Sean Marks made Tyler Johnson a rich man at 24, so rich in fact that when TJ first saw the contract numbers on the Nets offer sheet — $50 million over four years, he threw up ... twice. The Heat, of course, matched that offer and TJ headed back to Miami rich but as he told NetsDaily later, he wanted to play in Brooklyn.
Fast forward to last June. Out of work after being waived by the Suns in early February, Johnson, now 28, finally got to wear the black-and-while. No big offer sheet, no trips to the bathroom either. Just a vets minimum deal and a promise from Marks that if all went well, he’d be back this season. True to his word, that happened a few days ago. The 6’4” combo guard re-signed with the Nets.
Johnson wanted to remain a Net for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is he wants to play with a championship caliber roster, but he also said he respects Marks and his history of transparency.
Johnson spoke about how after the “bubble,” Marks made sure Johnson knew where he stood. For him, that was something rare and so it mattered to him.
“Before I signed in the ‘bubble,’ there was an opportunity to re-sign for this upcoming season,” Johnson said. “Like I said, Sean has been completely transparent. He has been great at keeping me informed on the situation. He has been like that since he offered me that initial contract a couple years ago. It is very rare to have somebody who’s keeps you up to date and keeps you filled in on the situation. He’s done a great job on that and I am very appreciative of that.”
TJ said he had other offers, but he wanted Brooklyn. He noted how playing alongside great players hopefully will give his game a boost as he continues to evolve his game.
“There was definitely other teams and other opportunities,” Johnson said about free agency suitors. “The thing is that it is very rare to be in a situation where you have a team that wants you that is putting themselves in a position to compete for a championship. That is what I wanted to be apart of. However that evolves for me moving forward, we’ll see but being around great players, it raises your level. That is what I wanted to be around.”
Johnson played well in the “bubble,” posting 12.0 points in eight seeding games, 13.8 points in the first round of the playoffs, backing up both at the the point and shooting guard. He shot 38.9 percent from deep in the seeding games, 39.8 percent in the playoffs.
With a shortened offseason mixed in with a global pandemic, many NBA players used different preparation strategies to get ready for the 2020-21 season. For Johnson, his offseason preparation was focused around his body. He also noted that he had been “banged up” during his time with the Phoenix Suns.
“It has been more about working out my body,” Johnson said about offseason preparation. “Allow myself to be available at all times for both practice and games. I felt a little banged up when I was in Phoenix and then obviously COVID is taking a toll on everybody but it did allow some time off for me to get healthy, come back, and allow me to have that time to feel good while I was in the bubble.
“After we got out of there, that was my main focus to continue to progress with my body and making sure I am fully healthy going into this year.”
As far as getting to know his new teammates, Johnson said he has worked out a bit with the Nets superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
“Very minimally,” Johnson said about working with Durant and Kyrie. “It is just good to have everyone in the building, get to see faces, and build that comradery. As far as shooting, you can only get to know somebody so much during that time but once we get rolling, I’m sure we’ll get a little bit more acquainted.”
Other than Durant and Irving, who both did not play with Johnson in the “bubble,” the 6’4’ combo guard said he was very impressed with a Net player who did play in Orlando, Caris LeVert. He noted CLV’s consistency and how LeVert lives to play in the big moments, especially in the final 12 minutes of play.
“I did not know how consistent he was,” Johnson said of LeVert. “In the bubble, he was putting it in every game. He had a couple of slow starts, then turned it around, and was a finisher as well. He was hitting clutch shots. There are a lot of people who can play within the flow of the game and then when it gets down to that fourth quarter, it’s time to make those plays down the stretch, they kind of fade away or defer but he wants those moments. He wants those shots. Being around him and the way he speaks, you can’t help but root for that guy.”
Despite the training camp regulations that allow only four players and staff members permitted in the team training facility for workouts at one time, Johnson has not been able to mesh with his Nets teammates.
“I think everybody is just excited to get started,” Johnson said about camp. “We are looking forward to having that opportunity to get together, bump a little bit, and like I said - get together. I think once we start playing up against each other and in the preseason, we will get a good vibe for what the situation is going to look like.”
Aside from that downside of not having a full team workout, the 6’4’ combo guard does get a sense about his teammates based on work ethic. In the end, he won’t get a good feel until everyone is together on the hardwood.
“It is kinda tough until you can get out there and play a little bit,” Johnson said. “You do get a sense for guys’ work ethic though. You get a sense for who comes in every day and works hard, who cares about making and missing shots, and who is trying to take their game to another level even with the situation we are in right now. I think moving forward as we all get to be on the court together and start playing as I said, I think that is when guys will get a good feel for each other.”
While Johnson awaits the opportunity to fully mesh with all his teammates, he noted he has a security blanket in the returning Nets staff led by Jacque Vaughn. Their presence, he said, makes the adjustment smoother.
“There is still a lot of the same staff that has been here so being able to get acclimated with them allows for when we go into this season that a little bit more of a level of accountability because they’ve seen me play,” Johnson said. “I have seen what they expect out of me as a player, as a team, and what the goals are. I think that just the familiarity of me going into a season allows me to have different conversations to move forward.”
With the Nets surplus of guards, Johnson says he doesn’t think he needs to be worried despite not knowing his role yet.
“I came in with the mindset of getting better every day. This is going to be a crazy season. We don’t know how things are going to shake out so all I can do is put myself in the best position possible,” he said. “As far as role goes, I think it is going to change as the year goes on. All I’m waiting for is my opportunity, grab hold of it, and go from there.”
And he’s sure that he’ll know where he stands.
- Tyler Johnson was confident he would return to Nets - Greg Logan - Newsday