Southeast Notes: Johnson, Toppert, Jovic, Heat

Hawks forward Jalen Johnson took a step forward last season into a rotational role with Atlanta and he’s looking to make another leap next season, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Lauren Williams. Williams writes that Johnson has spent most of his time this offseason working out in Atlanta and Los Angeles, which allowed him to cross paths with LeBron James.

Johnson and James share a trainer in Chris Johnson, and the opportunity arose to train with James. The Duke product said he was trying to learn as much as he could from the future Hall of Famer.

Before the workout, seeing how he goes about his business,” Johnson said. “Just once he gets the gym, he’s locked in, laser-focused, does his routine and then, as far as drill-wise, [he’s] the best on court. Everything’s precise. Everything’s the right way. Even if he messes up, he messes up and makes a shot, he’s still coming back and doing it the right way.

And while Johnson spent time trying to pick up on what James was doing from the side, LeBron also outright gave the third-year Hawks forward some advice.

He’s giving me pointers on how to do certain moves, how to be more effective with certain moves, little tricks, just kind of when we’re working out,” Johnson said. “So, just hearing that from him, having that as someone that I can reach out and ask questions to now, you know, it’s cool.

Johnson, 21, went from playing in 22 games and averaging 5.5 minutes in his rookie season to 70 games and 14.9 minutes in his sophomore year in the league. In 2022/23, Johnson averaged 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game — he’s in line for even more minutes, following the offseason trade of John Collins.

Atlanta seems primed to blend their veterans with their impressive young talent, including Johnson. Onyeka Okongwu and AJ Griffin appear poised for breakout seasons and the team picked guard Kobe Bufkin with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2023 draft. Trae Young and Dejounte Murray headline the team, which acquired veterans like Wesley Matthews and Patty Mills this offseason.

But Johnson is just one part of that, and he’s keeping everything in perspective.

I put in the same work every summer,” Johnson said. “Even if John doesn’t get traded, I feel like it’s the same mentality of trying to kill everybody that’s in front of me. Just kind of got to have that killer mentality as far as no matter what situation that is, just go control what you can control, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • The Wizards are hiring LSU assistant coach Cody Toppert to become the head coach of their G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Wojnarowski notes that Toppert previously worked with the Suns in the NBA and as a G League coach. Toppert also spent time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the affiliate of the Rockets, as well as the University of Memphis as an assistant.
  • Though the Heat don’t have any players on Team USA, Nikola Jovic is putting on a show this summer while playing for Serbia’s national team. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel continues documenting his performances this season. While Jovic has struggled at times, including a five-point showing in a loss to Italy, Winderman suggests Jovic’s stock as a whole continues to rise this summer. Jovic’s best performance of the summer was a 25-point outing against South Sudan. Winderman writes that Jovic’s summer should dispel any notion of the Heat not having enough assets to make a play for Damian Lillard. In another piece, Winderman writes that Jovic’s trade value seems to be comparable to Precious Achiuwa, whom Miami included in the trade for Kyle Lowry.
  • In a separate piece, Winderman writes that the Heat‘s trade history suggests they ultimately won’t be completely picked clean by any potential Lillard trade. While several huge NBA trades have gone down in the past year including dozens of draft picks, from the Rudy Gobert haul last summer to the Kevin Durant package in February, the Heat have never traded more than two first-round picks for a player. That includes the sign-and-trades for James and Chris Bosh, the Shaquille O’Neal trade, and the Alonzo Mourning deal. While Miami may ultimately have to give into Portland’s demands for Lillard, Winderman writes, they’re justified for not wanting to put everything on the table right away.
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