After a long wait to get back in any sort of game, the Nets took the court Wednesday and absorbed a 31-point beating. If it put a slight damper on the return to action, at least the Nets knew that even if their stars were watching from outside the bubble, help is on the way.
It’s not Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, but arriving in the lineup Saturday for the second scrimmage in the bubble-like campus at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex will be Tyler Johnson.
Johnson, 28, a 6-3 guard who was waived by the Phoenix Suns a little more than a month before the season was shut down by the coronavirus, was signed by the Nets a month ago to help fill out the roster decimated by injury and infection. He did his time in quarantine and after being held out of the first exhibition, he will make his debut against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. Jamal Crawford, who arrived at practice with him last week, is sitting out the second straight scrimmage.
“I feel really good,” Johnson said in a Zoom call Friday. “The offense is actually very player oriented. It allows you to get in spots and just play your game. So fortunately enough, it was pretty easy to pick up the offense. Now it’s just getting the feel for how everybody plays in an actual game.”
Johnson went undrafted out of Fresno State and before he made a name for himself in Miami, where he was waived twice, he spent time in the development league as he waited for an opportunity. With just seven starts in two seasons in Miami, he was offered a four-year, $50 million contract by the Nets as a restricted free agent. The Heat matched the offer and eventually traded him to Phoenix in February 2019. But a year later, the Suns cut him loose.
The Nets are driven by desperation right now, needing help with guards Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie not with the team. But Johnson believes he can help the Nets get better right now.
"It was a little bit weird,” he said of watching from the bench in the first game inside the bubble with no fans in attendance. “Anytime you do something like that for the first time, it’s going to be a little bit weird. For the most part it ended up being a basketball game. Everybody was right there, you could still talk to all your teammates. You could still cheer for your team. I think you have to be a little bit careful about your reactions because it’s so quiet. you can’t just start barking at the refs like maybe you would in a packed arena.
“As far as me tomorrow, I’m not looking to do too much. I’m trying to play within the confines of the offense, but bridge that gap, be able to put the ball in the bucket and get guys involved. Play with high intensity. I’m a two-way player, that’s how I’ve been my entire career. Help get stops and help some of the young guys be in their spots, where they’re supposed to be.”
Notes & quotes: The Nets had their complete roster with them Friday at practice with Donta Hall finally getting through quarantine and with the team. He will not play Saturday.