In the end, the Nets allowed Joe Johnson a shot at the one thing they’ve never been able to give him — an NBA title.
After nearly four seasons with the Nets, the 34-year-old veteran has accepted a buyout, freeing him to sign with a playoff contender in time for the March 1 postseason-eligible deadline, the team announced yesterday. The Nets will get $3 million back from the nearly $25 million he’s owed this season, general manager Sean Marks said in an interview with ESPN Radio’s Michael Kay.
Marks said owner Mikhail Prokhorov — who is fond of Johnson, or “Joe Cool,” as he’d sometimes call him — knew “that the fair thing for Joe is to let him go and let him try to win a championship.”
Johnson, who was in danger of not making the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons, was a subject of interest even before the deal was done. ESPN reported that the Hawks, Celtics, Cavaliers, Rockets, Heat, Thunder and Raptors were inquiring about the swingman, who has a penchant for game-winning baskets and a reputation as an even-keeled professional.
He is averaging 11.8 points — his lowest since 2003-04 — in 33.9 minutes this season, but Johnson has been among the best from three-point range since the beginning of the calendar year. He’s shot 46 percent from downtown in his last 26 games, a span that memorably includes his off-balance, buzzer-beating winner against the Nuggets earlier this month. In 3 1⁄2 seasons with the Nets, he averaged 14.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
“Thank you to all of the Brooklyn and New York Fans for your support during my time with the @BrooklynNets,” Johnson tweeted. “I want to thank the Nets organization and I wish nothing but the best to the team. I am looking forward to the next chapter of my career and am excited to bring my talents to a new team.”
Marks said in a statement: “Joe has been a quality professional since joining the Nets . . . provided many thrilling moments for his teammates and Nets fans.”
Johnson is 52nd on the all-time scoring list, having recently eclipsed 19,000 points, and is seventh in career minutes played among active players. His field-goal streak ended at 937 games this season, the longest among active players at the time.
He came to the Nets in 2012 as part of a blockbuster trade with the Hawks, two years after becoming the highest-paid player in the NBA: six years at $123.7 million. He hasn’t won a championship in his 15-year career, though, and playing for a title contender will be paramount.
Don’t expect him back in Brooklyn. “It’s been fun, and I’m not going to rule anything out, but we’ve got some different things on our horizon right now,” Marks said to Kay.
For now, “Joe is serious about going to a contender. He wants to go and he wants to get a chance to play for a playoff team. We wish him all the best.”
By letting him go, the Nets gave Johnson his best chance at the best.
Nets beat Suns. Bojan Bogdanovic scored a career-high 24 points Thursday night to lead the Nets (16-42) to a 116-106 win over the Suns (14-44) in Phoenix. Thaddeus Young added 18 points, eight rebounds and seven steals and Donald Sloan had 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Former Net Mirza Teletovic had 30 points for Phoenix, which lost its 13th straight game.