Joe Johnson’s Brooklyn Nets era may extend beyond this year

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It’s widely presumed that 34-year-old Nets forward Joe Johnson would leave the Nets this summer in free agency. The team has declined in each of Johnson’s four seasons in Brooklyn, and Johnson has called this season one of the toughest in his career.

But while speaking Thursday, Johnson himself said it’s possible he’d return to the Nets in free agency this summer

“I’ve never ruled Brooklyn out,” Johnson said Thursday. “Coming back to Brooklyn, I’ve never ruled that out.”

But there’s a caveat. The Nets would have to make significant changes for Johnson to want to return: he has been beyond the second round of the playoffs just once in his 14 seasons (in 2005), and has said his first priority in free agency is to join a contending team. “I just said I want to play on a winning team, play for a winner,” Johnson reaffirmed. “That’s pretty much it.”

The Nets project to have close to $40 million in cap room this offseason, which is their primary avenue towards improving their 14-40 team. So if he wants to play for a winner… he’s probably out the door, unless new Nets general manager Sean Marks has a miracle up his sleeve.

“They’ve all been pretty successful, the guys who have come up from under Pop and it’s a testament to him and the things that they try to implement as far as their system,” Johnson said of Marks. “Great ball movement, guys playing together, playing for one another. So, I think it’s very successful. We’ll see what happens here.”

Johnson has played in all 54 games this season and leads the team in total minutes. Through the All-Star break, he averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game, shooting an even 40 percent from the field and 37.1% from three-point range.