The Hawks visit the Pistons: wait a minute, is that Jerry Stackhouse?

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When you're having a bad day, when you're feeling down about the Detroit Pistons completely brain dead salary situation, just take a look at the Hawks. Atlanta owes Joe Johnson $107,333,589. Joe Johnson, who is not even Atlanta's second best player. Joe Johnson, who is due to be paid $25M for the 2015/16 season alone. To put that in perspective, that is the next presidential election season (Cuomo v. Rubio). I'm honestly kind of surprised that Atlanta didn't file amnesty paperwork the moment the lockout was lifted.

Game Tips at 7:30 P.M. EST

Atlanta Hawks: 13 - 6 (5 - 5 road)

Detroit Pistons: 4 - 15 (3 - 7 home)

The Situation:

What's more, Joe Johnson is already 30 years old. He's averaging 19, 4 and 4, but shooting less than 43% from the field. Is that kind of production worth another $107M? Of course not. But for some reason, Atlanta decided to wait another year to kill that horrible contract. While Atlanta currently owns a winning record and should be a second round playoff team, if I'm the Hawks GM, I blow it up and I do so before the deadline.

Let's explore that in detail. Let's assume that we'll use the amnesty clause to end Joe Johnson's contract. Johnson isn't the type of amnesty case that will clear waivers, he'll likely be bid upon by a handful of teams (like Cleveland and Minnesota, both of which could certainly use a vet wing like Johnson on the cheap). This will ensure that the salary figure Atlanta still owes is manageable. If they wait another year or two, this will not be the case.

Job one will be replacing Johnson's production. It won't be difficult. Take Ben Gordon for example-- he'd give Atlanta 80% of Johnson's production at only 33% of the price. Atlanta could bring in Gordon or another similar shooting guard by providing the salary relief of Kirk Hinrich's $8.1M expiring. I'd love to ship out Ben Gordon for Hinrich's expiring, but I'd imagine Atlanta would want a taller SG that would properly match Jeff Teague in the backcourt.

Step two: trade Josh Smith on or before draft day. Smith's contract expires next season, and no one should be shocked if he decides to bolt. He is Atlanta's best trade asset-- he's only 26 years old and he has a rare set of physical gifts. The goal should be to move Smith for a top 5 pick in the 2012 NBA draft. That means that Detroit, Washington, Charlotte, New Orleans, Sacramento, New Jersey and Toronto should be in play. Of those teams, Detroit, New Jersey and Sacramento are those that should seriously listen to Atlanta's offer. If Davis, Sullinger and Gilchrist are off the board, these three teams may want to consider this kind of trade. Atlanta should seek the draft rights to Andre Drummond from whichever team can grab him. (alternatively, Sacramento could draft Drummond for themselves and ship out Cousins and Garcia for Smith)

If Atlanta plays their cards right, they could start the 2012-13 NBA season with a starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Ben Gordon, Marvin Williams and Al Horford with either Andre Drummond or DeMarcus Cousins in the middle. I'd prefer a taller, younger shooting guard to replace Johnson, but their offensive production is roundly the same. Al Horford prefers power forward, and moving Josh Smith in a realistic trade that nets them Drummond could make this happen. It'd give them a cheaper, younger core with flexibility to make tertiary moves to keep them in the playoff hunt or better.

It wasn't my intention to write a wall-o-text on the Hawks situation here, but I did it anyway. Due to Johnson's age/contract and Josh Smith's soon-to-be-ending run in Atlanta, I'd be ready to squeeze the trigger by March 15th if I was GM in Atlanta.

Keys to the Game:

Start a Monroe/Jerebko frontcourt - With Monroe on Horford, it might be a bad idea to start Wallace on Smith. Jonas Jerebko can at least match Smith's energy and Wallace can be rotated in as Smith tires. The Monroe/Jerebko duo has had performances that suggest they could handle or best a frontcourt assignment like this one.

Stay in front of your man - Atlanta has one of the best isolation games in the league. They're also really good on post-up plays, but Monroe has been far above average on post-up defense this season. The problem will be those iso plays, where Johnson and Teague work to find some separation and toss up shots. It could be a great game for the long arms of Austin Daye...

Feed the Moose - well it's not like you weren't expecting this. Atlanta plays at a slow pace too, so let's see some half-court play with Greg Monroe in the high post.

Question of the Game:

Can Detroit string together a streak of moral victories?

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