EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Joe Johnson groaned faintly as he sat down, his body depleted from days of battling the flu, and insisted he will take the court Friday night against the 76ers. In doing so, the veteran and recent subject of trade rumors offered an apt metaphor for where the 8-12 Nets are now: Tired, perhaps feeling the effects of age, but scrambling to right the ship.
The Nets on Thursday confirmed the trade of Andrei Kirilenko and Jorge Gutierrez to the 76ers, a move that will rid the Nets of the $3.3 million Kirilenko is due this season and save them from having to pay $12 million in luxury tax. Although the 76ers also will get the Nets' 2020 second-round pick and the right to swap their 2018 second-round pick, the Nets created a $3.4-million trade exception and a $916,000 trade exception, giving them a little salary-cap breathing room.
Though Kirilenko, 33, has played very little this season and has missed recent games because of personal matters, the move came amid further trade rumors: Namely, the ones saying that veterans such as Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, who coach Lionel Hollins said will not play Friday night because of his sore back, could be on the block in favor of younger talent. Lopez is only 26 but Williams is 30 and Johnson 33 -- and the three were cornerstones of the win-or-else team that lost in the second round of last season's playoffs.
"You've got to execute," Hollins said of going toe-to-toe with younger teams. "You've got to control the pace. You can't let a team run up and down the court. Their athleticism really shows off. You've got to keep them in the half- court. Tempo is huge."
Johnson also offered that maybe the Nets could pick up the pace to prevent their now all too familiar third-quarter swoons. "We look great in the first quarter," he said. "Everyone is fresh, moving fast, executing on both ends of the court . . . Then, I don't know. For whatever reason, we're not that good."
Is it fatigue? "Maybe so. I don't know. It has to be something to do with that because we start off pretty good. We just don't give ourselves the chance."
Regardless, Johnson hopes to find a cure for what ails the Nets. Though he was bedridden Sunday and Monday with the flu, was forced to sit out two games and at times did not look to be at full strength, "I'm definitely going to play," he said.
As for all that other chatter, well, that's where being a veteran comes in handy, Johnson said. He's well aware of the rumors, but "this is what comes with the territory," he said. "It's part of it . . . We still have jobs to do."
He reminisced about being traded to the Suns during his rookie year with the Celtics.
"That was like a blind-side," he said, smiling. He was called to the coach's hotel room and noticed he didn't have his gear in front of his door, like all of his teammates, "and when I'm going up , another player [Milt Palacio] is going down who was in the trade with me. He was like, 'Man, I just got traded.' And I'm not even thinking he was about to tell me the same thing."
"I hate to sound so cliché, but we kind of all understand what you're signing up for and the possibility of anyone getting traded, so this is it," he said. "We lose a good friend in Andrei and Jorge. Those are great guys."