to six-year, $120 million deal to remain with the Atlanta Hawks.
CBSSports.com reported earlier that Johnson and Atlanta were "close" to finalizing their agreement.
The Hawks came right out of the gates at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and lavished Johnson, the cornerstone of their revival, with the maximum offer they could extend him under the current collective bargaining agreement. Johnson, 28, was determined to explore the options free agency afforded him, and met within an hour with Knicks officials in Los Angeles. The meeting was attended by Johnson's L.A.-based agent, Arn Tellem, and another one of his clients, Mike Miller.
One day passed. Then two. Then three. Hawks officials were not so much growing nervous as flummoxed that Johnson was taking so long to say yes to a contract the likes of which no player of his caliber will see again anytime soon in the NBA. The league's salary structure is one year away from changing dramatically -- and in favor of the owners -- in a new collective bargaining agreement.
On Friday, a person with close ties to Johnson told CBSSports.com that the four-time All-Star was "intrigued" by the opportunity to play in New York or Chicago. In both places, he'd have to be intrigued enough to accept about $25 million less than the Hawks were offering. In both places, he'd either be a complementary piece to one of the top-tier free agents or a substitute -- similar to the situation the Suns' Amar'e Stoudemire was in, except the Suns never offered Stoudemire the max for six years.
As of Saturday afternoon, Johnson was still on the fence as the Knicks, in particular, continued to apply pressure in an all-out effort to persuade Johnson to validate their painful, two-year effort to clear enough salary-cap space to attract marquee free agents. But by later in the evening, word came from Johnson's camp that minor contractual details were on the verge of being resolved in order to keep Johnson with the Hawks -- who would've likely waited until after the new CBA was in place to replace him with a comparable talent. Johnson has averaged at least 17 points per game in all five seasons with the Hawks while playing at least 76 games in four of those seasons.
If Johnson's flirtation with the free-agent recruiting process mirrors that of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, his spasm of wanderlust getting trumped by the far more favorable deal his own team could offer him may be a harbinger of decisions to come. Barring sign-and-trades, by which free agents can change teams and still get max money, the Big Three are in the same boat. Being wanted is great, but money ... everybody likes money.
Speaking of which, Johnson will turn 34 entering the sixth year of this contract, when he'll be making approximately $24 million in his 16th NBA season. But the Hawks felt the potential payoff in the first three years of the deal -- and the risk of losing Johnson without being able to find a comparable replacement -- made the commitment worthwhile. Also, the Hawks are banking on the fact that there will always be a high-revenue team willing to take on a big contract, either as the final piece to a championship-ready team or in the form of an expiring asset.