Former executive suggests Atlanta Hawks turn attention to Jalen Johnson

One rival team's former front office member believes the Atlanta Hawks' next priority is forward Jalen Johnson
Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson
Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages

The Atlanta Hawks took several major steps in retooling their roster this offseason.

In addition to drafting Zaccharie Risacher with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft and trading Dejounte Murray, they also let surprise starter Saddiq Bey hit unrestricted free agency rather than tender him a qualifying offer.

While speculation has shifted toward Trae Young’s future – which will only ramp up in light of his latest cryptic post – one former NBA executive suggests the Hawks ‘focus’ on Jalen Johnson.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks shared a graphic illustrating the Hawks’ finances with that as the caption.

“The Hawks have up until Oct. 21 to extend Johnson,” Marks wrote in his offseason preview for the Hawks. “Overall, Johnson has increased his scoring average from 5.6 last season to 16.1 this season. That is the second-largest increase among players to play at least 50 games in both seasons, trailing Cam Thomas. 

“Since [General Manager Landry] Fields joined the front office in October 2020, Atlanta has signed a player to a rookie extension in each of the past three offseasons (Young, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter and [Onyeka] Okongwu).

Jalen Johnson could command '$25-$30 million' from Hawks

Johnson’s jump from 28.8% from deep in 2022-23 to 35.5% this past season is significant. But it belies his stretches like finishing shooting 38.3% 3P over his final 10 appearances.

Even projections for Johnson’s contract situation involve Young.

“The Hawks have serious budgetary decisions that could include moving a high-paid point guard like Trae Young,” Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus wrote in March. “With that in mind, Johnson could fight for $25-30 million per year.”

That would beat former No. 4 pick De’Andre Hunter in annual value. Hunter is entering Year 2 of a four-year, $90 million contract and has been mired in trade rumors.

Moving Hunter and fellow trade candidate Clint Capela could ease the brunt of Johnson’s deal.

It does seem to be a foregone conclusion that the former No. 20 overall pick (2020) will receive an extension. He and Risacher are the only Hawks players considered safe, per Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer on June 28.

The Hawks were under .500 with and without Johnson last season. But they were 27-29 with him in the lineup and 9-17 without.

Murray’s trade should also help Johnson, who has proven effective with the ball in his hands.

Atlanta boasted a minus-8.4 net efficiency differential with Johnson on the floor with Murray and Young last season, per Cleaning The Glass. They also notably had a better rating with Johnson and Young (plus-3.7) than when Murray was paired with the rising star (plus-1.4).

That is one of myriad possible reasons for the Hawks’ decision to trade Murray just two years after acquiring him.

Johnson was on track to contend for Most Improved Player last season before injuries hit.

With better health and Murray out of the picture – and the Hawks needing someone to step up because of the trade – the former Duke Blue Devil could be poised to cash in on that early promise in an even greater breakout campaign in 2024-25.