The Cavaliers pursued guard Joe Johnson last summer to no avail. Now they have a chance to sign him for significantly less money.
The Brooklyn Nets waived the veteran guard on Thursday, the team announced, as they began buyout negotiations on the final year of his contract. Johnson, 34, has long been a target of the Cavs to bolster their wing position, according to multiple sources.
General Manger David Griffin and former Nets General Manager Billy King discussed a possible Johnson trade as late as July during summer league games in Las Vegas, according to one source with knowledge of the trade talks. By then, however, the Nets had dropped below the luxury tax line for this season by agreeing to a buyout with Deron Williams and no longer had a need to deal Johnson, a tremendous teammate and a pillar in their locker room.
In order to obtain him last summer, the Cavs would’ve had to deal away Anderson Varejao and Brendan Haywood to make the money match, and they would’ve been responsible for Johnson’s $25 million salary for this season. Ultimately the money was too much to swallow on top of all of the Cavs’ other financial commitments, so they moved Haywood to create a trade exception and dumped Varejao’s contract at the trade deadline.
It takes 48 hours for a player to clear waivers, after which the Cavs can sign him for as little as the veteran’s minimum. The interest is mutual, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, but the Cavs will have plenty of competition for the seven-time All-Star. ESPN, which first reported the buyout talks between Johnson and the Nets, reported he is expected to take a few days to sift through the offers he is expected to receive.
Johnson doesn’t have to sign with a contender by March 1 in order to be eligible for the postseason, he simply had to be off the Nets’ roster by then. Now he will be eligible to keep his postseason streak alive regardless of when or where he signs.
Johnson has averaged 17 points during his 15-year career and has played in 87 postseason games for the Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets, including each of the past eight seasons. He is a versatile guard who can shoot from the perimeter and post up, although he is shooting under 41 percent this season, the second-worst mark of his career. His 11.8-point scoring average is his lowest in 13 years and his scoring average has dropped each of the past five seasons, although he is shooting a respectable 37 percent from 3-point range this season for the hapless Nets.
At 6-foot-7, Johnson is another long defender who can guard multiple positions. He even played some power forward last season under former Nets coach Lionel Hollins. Johnson would add depth to a backcourt that is dealing with injuries.
Iman Shumpert has missed the past three games with a sprained left shoulder, and Mo Williams will not make the weekend trip to Toronto and Washington. Instead, he will remain in Cleveland for treatment on his ailing left knee that required a visit to Dr. James Andrews earlier this week. Andrews diagnosed him with chondromalacia, or swelling under the knee, and said he could play through it. But the knee has bothered Williams all season and clearly is still preventing him from playing.
Shumpert and Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, have extensive injury histories and both dealt with significant injuries during last season’s postseason run to the Finals. The Cavs looked into acquiring wing help at last week’s trade deadline before ultimately picking up Channing Frye from the Orlando Magic, a stretch forward/center who made four 3-pointers and scored 15 points in Wednesday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Johnson changed agents prior to this season and is now represented by Jeff Schwartz, who also represents Kevin Love. Johnson and Griffin also have a relationship from their time together with the Suns.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ.