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Four years on, Tyler Johnson finally takes court as a Net

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Tyler Johnson remembers the meeting he had with the Nets in a hotel back in July 2016. The Nets, at that point, had little going for them. No draft picks, a rookie GM and coach. They were coming off a 21-win season. What they did have was a vision supplied by Sean Marks and a bankroll supplied by Mikhail Prokhorov.

So Marks decided he would make a splash, offering big deals to Johnson, then a 24-year-old combo guard who was becoming a top sixth man in Miami, and Allen Crabbe, also then 24 and a rising star sharpshooter in Portland. Marks prepared offer sheets for the two restricted free agents, what some called outrageous and exorbitant, $50 million to Johnson, $75 million to Crabbe. It ingratiated Marks to free agents, their agents, and one mom from North Dakota.

“My mom still says Sean is one of her favorite people of all time. We’re very fortunate to be in this position. I signed that offer sheet four years ago, so I was ready at that time to become a Net,” Johnson said, saying several times that he wasn’t using the offer sheet as leverage with the Heat.

“Obviously we know the story, Miami matched it. But … we were very interested in what was being built here. So we actually did sign that offer sheet and I was ecstatic when we got that call to come back over here.”

Of course, Nets legend has it that he was more than ecstatic back in 2016. He threw up (twice) after taking at look at all the zeros.

Finally, after not playing since February 5, TJ stepped on the court as a Net. The circle was complete. He’s only getting $212,000 for the rest of the season, but he’s good with the Nets.

Jacque Vaughn likes that Johnson “competes,” a word he’s used more than once to describe the 6’4” combo guard.

“I think it starts with his ability to compete. Him on both ends of the floor being able to take some of the knowledge that he has from other teams, whether that is cutting at the right time, whether that is multiple efforts on the offensive end, whether that is moving into windows and getting into space to receive the basketball,” said Vaughn.

“So there are some things that he does extremely well and that are instinctive, and then defensively, being able to fight through screens, being able to guard multiple positions, to be able to come back and help rebound, just because of his toughness. Those things, we’ll definitely depend on both ends of the floor from him.”

With so much turnover —25 players have worn the black-and-white this year, Vaughn has gone the simple route in designing his offense, which out of necessity will take advantage of small ball.

“It’s actually been pretty seamless,” said Johnson of adjusting after not playing in five months. “JV is doing a great job of integrating me and Jamal pretty effortlessly. And the guys have done a great job as well, explaining what needs to be said. Fortunately enough the offense is not very complex, they just allow you to go out there and play basketball, it makes it a lot easier.”

Said Vaughn, “It’s not getting too bogged down with sets where guys have to have a Rolodex of thinking and not playing with their instincts, overall the choice of putting basketball players in position to make basketball plays,”

“So we talk about getting an advantage as early as possible we can, keeping that advantage and taking advantage of the advantage. Those guys understand those concepts, some that have been around the NBA that we tweaked a little bit for a while because of the personnel. Then some things because of the way we want to play we’ll be able to utilize...”

TJ was reluctant to talk much about his time in Phoenix who cut him on February 9 after a lackluster season that was hobbled by a sore knee early on. It’s fine now, he said. In his first three years of his deal, which he spent in Miami, TJ averaged better than 12 points a game and became Nick Spoelstra’s hot hand, his energy guy. In those three years, he started only 51 games, coming off the bench 151 times. His numbers dropped off big-time with the Suns.

“Maybe I wasn’t at 100 percent. I was working through it, trying to get right. But I didn’t have that pop, that bounce I used to have where I’d try to go up over the top of people. Who knows if that played a role in anything,” said Johnson. “I don’t put any blame anywhere but myself. At the end of the day I can only control myself.

“Obviously it didn’t work out the way I would’ve wanted. There was a handful of things that could’ve gone better, not necessarily being anybody’s fault. Coming in and having the quick change, it took a long time for everyone to get on the same page. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. But fortunately, I’m here. I find myself in a position where I can have a little bit of redemption.”

Meanwhile, Vaughn said Thursday’s practice was the team’s best since they arrived in the “bubble” a week ago. He credited Jamal Crawford’s calm, veteran presence for some of it.

“He’s a guy you could take to a playground across the world and he’ll feel comfortable playing on any floor,” Vaughn said of Crawford. “That’s a special talent.”

Meanwhile, Garrett Temple was on CNN again, talking to John King and revealed what he would wear on the back of his jersey... “Education Reform.”

Nets will practice Friday evening.