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The Joe Johnson Effect

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Johnson --and "oh, that the contract"-- left Atlanta three years ago in a trade that was all about cap space for the Hawks.  They used it well, signing Paul Millsap and paying two of their best players, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, more than they could have, if they had kept Johnson.

Now, Joe Johnson is booed whenever he plays in Phillips Arena, as if he had committed some ghastly crime against basketball while in Georgia, when in fact he just got paid. He accepted ownership's offer for a six-year contract worth $123,658,089.

As Stefan Bondy pointed out this week, a team video presentation on the Hawks history doesn't even mention him. But the non-person did lead the Hawks to five straight playoff runs, averaging 21 points over the seven years he played there. He was named an All-Star six straight times. He still lives in the city.

So now, for the first time since he was traded to Brooklyn, Johnson gets a chance to show Hawks fans what he's made of.  Charles Barkley thinks Johnson has something to prove.

"I think what’s going to be interesting is the Joe Johnson factor, because I can promise you something: Joe Johnson is going to try to win that series by himself," the TNT analyst said. "He may not say it, he may not say it, but I guarantee you (that he will try)."

Johnson disagrees, talking the talk about the team game.  And he claims that the boobirds don't bother him.

"One thing about me, I don’t feed into it, the negativity, the positivity," he said. "I’ve never been that player, y’all know I’ve never been that player. I’m going to go out and play my game."

But in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the last time the two teams faced off, Johnson admitted just a touch of bitterness at the way in which he was dumped, that no one talked to him before the big news broke.

"When you have a new GM and he comes in and he decides I’m the first player he’s going to start with, I’m like: OK, go ahead. Move me. Get me on out of here. You don’t need to have me around if you don’t want me." he told the AJC's Jeff Schultz.

The question, of course, is how much does Joe Johnson have left. His numbers this year were the worst he's had as as a Net, worse he's had since his second year in the NBA.  No one really knows how bad his knee tendinitis is.  But despite a lacklustre season, he can rise to the occasion, as he did with his 16 points in the playoff-clinching win over Orlando -- and the 21 points he laid down against the Hawks 10 days ago when Brooklyn nearly beat Atlanta.

Last year, there were similar concerns and he dominated the playoffs for the Nets, averaging 21.2 points and shooting 41.5 percent from three.  Johnson is a prideful man, a player who will give it his best shot and who truth be told, has a shot at the Hall of Fame. He may claim he's not going to try to win it all by himself, but there's no doubt he wants it ... bad.