Johnson not performing to the max

ATLANTA -- "Joe, do you think you are costing yourself money?"

That was the question posed to Joe Johnson after one of the more lackluster playoff performances a supposed max-salary player had played since the term "max-salary player" was added to the NBA lexicon in 1999.

And even more unbelievable than his performance and that of his teammates was Johnson's answer: "No."


Let me try to get this straight: In one of the final games this highly talented player will perform in before becoming an unrestricted free agent July 1, Johnson attempted 15 shots, missed 12 of them, was booed repeatedly and loudly and had about as much impact on the outcome as teammate Mario West, who was inactive.

Memo to Johnson: Go back and take a look at what the Dow Jones did last Thursday. Go look at the value of Accenture stock, which went from $35 a share to mere pennies in an eyeblink. (OK, so that was caused by a glitch.) Read up on what's happening with the economic crisis in Greece, where the word "plummet" is being redefined downward with each passing day.

Because a stinker like the one Johnson played Saturday in the Atlanta Hawks' 105-75 shellacking at the hands of the Orlando Magic is bound to have a profound, multimillion-dollar impact on the value of the contract(s) Johnson will be offered when he hits the open market.

If he was somebody's Plan B or Plan C before, he may be Plan F or G now.

They say nothing ages like an NBA shooting guard on the wrong side of 30, and Johnson will be approaching that line when July 1 arrives two days after his 29th birthday. He is already a max player, and you can count on one hand the number of players who are worthy of getting two max contracts in free agency over the course of their careers.

And Johnson may just have played himself out of getting a second one.

"It was terrible, man. You hate to have performances like this, especially an individual like myself. I think these guys look to me for guidance, and with me playing like that it's almost impossible for us to win," Johnson said. "I'll take a lot of heat for this and a lot of criticism for this, but we need to put it behind us and move forward. Nothing we can do about it now."

The stampede toward the exits was steady throughout the fourth quarter, but those who stayed let the Hawks hear it after what can only be described as an utter embarrassment of an effort in which the stakes were so high.

Amazingly, the boos and the groans started coming from the home crowd during the first minute of the game, and they never really ceased as the Magic gave a clinic on ball movement, playing with energy and focusing on attaining a goal.

Atlanta had just nine, count 'em, nine, assists over the entire 48 minutes, trailed by as many as 32 and gave every single season-ticket holder an excuse to hold a dollar sale on StubHub for Monday night's Game 4.

"I thought in Game 2 we really came out ready to play and competed, and lost it at the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "But tonight was just unacceptable, and I have to take responsibility for that as coach. I'm not happy with our play, it wasn't called for, and I don't think anybody saw it coming."

Like Johnson, Monday night could mark the final game with the Hawks for Woodson, too, as his contract is about to expire with ownership now having every reason in the world to cut the cord with a coach who has improved the Hawks' regular-season record in each of his six years but who couldn't summon any life or energy out of them in their biggest game of the season, the one chance they had to make this series compelling (or even watchable).

Inside each Hawks player's locker is taped a photocopy of the Larry O'Brien Trophy, and the edges of those pictures have curled inward over the course of the past three weeks.

By Monday, they'll resemble tubes unless some staffer has the good sense to remove them out of a sense of decency.

The star du jour for the Magic was Rashard Lewis with four 3-pointers and 22 points, backed by Dwight Howard's 21 points and 16 rebounds and Mickael Pietrus' three 3-pointers off the bench. Orlando shot 51 percent, never trailed and didn't even have reason to be all that concerned about Howard's free throw woes (he missed half of his 18 attempts) returning.

What was so critical, in the bigger picture, was how much more crisply the Magic played as a team, on both ends of the floor, with Johnson the main man to blame on the offensive end for Atlanta for the way things stagnated even worse than they did in the Hawks' Game 1 blowout loss.

"It's basically on me. I just tanked on being aggressive and was just taking the shot when it was there," Johnson said. "Them getting off to great starts and sustaining it for 48 minutes, somehow, someway we've got to come out with a burst and try to sustain that the whole game."

Lotsa luck with that, Joe, although it wouldn't hurt to give it another try.

Because with another game like this one, or the previous one (5-for-16), or Game 1 (4-for-11), not only will the Hawks be booed out of their own building again, the value of his next contract figures to shrink by another $10 million or so -- if it hasn't sunk by more than that already.