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Suns may not match Hawks’ offer to Johnson

The Arizona Republic


The Arizona Republic

The Phoenix Suns brimmed in June with as much confidence about re-signing Joe Johnson as they would about defending the Pacific Division title.

This week, a pool of rising, nervous energy is swallowing up America West Arena.

Several Suns’ organization staffers and others close to Johnson say they believe managing partner Robert Sarver will not match Atlanta’s five-year, $70 million offer sheet, which Johnson cannot sign until next week after the free-agency signing moratorium was extended again yesterday.

Once he signs an offer sheet, Phoenix would have a week to decide between matching the deal and saying goodbye to Johnson, a restricted free agent.

Others still believe Sarver will match it, but it is clear to all that he is unsure.

The Suns made re-signing Johnson a top priority this summer. They said they intended to maintain the team’s core and would do everything “within reason” to do so.

But this month’s events surprised them.

The worst things that happened to hopes of retaining Johnson less expensively (the Suns offered $60 million for six years this month) were Seattle’s and Milwaukee’s re-signings of free agents Ray Allen and Michael Redd, respectively.

Cleveland and Atlanta, teams with cap space, then switched their attention to Larry Hughes and Johnson.

Cleveland struck first with Hughes, a lower risk because he was an unrestricted free agent. His five-year, $70 million signing set the maximum-level bar for Johnson, whom Atlanta wants as a point guard.

Ex-Arizona Wildcat Salim Stoudamire might also be in the mix at that position for the Hawks.

Atlanta would not have become involved if it did not feel it had a logical shot, much like Phoenix’s chase of Quentin Richardson last summer.

Just as the Suns front-loaded Richardson’s deal, Atlanta reportedly agreed to pay Johnson at least $20 million in the first year.

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