Hawks offer max to Joe Johnson…

…and he’s expected to accept the deal.

The Atlanta Hawks offered Joe Johnson a six-year, $119 million contract Thursday morning, and sources close to the All-Star guard expect him to accept the max deal soon.

The Hawks moved quickly at midnight ET to try to secure their franchise star and offered the contract that Johnson’s agent Arn Tellem sought from the organization. Sources say ownership OK’d the max offer and general manager Rick Sund delivered it in Los Angeles.

The writing seemed to be on the wall for Johnson, but the Hawks stepped up with a big offer that is probably too good for Johnson to pass up. He could sign the deal and stay in Atlanta, but now he has the leverage necessary to force a sign-and-trade to another team.

Johnson isn’t a ‘max’ player, but that doesn’t mean much when there are so many teams with cap space to burn this summer. I suspect the Hawks will be regretting this decision in 2-3 years.

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Nine sure-to-be wrong NBA free agency predictions

Here’s where I stop ruminating about rumors and pose a few predictions about what will happen in the NBA over the next couple of weeks. Let’s start with a near-sure thing and work our way around the league.

1. Dwyane Wade will re-sign with the Heat.
He has said all along that Miami is where he wants to be, and even if he strikes out on getting LeBron and/or Chris Bosh to join him, he won’t have a tough time recruiting a couple of other high-priced free agents to join him. Whether it’s Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson or Rudy Gay, someone will want to play in sunny South Florida with a Top 5 player who has already proven he can take over an NBA Finals.

2. Chris Bosh will also sign with Miami.
I thought the Bulls might have inside track on Bosh, but if we’re to believe Dan LeBatard, a deal is already in place that would bring Bosh to Miami. Even if LeBron doesn’t join them, Bosh and Wade will make an excellent one-two punch.

3. LeBron and Carlos Boozer will sign with Chicago.
It’s the reunion that no one was expecting. I have no earthly idea what LeBron is going to do, but he says that winning is the most important thing, so if that’s true, he’ll either sign with the Bulls or join Wade and Bosh in Miami. With his ego, I think he’d rather play in Chicago in the shadow of Michael Jordan’s legacy than join ‘Wade’s team’ in South Florida. But who really knows? (Remember, I said these were sure-to-be-wrong predictions.) As for Boozer, if the Bulls strike out on Bosh, he’s the next-best fit at the four. The Bulls could take advantage of his strengths (low-post scoring, rebounding) while Joakim Noah could hide his weaknesses (post defense).

4. Joe Johnson will sign with the Clippers.
Think about it Knick fans — would you want to play under the NY microscope after the city missed out on the big-name free agents? Expectations are so high in the Big Apple and Johnson is a quiet guy that has proven in Atlanta that he doesn’t deal well with critical fans. He’s reportedly close with Clipper GM Neil Olshey and would be a nice fit there since he can play small forward alongside Eric Gordon on the wing.

5. Stoudemire will land in the Big Apple.
I almost wrote “land in New Jersey” but I didn’t want to send any Knick fans off the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge. If predictions #1-#4 come to fruition, the Knicks won’t be a very attractive place to play, but Stoudemire thrived under Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix and the Knicks will be sure to throw gobs of money to save face after pretty much striking out on the other top free agents. D’Antoni can run Stoudemire at the five and…

6. The Knicks will re-sign David Lee…
…to play the four. They’ll be defensively challenged, but that’s life. Then…

7. The Knicks will trade Eddy Curry for Gilbert Arenas…
…which will make them even more defensively challenged, but again, that’s life. At least the Knicks will be fun to watch.

8. The Grizzlies will match a max offer for Rudy Gay.
The Nets (and maybe the T-Wolves) will make a strong run at Rudy Gay, but the Grizzlies’ owner Michael Heisley has said all along that he’ll match any offer Gay gets in free agency.

9. Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce re-sign with the Mavs and C’s, respectively.
These guys aren’t going anywhere.

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What the Bulls’ trade means

Yesterday, we discussed the nuts and bolts of the Hinrich-to-Washington trade, but ESPNChicago speculates more about what superstars the Bulls will be able to sign.

But that hardly matters as moving Hinrich and his $9 million contract, and dumping their draft pick, would fatten the Bulls’ free-agent budget from $20 million to $30 million, nearly enough to pay two max-salary free agents.

In Chicago, this news is met with unabashed glee because now we get LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

Too bad because it’s a no-lose for the Bulls. And yes, that’s even if, horrors, James stays in Cleveland or goes somewhere other than Chicago. Even if he takes Bosh with him.

After Bosh, and assuming Dwyane Wade stays put, Joe Johnson is reportedly frothing to come to the Bulls, so much so, according to the Tribune, that he would be willing to sign early. At off guard, Johnson would form a dream backcourt with Derrick Rose. Carlos Boozer would complete that picture nicely. The Bulls don’t appear especially interested in Amare Stoudemire. But the next-tier David Lee, a restricted free agent and a 20-12 guy, is out there. Ray Allen is too, even at nearly 35.

Things are set up nicely for Chicago, who are set at point guard (Derrick Rose) and center (Joakim Noah), which are two positions where this free agency class is most certainly lacking. Moreover, they are still on their rookie contracts which means that the Bulls can sign LeBron/Bosh or Johnson/Boozer and then pay Rose and Noah in a few years.

Unless the Bulls completely strike out in free agency, they’ll have a core group of talented players that should be together for the next five years.

2010 NBA Free Agency: What are they worth? (#6-#10)

In the first installment of this series, I covered the biggest names in this summer’s free agency bonanza, and it wasn’t too tough to try to peg down each player’s value. Now I’ll move onto #6 to #10 in my free agency rankings, and things get a little tougher.

Keep in mind that the “value” below each player’s blurb represents my prediction of what they’ll eventually sign for, not what I think they’re actually worth. But there’s a saying — something’s only worth what someone will pay for it — so there’s that.

Anyway, let’s jump right in:

6. Joe Johnson, SG
Age: 29
PER: 19.33
Comparables: Brandon Roy ($13.5 M), Andre Iguodala ($12.3 M), Kevin Martin ($10.6 M)

Johnson didn’t help himself much with a pretty miserable series against the Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. I’m sure he’s looking for a max deal, and whatever team gives him one may regret it in a year or two. He’s already 29, and while he’d definitely be a good #2 for the next 2-3 years, he’s not a “max” player. He’s definitely going to benefit from all the cap space that’s available. Remember, my estimated value is what someone is willing to pay him, not necessarily what he’s worth.
Value: $17.0-$17.5 M per year (over five years)

7. Carlos Boozer, PF
Age: 28
PER: 21.42
Comparables: Amare Stoudemire ($17.7 M), Zach Randolph ($17.3 M), Josh Smith ($11.6 M), David West ($9.0 M), LaMarcus Aldridge ($10.7 M)

I have Boozer ranked ahead of Lee because he’s a slightly better player…when he’s healthy. He missed 45 games during the 2008-07 season and another 80 games from 2004-2006, so clearly he’s an injury risk. He is no doubt looking for a max or near-max deal, but with his durability issues and his reputation for being a less than stellar defender, he may find the going a bit tough in free agency. Still, there is sooooo much cap space out there that it’s hard to see him signing a deal for much less than the max.
Value: $14.0-$15.0 M per year (over five years)

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Parker-for-Lee…why not?

Tony Parker is rumored to be available for trade, but that has more to do with the presence of George Hill than anything the Spurs have done since their season ended. The Knicks are in dire need of a good point guard, so of course there have been some Parker-to-New York rumors as well.

Chad Ford writes that the Spurs are looking for a big.

The Spurs and Thunder also are in the hunt for a big and have targeted a number of teams in the lottery to move up a few spots. The Thunder have multiple picks to offer. The Spurs have Tony Parker or George Hill. While the Spurs aren’t necessarily shopping either player, they’re not untouchable, either. If the Spurs can get another big man to help prolong Tim Duncan’s career, they’ll do it.

But looking ahead — if the Knicks strike out on their plan to get one of their LeBron/Bosh, Wade/Bosh or LeBron/Wade dream combos, maybe a Lee-for-Parker deal would make some sense.

Let’s say the Knicks strike out on LeBron, Wade and Bosh, but manage to sign a couple of second-tier free agents (Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, etc.) starting at $14 million per season, that would leave them about $9.5-$10 million to re-sign Lee and then move him for another asset like Parker. That would give the Knicks a core of Parker, Johnson and Boozer moving forward, and give the Spurs a quality power forward to play alongside Duncan. (Remember, Antonio McDyess is still under contract for another season and the Spurs have DeJuan Blair as well.)

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