Before last season, Cam Johnson reportedly turned down a four-year, $72 million extension from the Phoenix Suns. He wanted more as he entered the final year of his rookie contract ... and once traded to Brooklyn in February, he proved that indeed he could be worth more.
He averaged 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals in 25 games with the Nets, played good defense and showed things he had shown in Phoenix, like proving himself an able secondary playmaker and ball handler. His 3-point shooting dipped a bit, going from 45.5% in the Valley of the Sun to 37.2% in Prospect Heights. Still, for his career, he is close to 40% from deep.
Now, as a restricted free agent, he could command a lot more than what he turned down, maybe as much or more than his good friend, Mikal Bridges, who’s in the midst of a four-year, $90.9 million deal. They are more than just “twins” in terms of friendship. They are four months apart is age — Johnson just celebrated his 27th birthday. The two, along with Nic Claxton and perhaps Ben Simmons, could be a nice core for the Nets retool.
Since he’s a restricted free agent, the Nets can either sign him as soon as free agency dawns on July 5 or wait to see what the market looks like, then match any offer sheet tendered to him by another club. They’d have only 24 hours to decide under the new CBA. And as John Hollinger and Jake Fischer have reported this week, it could get expensive.
Hollinger, in fact, suggested Johnson’s value could be as high as $26.4 million (although he should be noted that The Athletic writer’s estimates are historically on the high side.). Here’s what he wrote:
Don’t be surprised if the bidding on Johnson gets a little wacky, simply because rival teams know they might be able to spook the Nets from matching if they can present a strong offer sheet. Brooklyn enters the offseason just $10 million from the projected tax line; matching a strong sheet for Johnson would push the Nets past the first tax apron unless they can ditch salary someplace else. (Joe Harris and Patty Mills would be the likely places to start.)
The other consideration, of course, is that Johnson is such a plug-and-play fit in most systems because he can competently guard both forward spots, runs the floor and shoots 39.3 percent career from 3. There isn’t enough shot creation here for star-level upside, which is why teams should be careful going too high up the salary ladder, but Johnson is a valuable piece who seems likely to have multiple suitors.
A month ago, in a back-and-forth, Hollinger’s colleague and Nets beat writer Alex Schiffer said he expected a contract starting at a bit less than that.
My spies are telling me he’s going to get more than $20 million a year, and I’m led to believe the Nets have no interest in letting him walk.
Fischer thinks as do others that the main competition will come from the Rockets who have nearly $60 million in cap space and a dream of vaulting from having the NBA’s worst record to contention in a single year helped perhaps by a James Harden return.
On the wing, the Rockets do hold an interest in sharpshooter Cam Johnson, sources said, although Brooklyn personnel has indicated the Nets’ plan to match any realistic offer sheet for the restricted free agent, who was part of the franchise’s return for Kevin Durant.
It’s possible the Pacers and Pistons could be interested, but their cap space reserve is only half the Rockets at $27.3 million for the Pacers and $29.7 million. James Edwards of The Athletic told Mike Scotto of Hoopshype on Friday that he expects Detroit “at least throws an offer sheet” Johnson but added, “I think Brooklyn would probably match whatever realistic offer they get.” (Edwards also suggested that the Pistons could be interested in Yuta Watanabe who is an unrestricted free agent.)
It may not come to a bidding war for Johnson. Last summer, there was speculation that the Nets might wait to see what Nic Claxton could get on the open market. Instead, Sean Marks signed Claxton to a two-year, $20 million (with incentives) deal that by season’s end looked like a bargain. There was no need to wait ... by either side.
Johnson has give no indication whatsoever that he is anything but happy in Brooklyn. This week, he was seen working out at teammate Spencer Dinwiddie’s home in southern California along with Dinwiddie, Claxton and former Net Caris LeVert.
Earlier, he and Bridges were also on hand when the Gordon Parks Foundation honored Clara Wu Tsai for her philanthropy work. Cole Anthony was there as well.
Quite the lineup honoring Clara Wu Tsai at Gordon Parks Foundation Tuesday. That’s L to R: Mikal Bridges, Cole Anthony, Crystal McCrary (Cole’s mom), Cam Johnson and Joe Tsai. pic.twitter.com/mKbbqTdXAw— NetsDaily (@NetsDaily) May 25, 2023
Moreover, Sean Marks was unequivocal in his desire to keep Johnson around, citing not just his play but his character, something we all know is a high priority now more than ever.
“Cam knows how we feel. JV and I sat with him this morning. We hope he’s back,” Marks told reporters at the Nets end-of-season media day. “He’s a tremendous person. On and off the court high character, his IQ is off the charts. That’s exciting to be around...Hopefully he’s here.
“He’s a big priority for us, there’s no question of that,”
Like Hollinger, Bobby Marks, the Nets former GM who’s now an ESPN analyst, thinks the Nets have to be careful not to overpay Johnson, with Bobby Marks (no relation) wondering just how much is too much.
“Nice wing,” Bobby Marks said in a recent assessment of the Nets off-season. “Not your third-best player on a good team. Back-end starter — fourth or fifth-best player here so you’ve got to figure out what that number is going to be.”
Johnson will certainly be helped by his friendship with Bridges. After the Nets posted some video of Johnson’s highlights on Twitter, Bridges offered his comment.
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