What path should the Atlanta Hawks take with Jalen Johnson?

The Atlanta Hawks have an interesting offseason ahead of them. They have one decision that should take no time at all.
Apr 9, 2024; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) shoots the ball
Apr 9, 2024; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) shoots the ball / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks face another offseason with more questions than answers. Over the last two offseasons, they have made trades that have dumped salary by moving Kevin Huerter in 2022 and John Collins in 2023.

This watering down of talent has then been exacerbated by the injury issues that the Hawks suffered last season meant that the Hawks struggled into the play-in, Even Jalen Johnson, one of the bright lights of last season only played 56 games out of a possible 82 thanks to injury. This was the only factor that cost him the chance at the most improved award.

Johnson has just finished his third season with the Hawks. This means that the Hawks have one more season on his rookie-scale contract, should they choose to exercise it and there is no chance that they don't. To put it simply, Johnson grew into his talent last season and is a potential future star of the league.

Jalen Johnson is a cornerstone piece for the Atlanta Hawks

Put simply, the Hawks need Johnson in their lineup to be a successful franchise. There is no question that the Hawks need to pick up his team option at the earliest possible convenience. He is on a cheap contract and will contribute at a high level in the starting lineup.

With that question answered, the next decision that the Hawks need to make is whether to offer Johnson an extension. Well, it is not really a tough decision. He certainly should be offered a contract extension. The actual question is, how much should this rookie extension be worth? This question is a little more complicated than it may appear at first glance.

There is no doubt that Johnson is a high-level talent. He can rebound, pass, score, protect the rim, and be a good team player. However, He has only done it at a high level for one season. That season was also cut short by injury, with Johnson only playing 56 of 82 games. He has yet to do enough for long enough to warrant a rookie-max deal but should command between $15 and $25 million a season.

This has the potential to put the Hawks in an excellent position. Given that they beat the odds and won the draft lottery, they are looking to select Alexandre Sarr amongst other candidates. This could have the impact of Clint Capela being traded which has been on the cards for a while. His $20 million a year would be better spent on Johnson.

So, what path should the Hawks take with Johnson? Like when they drafted him, they need to take a long shot on his contract. He is certainly a talent. But he needs to stay healthy and continue to develop. He is a potential star in this league and may be the answer the Hawks are looking for to take the team forward.