A few days ago, the general belief, at least among Nets fans, was that there were two possible markets for Joe Johnson's $25 million contract: the Pistons and Hornets. Last season, there were rumors that both had an interest in the 6'8" swingman, despite his declining stats.
Now both of those options are gone. Four days ago, the Pistons traded two non-guaranteed contracts -- Caron Butler and Shawne Williams -- for the Bucks Ersan Ilyasova. Then, on Monday, the Hornets traded Lance Stephenson to the Clippers for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes.
Whether or not Billy King believed he could deal Johnson to either club is uncertain. The Nets dissed the Piston trade rumors at the deadline and although some in Nets management and ownership wanted Coney Island's Stephenson, King was always reluctant. Too much baggage, too little production. No Brooklyn reunion for Lance.
Now, at least for the moment, the possibility of dealing Johnson seems less likely. Dumping him for non-guaranteed deals like those the Bucks gave up in Butler and Williams would appear to be the ideal way for the Nets to change things up. It would get them under the luxury tax threshold, avoid the luxury and repeater taxes while giving the team flexibility in the form of the full MLE, the BAE and the right to sign-and-trade.
There are a few big non-and partially guaranteed deals out there, pieces like the Nuggets Wilson Chandler ($7.2 million after guarantees) and Randy Foye ($3.1 million), the Cavaliers' Brendan Haywood ($10.2 million) and a few others, but it won't be easy. Johnson had his worst statistical year since his second season and over the past dozen years, he's racked up the second most minutes, regular season and playoffs combined.
The Nets got a lot out of Johnson, a seventh all-star season, some extraordinary clutch moments and a great playoff performance two years ago. Now, they need to find him new home. And neither will be in Detroit or Charlotte. The Nets would like to get a lot done this summer, but Johnson's contract may be easier to move at the deadline when teams are pushing for the playoffs or something greater. All the Nets have to do is get under the threshold by next April 15 to avoid the tax.