Joe Johnson Was, In Fact, Overpaid

Quick, which NBA free agent netted the largest salary in 2010? If you answered LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh… you would be wrong. Dirk Nowitzki? No, not quite.

The correct answer, of course is: Joe Johnson!

When the Hawks signed Johnson to a six-year, $124 million contract, they cemented their superstar for the next phase of Hawks history (sorry Josh Smith and Al Horford) for better or for worse. Most suspected worse as Johnson has never been the most efficient player — his PER has never crept above 20.0 and he seems to disappear in the postseason.

Johnson, like Atlanta, seems destined to squalor in mediocrity in the middle of the Eastern Conference.

And last year was not particularly Johnson’s best. He posted a 16.4 PER last season, his low since signing with Atlanta in 2005. Everyone seemed disappointed by his 18.2 points per game, also an Atlanta low in his career, and 48.1 percent effective field goal percentage.

It seems to stand to reason that Johnson should get the “overpaid” label.

Now we might be able to put some numbers to it.

Jason Fleming of HoopsWorld took up the task of evaluating the cost-efficiency of NBA starters. Over the past few weeks, he has taken a look at each starter by position and tried to determine how effective those players are compared to their salaries. He did this simply by dividing a player’s salary by his PER.

The shooting guard list came out last week and Joe Johnson was right at the bottom, ahead of only Kobe Bryant and the perpetually disappointing Vince Carter.

This is a simplistic formula, for sure. And it is difficult to rate superstars who are typically overpaid anyway because they are superstars. Bryant, for instance, is behind Johnson. But his stats are much higher and (thus) his salary is too. His cost-efficiency rating ($24.8 million and a 23.9 PER) of just more than $1 million seems palatable.

For a player like Johnson with a 16.4 PER, his more than $989,000 cost-efficiency is far more than what you would expect. A similarly productive player on the list — like Ray Allen or Wesley Matthews — fare much better. Allen comes in at $609,000 and Matthews at $369,000. Johnson should strive to hit Allen’s number with his production as Allen was under a $10 million salary last season.

What might be worse for Atlanta and Johnson is that he is due an increasing amount of money over the next five seasons, topping off at nearly $25 million in 2016. Unless the new collective bargaining agreement allows teams to shed salary or renegotiate contracts, Johnson is going to have to produce a lot more to live up to his massive salary.

Perhaps this is part of the problem that led to this lockout. Is Joe Johnson a max contract player? Probably not. Is he the most egregious case of someone being overpaid? Probably not.

One thing we know — and can finally quantify — that Joe Johnson was overpaid in the summer of 2010.

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About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily