Last year, with their move to Brooklyn upon them, the Nets revamped their entire roster.
The organization succeeded, somewhat. They won 49 games, their highest marks in more than a half-decade, but lost to an injury-riddled team in the first round.
So what did the Nets do in response? The same thing they did a year earlier.
They acquired All-Stars, champions and are set to pay the biggest luxury tax in league history to become not a contender, but the best.
It's not a surprise media outlets are gushing over the way Williams and Brook Lopez will play with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but it seems they are missing a key player who will certainly contribute—Joe Johnson.
Johnson was brought to Brooklyn in their initial attempt at becoming an elite team, a six time All-Star, a one-time All-NBA performer. So how has he become an afterthought after a middle-of-the-pack season? Sure, his stats don’t show that he had a great season, but let's consider this was his first time not being the primary scoring threat on a team since his Phoenix days. Those who watched the Nets, day in, day out, in 2012 know: Johnson was vital to the Nets’ success last season and will be again this one.
Maybe it is the critics, who have been on top of Johnson for a mediocre season, that have made many forget that Johnson is so important. For one, Bradford Doolittle of ESPN.com, using the WARP metric (Wins Above Replacement Player) ranked Johnson the 17th best shooting guard in the league. For the record, Doolittle also ranked Tony Parker the 13th best point guard in the league.
Doolittle writes, "We've long warned about the perils of age 32 when it comes to shooting guards, and Johnson hit that age just after the Finals ended. His value dropped like a stone last season, with a winning percentage that dipped from .564 to .443. With so many alpha-personality players to share possessions with in Brooklyn's new lineup, Johnson has entered the role-player phase of his decline"
Contrary to popular belief, Johnson doesn’t need to be the top dog this season. Just like in Phoenix, with the likes of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, he could be a secondary option and a big one at that. With Jason Kidd vowing to get Johnson away from being just a spot up shooter next season, Johnson can take pressure off Paul Pierce, who admits he's aging, by being a slasher and take his nifty floater, while also allowing Williams to get off-ball screens and the like for open shots he is capable of hitting.
During the first half of the year, Johnson was one of the few players who contributed on a consistent basis. He dropped off in the final third of the season (and playoffs), suffering with plantar fasciitis.
"Iso-Joe," not only played right into the Nets style of play last year, but he should also benefit the team in this coming one. With him and Pierce out on the wings, they will each spread the floor giving Brook Lopez plenty of time to go to work in the post.
On the topic of Pierce, the two could be a perfect match as wing players. Both with similar styles of play, preferring to take their defender one-on-one, would force defenses hand, for if the help side defender commits to much, one would find the other on the weak side for an open jumper.
What is most puzzling is how people have been so quick to forget Johnson. It wasn’t like he hit 10-of-13 shots with the game closer than five points with less than a minute remaining or 9-of-10 with the game closer than three points or 4-of-4 in the final 10 seconds when the margin is 3 points or fewer.
Oh, wait, he did.
Johnson bailed out Brooklyn time after time against teams they were better than and was always the teams’ go-to-guy down the stretch. Even though the team has added two veterans who aren’t so bad themselves in the clutch, Pierce and Garnett, having a guy like Johnson on the floor in the final seconds is always a plus. (Pierce, as Ben Couch reported, paced the league's finishers --min. 50 FGAs-- with a staggering 12-of-24 performance from long range within the final 3 minutes of games where Boston was within 5 points.)
Of course Williams, the $100 million dollar point guard, and Lopez, the rising superstar center, garnered the most attention from the public last year and are fan favorites. However, it is indeed strange that Johnson, the soft-spoken shooting guard who always delivered for Brooklyn when they needed it, has become an afterthought during the offseason.