Cam Johnson’s been sidelined for all but one game early in the season, but he’s already got a good grasp on the team and how they play behind the lead of Mikal Bridges and Ben Simmons.
In his chat with Theo Pinson on the Run Your Race podcast, Johnson takes us behind the scenes when the big trade happened, and how this Nets team came to be what it is today.
“Yes, me and Mikal both knew,” Johnson laughs as he and Pinson go back and forth. “‘Kal and I were just sitting [together] when KD initially requested a trade — this was June 30th or something. Early July we’re back lifting at the practice facility in Phoenix and we go get breakfast afterwards and I’m just like, ‘Bro, like, if this trade happens, it’s both of us’ and he’s like ‘yeah.’ I don’t see any situation where it would be one or the other or something, I think it would be both of us with other players, with other picks whatever. And we were like, ‘yeah I’m not going if you’re not coming.’”
Pinson, a former Net himself, mentions how crucial it was having Mikal alongside him in the trade. Johnson explained how it helped, but their competitive nature made the situation frustrating. After all, Brooklyn was still in line for a playoff berth.
“Yes absolutely [it helped], and there was frustration. There was frustration because we’re trying to compete. It wasn’t a trade where we go to Brooklyn and we’re packing up the season. We’re trying to compete, we’re trying to win games, trying to get a playoff spot, stay out of the play-in for sure. And at the same time, we got Spence [Dinwiddie] and Do [Dorian Finney-Smith] coming in from Dallas, so we’re starting Spence, Kal, me, Do, and Clax — that’s five players that have played for three different teams the entire season up to that point.
So it’s just a lot to merge, there’s definitely a lot of frustration, and so much you’re trying to figure out. You don’t even know everybody’s name yet in the organization. You’re trying to figure out so much at once. Knowing that I had Kal and Spence and Do going through it at the same time, it makes it more manageable even if things are tough, it’s like, alright we can get through this.”
Johnson went into thorough detail about a crazy 24 hours for the two of them, both who spent their entire respective careers in Phoenix together.
“Let me start from the beginning. I know KD re-requested a trade and wanted to go to Phoenix, so I was like ‘OK I guess in some capacity this is back on the table so I’m not completely blindsided.’ But as the night goes on, I don’t really hear much so I’m like, ‘I’m just gonna go to bed and get ready for the game tomorrow.’
I’m unwinding and it’s like 1:00 AM, about to brush my teeth, go right to bed, done for the night... and I get a phone call from my little brother. I’m like ‘why is Puff’ calling me at 1:00 AM?’ And my little brother and my dad are on the line and they go ‘You just got traded!’ Puff’s like ‘You got traded! You and Mikal just got traded!’ I’m like ‘huh? That’s not a funny joke.’ Then I started getting text messages and all that. The Suns players were on the same floor — 14 and 15 — so all the ones on 15 you hear them like ‘YO!’ and then everyone at once goes and opens their door and looks into the hallway. So then we all gather around in the hallway of the Four Seasons in Atlanta.”
Johnson goes on to say how Bridges wasn’t fazed at all.
“I called ‘Kal. You gotta understand, he’s like a go-with-the-flow type of guy. It’s really hard for something like that to knock him off, he’s not gonna be there pressed or sad, he almost had a smile on his face like ‘yo this is crazy.’ So I’m like ‘yo come up to the 15th floor a bunch of us are out here,’ so he comes up and bro we just were there talking for another hour, hour and a half, and it’s basically our entire team. Everyone’s in flops, no shirts, everyone’s just gathered in this hallway chopping it up. We’re talking about everything — people who have been traded saying what they’ve been through.”
He runs us through the rest of night/morning...
3:00 AM: “I am on the phone with people trying to figure stuff out like what am I doing next? Where do I go? What do I do? Let me rewind... 20 minutes after I found out I was getting traded, I got a simultaneous phone call from both GMs. That’s when I got the official word from the GMs, so I talked to each of them.
“About 4:00 AM: Coach Monty [Williams] calls me and I think he was asleep. He’s like ‘I just woke up, I just saw...!’ Imagine you’re a coach and you just wake up to that.” I have a long conversation with him, talk to him.
“I probably end up going to sleep 5-5:30AM and wake up around 7-ish. Probably slept an hour or two.”
“I get up, I pack my stuff. We’re on day seven of an eight-day road trip so I got a suitcase full of dirty clothes and like one outfit left, and they’re like you got a flight at 9:00 am to Brooklyn.”
On top of all the emotions, sleep deprivation, and travel — Johnson admits how Bridges was ready to suit up THAT night!
“Me and Mikal take the flight up to New York. Mind you, we just played in Brooklyn the previous night so we just got to Atlanta. So we played in Brooklyn and we’re going back to Brooklyn... We get back there, we had physicals as soon as we land. Mikal was trying to play that night against Chicago! He’s like ‘Is there any way I can play tonight?’ I’m like ‘Bro breathe, you don’t even know but two of the coaches. Chill.’ He know he had that crazy streak going, but it didn’t count as a missed game because he was ineligible to play and he ended up playing 83 anyway. He’s calling people [asking] ‘how can I play today?’ KD is not anywhere near Phoenix right now, he needs to have a physical before the trade clears, so you cannot play tonight. He’s actually kind of upset about it. I’m like, ‘bro breathe.’”
It’s clear as day that Cam and Mikal are more than teammates — they’re friends who have been through plenty together. And despite all they’d endured, Johnson explains how this was the definition of when opportunity meets preparation; how Mikal had been working towards being the guy his whole career.
“We had a lot of guys missing, so there was a huge chunk of the [2022-23] season where Mikal was relied on a ton to do a lot of things, you know, be the engine of the team,” Johnson told Pinson. “It was a great opportunity for him to take everything he’s ever worked on and just put in into practice. So we finally get everyone back. We played one game against Brooklyn with our starting lineup, first time since early November that we played [all together] before the trade, so obviously you give Mikal all that freedom leading up to that — he’s a guy that’s always in the gym. Always working, always advancing, always looking for ways to get better... and he’s a film guy too. So he’s taking everything that he’s working on and he’s learning from it and he’s getting better. You put him in Brooklyn where he has a chance to really fully show what he can do and he was just ready for that opportunity. Plain and simple. People ask me this all the time, like, ‘What happened there?’ I’m like ‘He didn’t change.’ It wasn’t like he magically just acquired some skill, he had been working on this the whole time. This is the player he has been working to become this whole time. He gets the opportunity [in Brooklyn] — boom. He was prepared for it.”
Amid the entertaining stories and praise for Bridges, Johnson briefly spoke on how important Ben Simmons is to Brooklyn’s success. But even beyond that, it’s the group who has to adjust to Ben’s style — not the other way around.
“There’s still some stuff to figure out but guys are invested, playing the right way, then you add Ben into the mix and he looks the part right now. He’s probably one of the fastest players in the league up and down the court, and there’s so much money to be made playing off of that. We’re just tapping into it now. Our offensive system and defensive system, he’s a huge part of it, but we all got to learn how to play together. It’s not too often you get to play with a guy like Ben, you know what I mean? It’s a different play style, he can open up a lot opportunities, a lot of avenues, a lot of scoring potential for a lot of different guys. We just gotta learn how to make that as efficient as possible and we will.
Johnson, 27, just signed a four-year, $94.5 million extension with Brooklyn. Bridges, meanwhile, is in the second year of a four-year, $90.9 million contract. Although Johnson’s only played one game this season, it’s no secret that they’re Brooklyn’s cornerstones. And just by hearing the two talk, it’s a breath of fresh air for an organization that has long sought leaders to guide the present and future … and often have been disappointed.
Perhaps the podcast couldn’t have dropped at a better time. The Nets are competing at 3-4, and Bridges is about to hit a career milestone: 400 consecutive games played, the longest streak for any active NBA player.
The full 48-minute “Run Your Race’ podcast can be found in the link below.