Joe Johnson has awakened.
After a miserable November and December, Johnson has looked like his old self again --at least on offense-- in January, putting up the kind of numbers people expected from him this season. Friday night, he got the Nets untracked in the third with three straight three-pointers and on Saturday, had three more.
Take a look
--In January, the 34-year-old is averaging 14.7 points per game in nine games, along with 2.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds, while shooting 50 percent overall and 52.6 percent from deep. His free throw percentage for the month is 88.9 percent. He's had two 20+ point games and only one single-digit game. He's hit at least two three pointers in six straight games, at least one in 14.
That is dramatic turnaround from October-November and December, which may have been in his worst month since joining the league.
--In December, Johnson averaged 9.6 points per game in 15 games along with 3.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds, while shooting 35.6 percent overall and 33.9 percent from deep. Even his free throw shooting was down to 66.7 percent. He hit double figures in only five of the 15 games.
--In October/November, Johnson averaged 11.3 points per game in 17 games, along with 3.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 34 percent overall and 23.1 percent from deep. He did shoot nearly 85 percent from the line. He was also inconsistent, never putting together more than two straight double-digit games.
What's the difference and is Johnson now a possible trade piece again ...or is he just auditioning for next year?
“I’m just playing. I don’t think it’s any different from when it was earlier in the season,” Johnson said Saturday. “I’m just playing. Obviously I’m making shots, probably a bit more poised now that I’m not trying to force a shot. I’m just taking what the defense gives me.
His coach thinks it's about getting the ball in his hands more.
"He works hard at his craft." said Tony Brown. "My thinking is try to get the ball in his hands a lot more in certain actions. He's one of our better guys iwth the ball whether he's shooting it, coming our of pick and rolls or posting up. I just wan tto take advantage of that. I think he's getting a better rhythm when he has the ball in his hands."
And no matter what, he's always had the respect of teammates.
"Here, maybe some people [don’t appreciate him]," Al Horford, a former teammate told Andy Vasquez. "But I never took him for granted. He’s a special player, the way that he can score the ball, the things that he’s been able to do with his size.
"Maybe because he’s a quiet guy, he gets kind of the rap that everybody shoves him to the side," Horford said of Johnson. "But Joe was a great teammate here, he taught me a lot."
So suppose Johnson keeps putting up those numbers for the next month, is he a trade piece at the February 18 deadline? A contending team might want a veteran presence who can hit the big shot and provide leadership. Of course, he still makes $24.9 million which even if it's expiring, the league's second highest salary is a big nut to move.
And would the Nets be interested? Word is that while Frank Zanin, Billy King's assistant, has "the phone" and will take calls, ownership is unlikely to be interested. The big reason is the return. The Nets would have to take on multiple deals, at least one or more would extend into next season and thus cut into the Nets salary cap space. As anyone who listened to Mikhail Prokhorov this week understands, that $40 to $45 million in cap space is essential if there is to be a "small reset."
Said one league source not connected to the Nets, "They have to pray to God they can get some free agents next year, overpay some guys on one to two year deals like Sacramento did, and hope it works out better than it is there. There's no other way."
What about a deal with a first round pick? Sure, but that is not likely, Hard to imagine any team wanting to expend a pick, even with protections deep in the future on a 34-year-old who'd give them two, three or four months work, not matter how valuable he could be. And Johnson has let it be known he doesn't want a "charity buyout"after the deadline.
Of course, things can change. It's possible that the Nets could have a GM in place by the deadline and he may have other ideas. But it seems more likely that Nets fans will likely have Joe to enjoy through April.