From the outside looking in, it turns out it was that bad here.
With his game freed from Brooklyn’s sinking ship, Joe Johnson’s proved what most of us knew all along: he has no problem fitting in as an important piece of a competitive team. He also made it clear that Brooklyn’s situation was no place for a veteran like him.
With the Miami Heat, Johnson’s numbers surged: despite playing in a secondary role, Johnson averaged more points (13.4 in Miami, vs. 11.8 in Brooklyn) in fewer minutes per game, shooting better both outside the arc (41.7% vs 37.1%) and inside of it (56.9% vs. 42.7%).
With Johnson’s help, Miami has won two of their first three playoff games against the Charlotte Hornets; without Johnson, the Nets lost 19 of their last 25 games.
The buyout allowed Johnson to showcase his skills well into April, as well as give him the chance to reflect on his time in Brooklyn this season. According to NBA.com’s Sekou Smith, Johnson characterized much of the team’s young players as “stat chasing guys” that didn’t want to win, and there was “no reason to even stick around.”
Johnson knows he’s been overlooked a bit the past few years, his time in Brooklyn playing a huge part in the narrative that he’s an isolation specialist whose time had passed in a league where the pace and space game rules the day.
“It might have been warranted,” he said. “Honestly, this season in Brooklyn I was in a tough situation, playing with a lot of young guys, stat chasing guys that didn’t really want to win. And in an organization that really was trying to put a team around guys like Brook [Lopez], Thaddeus [Young] and myself to help us at least fight for a playoff spot. So when I sat back and looked at all that, I realized it was no reason to even stick around for the fallout of that situation.”
Johnson added to Andrew Keh of the New York Times that “some teams, some people” make basketball hard. Though he didn’t name the Nets directly, it was in response to a question about his play this season, making it easy to connect the dots.
“It’s easy,” Johnson said when asked about the stark difference in his shooting percentage after his move to Miami. “The game isn’t hard. Some teams, some people, have a tendency to make it hard, but it’s not hard. Just move the basketball, get the best available shot.”
That’s not to say Johnson had no friends on the team — he was a well-liked veteran that exuded professionalism, and had made an impact on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But the normally cool, calm, and collected Johnson grew frustrated with the team’s losses as the season progressed, especially after it became clear quite early in the season that he was leading a team nowhere — Johnson would have missed the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade had he stuck around.