MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Easy. Joe Johnson. After coming over from Phoenix in the much-talked-about summer sign-and-trade that set off an ownership squabble that is still ongoing, Johnson more than lived up to the hype.
His 20.2 points and 6.5 assists marked the first time since the Pete Maravich era that a Hawks player finished among the league leaders in both categories. But more important than any statistical contribution made by the laid-back Johnson was the fearlessness and relentlessness he showed as an offensive threat few teams could stop.
Johnson played his biggest in the Hawks' biggest games and never shied away from taking the big shots. He made more than he missed. He showed the mark of a true warrior, smashing the franchise record for minutes played in a season (3,340) while playing 40.7 minutes per night. Johnson finished the season as one of just five players -- Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Gilbert Arenas were the others -- to average better than 20 points and six assists.
And to top it off, he gives the Hawks their first, universally-recognized star player since Dominique Wilkins. Johnson's selection for the U.S. National team roster is the most recent proof of his status. All he needs now is some rest and some help for next season.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER
John Edwards. Not much was expected of the 7-footer, who was signed in the offseason for a little over $1 million for two seasons. But when Collier passed away there was a need for someone to step up and fill the void. Edwards, who is still raw but has the athleticism and size needed to make an impact, shied away from the spotlight. He allowed Esteban Batista to outplay him in practice and assume the backup spot behind Zaza Pachulia. If Edwards can't find a way to get minutes on the worst roster in the league at his size, then he's the easy choice for the worst player in the league.
His only saving grace is that he has another season, provided the Hawks don't dump him this summer in favor of someone who's actually ready to contribute, to show and prove that he belongs. But no one is counting on it.
FREE AGENT FOCUS
Veteran co-captain Al Harrington is the Hawks' lone free agent of consequence. Everyone's saying the right things in April.
Harrington wants to come back to the place and the team he's called home the past two seasons. Hawks GM Billy Knight wants him back. But the mutual admiration that colors April fades in July, when a free agent like Harrington becomes the hunted for teams desperate for that one player they feel can put them over the top.
So unless the Hawks are willing to show Harrington the money -- we're talking about a deal in the five-year, $50 million range for starters -- the Hawks' most seasoned player might be calling Chicago, New York or Los Angeles home next season.
"Right now, I really don't even know what to say about it," said Harrington, whose summer recruiting visits won't start for two months but will no doubt include the aforementioned cities. "You realize the gravity of your situation once the season ends. It's one thing to talk about it. But to be on the brink of what could be your biggest summer, it all hits home then."
"And now, it's really in the hands of my agent (New York-based Andy Miller) and the Hawks, to see how the details get worked out."
Knight said the Hawks' feelings about Harrington haven't changed a bit since they traded for him two summers ago, when he was coming off a breakout season in Indiana.
"We like Al and we'd like to keep him," Knight said. "We're very happy with him and what he's brought not only to our team but to our franchise. He's been the consummate pro. Al's been great for the two years he's been here and we'd like it to continue in the future."
But at what cost?
--The Hawks still have to decide what they will do with the player options for second-year players Royal Ivey and Donta Smith. Stay tuned.
--Salim Stoudamire did not make the All-Rookie team but did receive one vote. It remains a mystery where that vote came from.
--Josh Childress is an LA native and one of five Hawks (Al Harrington, Joe Johnson, Salim Stoudamire and Tyronn Lue) who will spend a considerable amount of time in Southern California this summer.
--Shooting guard Joe Johnson broke the single-season Hawks franchise record for minutes played in a season (3,311) and knocked down his 500th career three-pointer in the second-to-last game of the season, a 103-100 win over Miami.
Copyright (C) 2006 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.