Sometimes, great players decline in stages, a slow progression but other times, it's sudden. Their numbers simply drop off the table, as it were, and hit bottom much faster than expected. That's what seems to be happening with Joe Johnson.
Still, it's odd. More often than not, a sudden collapse is accompanied by major injuries, like Kobe Bryant's this year, or Patrick Ewing's or even Derrick Rose's. Johnson is as durable as they come, with no injuries of note since he suffered from plantar faschiitis in 2013. Other than LeBron James, no NBA player has amassed as many minutes as Johnson has, regular season and playoffs, over the last dozen years. Overall, in 15 seasons, he's played more than 43,000.
Whatever, Johnson is simply not the player he was, even last year, as Shlomo Sprung of Sheridan writes in excruciating detail...
While attempting just 1.6 fewer field goals per game, Johnson’s field goal percentage has decreased 8.5 percentage points since last season. His PER has completely cratered and according to win shares, which calculates the number of wins a player has contributed to his team over the course of a given season or a per-48 minute span, Johnson has been a negative player this season, a liability on the floor.
And it's getting worse, as Mike Mazzeo tweets...
#Nets Joe Johnson now down to 8.8 PPG, 31.5% FGs, 33.8 MPG last 10 games: Offensive rating: 104.0 Defensive rating: 110.8— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) December 29, 2015
What does this mean for the Nets chances of turning him into some longer term assets at the deadline? Nothing good. Sprung quotes an NBA scout... "He makes a lot of money." For those not familiar with the numbers, "a lot" translates to $24.9 million, second most in the NBA, behind Bryant. The Nets would no doubt have to take on salary beyond this season, cutting into their precious $40 million in cap space next season.
Sprung suggests that the trade deadline is not the date to look at, but rather March 1. If a player is bought out by that date, he can still re-sign with a playoff-bound team and play in the post-season. Johnson has made the post-season eight straight years and done at least as well as he's done in regular season. And it should be noted, he recently switched agents. He is now repped by Jeff Schwartz, who engineered Deron Williams departure from Brooklyn.
But Johnson still has supporters, including Lionel Hollins who while aware of his declining numbers thinks he improves the team when on the court. No one has asked Brook Lopez, but he too is likely to see value in Johnson. Mazzeo notes...
#Nets Brook Lopez FG% by passer Joe Johnson: 58.9 Jarrett Jack: 49.1 Shane Larkin: 40.6— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) December 29, 2015
Even if the Nets don't trade him or cut him, Johnson's time on the court is likely to decline come March. That's when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough will return from injury and when they do, it's likely that the Nets, looking to the future, will try both at the swingman positions.