The Brooklyn Nets waived Joe Johnson late Thursday afternoon, meaning the former All-Star may get his wish after all: to join a contending team for a playoff run. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, several playoff teams are interested in Johnson: the Atlanta Hawks, the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Houston Rockets, the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Toronto Raptors.
Let’s look at how Johnson fits on each team, and find him the best possible home. Above all, there are two essential requirements for any veteran like Johnson when they seek a new team: a chance for a championship, and enough playing time.
Though this season hasn’t been as successful for the Hawks, they still find themselves with the same talented roster that saw them win more games than any other Eastern Conference team last season. Still though, the Hawks found themselves fighting a losing effort against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Johnson would have the opportunity to play a decent amount of minutes in Atlanta. Kyle Korver eats up the majority of minutes at SG for the Hawks, but his backup Tim Hardaway Jr. is replaceable. In 15.1 minutes per game, Hardaway Jr. only manages 4.4 points per game. Johnson would easily slide in and replace Hardaway Jr.
The Hawks are only the 7-seed at the moment, and therefore may not be the best fit for Johnson. With the Charlotte Hornets, the Detroit Pistons, and the Washington Wizards lurking, the Hawks are at risk of missing the playoffs altogether. Johnson may want more security than that.
Last season the Celtics surprised the rest of the league when they chose to make a playoff push instead of tank for a better draft pick. The Celtics landed the 7-seed, and fell to the Cavaliers. This experience proved to be worthwhile though, because the Celtics have managed to scratch and claw their way to the 3-seed this season.
The Celtics have an impressive collection of above-average players, and a gritty defensive style that allows them to outlast their opponents. Johnson would have trouble finding a lot of playing time in Boston though, since Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, and Jae Crowder eat up most of the minutes on the wing.
This may be in Johnson’s best interest anyway, since the Celtics aren’t expected to truly contend for a championship. The Celtics still lack a true superstar, so they likely won’t make it past the ECF at best. This means Johnson might be better off on a different team.
The Cavaliers are the favorites to sign Johnson, according to Stein. Since the Cavaliers fell short of the championship last season, losing to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, they have been searching for “the missing piece” to help them exact revenge on the Warriors.
Sitting atop the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers are projected to return to the Finals. The Cavaliers are in good position: three games ahead of their closest competitors and it doesn’t seem that the 1-seed is too important to them anyway. With the end of the regular season approaching, Johnson will have opportinty to play quality minutes here.
As the playoffs roll around though, Johnson may quickly fall out of favor. Rotations become smaller in the playoffs, and Johnson may find himself on the end of the bench while the Cavaliers try to win a championship. Still, if winning a championship is Johnson’s ultimate goal, the Cavaliers may be his best choice.
Four teams are contending for the last three Western Conference playoff seeds, and right now, the Rockets are the team that’s outside looking in. Even if they do make the playoffs as one of the seeds 6-8, they would face a juggernaut: either the Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, or the Thunder.
Johnson may not be keen on a first-round exit from the playoffs, something that he has experienced before in his career. The Rockets also don’t have a great amount of room for Johnson, as superstar James Harden takes up most of the minutes at SG, and Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer have the SF position locked down.
All in all, the Rockets are not the best fit for Johnson. Since they are likely to miss the playoffs, or lose in the first-round, Johnson will not want to hitch himself to a losing effort. Add in the fact that the Rockets are stacked on the wing already, and it’s clear the Rockets and Johnson don’t make sense.
The Heat are currently the 4-seed in the East, meaning they seem destined to return to the playoffs after missing them altogether last season. Aging superstar Dwyane Wade has played in 52 of a possible 57 games, and young Justise Winslow has made nice contributions in his rookie year.
Therein lies the problem for Johnson: the Heat have too many wings already. Wade, Winslow, Luol Deng, and Gerald Green take up nearly all of the minutes at SG and SF for the Heat. Johnson could take some minutes from any of them when they need rest, or a game off, but overall it’s not a great opportunity to play a lot.
Contending for a championship doesn’t seem likely either, even though the Heat are in a good position in the East. Though the Heat have a great defense, they don’t score enough. In the East, the Heat rank 13th in PPG. Johnson would be better served on a more well-rounded team.
Oklahoma City Thunder
For years, since the James Harden trade really, the Thunder have searched for a competent bench-SG. Though many have tried to fill in that role, from Anthony Morrow, to Dion Waiters, to Jeremy Lamb, none have provided quite what the Thunder are looking for: a true 3-and-D player. Johnson could do that.
Johnson has always been a good 3-point shooter, his career 3P% is .371, and he has matched that exactly this season. Johnson has also long been a solid defender, adding in an average of 1.2 DWS his last three seasons in Brooklyn. Even though Johnson is “old” at 34, he’s still a capable 3-and-D player, which is exactly what the Thunder need.
The Thunder are also in great position in the West, locked firmly in the 3-seed. Even though this means they may face the Spurs in the 2nd round, the Thunder have a great chance at making it to the WCF. After that, the Thunder would likely face the Warriors, and though that’s daunting, the Thunder have a shot at a championship. This would be a great fit for Johnson.
Only 3 games back from the Cavaliers, and lacking wing-depth with DeMarre Carroll still sidelined with an injury, the Raptors could be the right team for Johnson. The Raptors seem poised to challenge the Cavaliers in the playoffs, but there is no question that the Raptors could use another talented wing.
Enter Joe Johnson, with a past of All-Star games, and buzzer-beaters. Even in the late stages of his career, Johnson has plenty left to give to a team, and the Raptors may be that team. Along with All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Johnson could add to a nice core of players.
The only problem here is that Johnson hasn’t expressed any interest in the Raptors. Sometimes athletes forego the best fit, and instead go where they think gives them the best chance for a championship ring. With other teams out there with better title hopes, the Raptors don’t seem likely to land Johnson.
The choice comes down to the Thunder and the Raptors for me, and in the end I chose the Thunder. Johnson would have plenty of opportunities to play, and would be on one of the 4-best teams in the NBA.
All of that said, the Cavaliers seem to be the direction that Johnson wants to go. The Cavaliers offer him just as good, if not better, chances to win a championship as the Thunder. But Johnson may not find himself on the floor much if the Cavaliers do make it back to the Finals.
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