Long before Sean Marks was shocking the basketball world by signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency, he offered up his first big free-agent deal in 2016 to Tyler Johnson. It took four years, but he has finally arrived with the Brooklyn Nets.
In 2016, Johnson met with Marks, Kenny Atkinson, Jacque Vaughn and Brook Lopez, agreeing to a four-year, $50 million contract — a huge jump for the player who had been an undrafted pickup from the developmental league. But the Miami Heat matched the offer and injury and opportunity derailed his ascension, leaving him available for the Nets to sign to finish out the season and help fill out the roster.
“My mom still says Sean is one of her favorite people of all time,” Johnson said in a Zoom call Thursday night after his second day of practice with the team in Orlando. “So we’re very fortunate to be in this position, I signed that offer sheet four years ago, so I was ready at that time to possibly become a Brooklyn Net. Obviously we know the story, Miami matched it. But it wasn’t like we were using it for leverage, we were very interested in what was being built over here, so we actually did sign that offer sheet and I was ecstatic when we got that call to come back over here.
“Originally I remember everybody being there. At the time it was Kenny who was coaching, Sean, I remember Brook when he was here, he was there, most of the training staff that had just got brought on was there. I just felt like they really wanted me. That was probably one of the first times in a long time, you can go back to maybe college when you're getting recruited, that I felt really really wanted somewhere. So during that original time that's one of the things that really drew me to the Nets and really signing and not just trying to use a team for leverage. I really believed in what they were doing over there. And when they brought everyone there to that hotel room that's when I truly believed it."
Lopez is now with the first-place Milwaukee Bucks, Atkinson is gone and Vaughn, who then was a newly hired assistant, is the interim head coach now. And maybe the Nets need Johnson, who played in 31 games for the Suns this season, as much now as they did then as Brooklyn sent a depleted roster into the bubble at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex.
The Nets are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference but have seen much of their roster left out either by injury or because of positive tests for COVID-19. Johnson and Jamal Crawford began practicing with the team Wednesday after clearing quarantine.
“It’s actually been pretty seamless,” Johnson said. “[Vaughn] is doing a great job of integrating me and Jamal pretty effortlessly. And the guys have done a great job as well, explaining what needs to be said. Fortunately enough the offense is not very complex, they just allow you to go out there and play basketball. It makes it a lot easier.”
“It’s not getting too bogged down with sets where guys have to have a Rolodex of thinking and not playing with their instincts, overall the choice of putting basketball players in position to make basketball plays,” Vaughn said. “So we talk about getting an advantage as early as possible we can, keeping that advantage and taking advantage of the advantage. Those guys understand those concepts, some that have been around the NBA that we tweaked a little bit for a while because of the personnel. Then some things because of the way we want to play we’ll be able to utilize and so whether that’s the space on the floor, whether that’s where you’re receiving the basketball on the floor, to maximize distance on the floor — real simple concepts, but overall with the idea of those guys picking up on those concepts pretty quickly.”