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As Joe Johnson's gets on track, his contract doesn't look that bad

Joe Johnson is earning just short of $20 million this season, sixth in the league and between Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. He's already paid dividends. The Nets used him to lure Deron Williams back. Now, in the last couple of games, he's showing what he can do on the court.

Alex Trautwig

The first and indeed the second reactions to news that the Nets were trading for Joe Johnson went something like this. "Oh man, that contract!" Yeah, $89.3 million over four years is a big nut, particularly since it and Brook Lopez's max deal took the Nets from thinking about a payroll of about $73 million to one that settled at $83.5 million. Bigger luxury tax bill, more restrictions on things like sign-and-trades.

But as the season slowly progresses, the six-time All-Star with the terrific attitude is starting to find his game and his role. Over the last two games, vs the Cavaliers and Celtics, he's scored 23 points in the fourth quarter, many of them clutch shots. Not to mention his clutch free throw shooting. In those two games, he's shooting 15-for-35, 42.9 percent, overall, if only 5-for-16 from three. But he's also handed out 10 assists, grabbed 13 rebounds, gotten to the line 11 times and scored 44 points.

"I just don’t have to take as much of a leading role as I did in Atlanta," he said. "Here, it’s more playing through Deron and Brook, and I’m fine with it. I think my role has changed, obviously. Now I get a chance to play off those guys probably more than they’ll play off of me.

The contract is no longer so much of a burden. He's no longer the player owed the most money over the course of his contract. That's Deron Williams, who's owed almost $10 more. And he's playing for an owner who's more into winning than whining about costs. As his former coach, Mike Woodson, tells Tim Bontemps, "Look at it this way. If somebody offers you $120 million, are you supposed to say, ‘I don’t want it?’ I mean, come on."

And the five players he was traded for? Jordan Farmar and Jordan Williams were both bought out by the Hawks, Farmar for $1.5 million, Williams for $700,000. Farmar is playing in Turkey. No indication Williams is playing anywhere. Johan Petro has played five minutes for the Hawks and not scored. Anthony Morrow had one big game (17 points) against Miami but hasn't scored more than five points in any other game. Only DeShawn Stevenson is competing on a high level, starting four games and averaging seven points a contest. Even the Rocket pick sent the Hawks may not be available this June. It's lottery protected.