The Nets and Joe Johnson have begun talks about a would-be buyout deal, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Johnson would reportedly sign with the Cavaliers if he becomes a free agent this season, but Stein hears that the Hawks, Celtics, Rockets, Heat, Thunder and Raptors are also pursuing him (Twitter link). Multiple reports in recent weeks have cast doubt on the idea that Johnson would engineer a buyout, which would entail him giving back part of his nearly $24.895MM salary, and Johnson has said he wouldn’t rule out re-signing with the Nets this summer, when his contract is set to expire. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who reported the Cavs link, heard that whether a buyout happens comes down to Brooklyn’s willingness to reap financial savings at the cost of a move that would help Cleveland.
Johnson, 34, is averaging 11.8 points per game on 40.6% shooting this season, his lowest figure in either category since the 2002/03 season. Still, he’s shooting 37.1% from 3-point range, mirroring his career average. He remains in a starting role and hasn’t appeared as a reserve in any game since 2003/04, though many of the teams that would sign him would probably ask him to come off the bench.
It’s nonetheless no surprise to see Johnson attract interest from multiple suitors in spite of his declining production, as he’s still capable of delivering an offensive boost. He put up 27 points and 11 assists on February 5th in Brooklyn’s win against the Kings. That was a few days after Ethan Skolnick of the Miami Herald reported that Johnson would stir the Heat’s interest if he came free on the buyout market.
The Cavs and Raptors only have the prorated minimum salary of about $400K to offer, while the Thunder have the most to spend among the teams connected to him, since they have a prorated portion of the $3.376MM taxpayer’s mid-level exception, which is now worth about $2.4MM. The Hawks and Celtics have prorated portions of the room exception now worth about $2MM. The Heat can’t pay even the minimum salary on a contract for the rest of the season until March 6th without inviting repeat-offender tax penalties, while the Rockets are roughly $500K shy of the hard cap they triggered when they signed Montrezl Harrell earlier this season.
Johnson would have to hit waivers by the close of business on March 1st to be eligible to appear in the playoffs with a team other than Brooklyn, a club with no postseason hopes of its own. The Jeff Schwartz client has been in the postseason every year since missing out with the Hawks in 2007.