They will call out Joe Johnson's name with the Eastern Conference All-Stars on Sunday at the Staples Center, confirmation that the Hawks guard still is one of the best players in the NBA. The last time Johnson was in the building, he got called out as being unworthy of such status. The Hawks were playing the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 2. With Johnson at the line for a free throw and the arena quiet, Darrell Bailey, better known as super fan (and playful heckler) "Clipper Darrell," let him have it. "Joe, be honest: Do you really think you are worth $120 million?" Bailey shouted. Johnson didn't react to the barbs, which isn't surprising considering his stoic demeanor. But in the weeks before that game, the honest answer to Bailey's question looked to be: "No." Months after signing the richest contract in the NBA (worth $123.7 million), Johnson wasn't even the best player on his team. His scoring production, steady for so many seasons, took a steep decline. Johnson's shooting percentage plummeted to the point that the leader of the Hawks' offense was dragging it down. Johnson and everyone in the organization said he eventually would get on track, but their words sounded more hopeful than assured. Johnson insisted that the pressure to live up to the new contract didn't affect his play. Not directly, perhaps, but one of Johnson's uncles, Tracy Johnson, said it played a factor. Johnson suffered an elbow injury at the end of November and had surgery Dec. 2. Already loathe to cite injuries to explain poor play, the new contract made Johnson even more reluctant to do so, Tracy Johnson said. "A lot of people don't realize [after] signing the contract, it's a lot of pressure to come out and perform night in and night out," Tracy Johnson said. "When he was struggling, there was no way he can say he's hurting because it would seem like an excuse. He tried to play through the pain, but it got to the point where it was unbearable." Johnson returned from the surgery only 15 days later. The development stunned everyone -- including Tracy Johnson, who talked to Joe that day and was told he was "fine," only to later turn on his television and hear that Johnson was in the starting lineup.
Joe Johnson still an All-Star, but he had doubts
Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Feb 20