Pacers Notes: Johnson, Team Meeting, Haliburton, Nembhard

James Johnson never considered retirement, even as he went through free agency without an offer and started the season without a team, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Johnson’s patience was rewarded on Friday when he signed a one-year deal with the Pacers. Teammates were thrilled to welcome back the 36-year-old forward, who was a valuable contributor for Indiana last season even though he only appeared in 18 games.

“Just the professionalism,” T.J. McConnell said. “You don’t play 15 years in this league without being a great basketball player, but the professionalism you show day in and day out and how you go about things on and off the court is what he brings. He’s big at teaching the young guys. Not many people in this league are as good of people as him and we definitely missed him.”

Coach Rick Carlisle told Dopirak that the Pacers have been considering a move with Johnson for at least two weeks. Carlisle and other team officials traveled to Johnson’s Miami home on December 1 when Indiana was in town for a pair of games.

“He helped us so much last year,” Carlisle said. “This year we started with 15 guys. When Daniel Theis moved on to the Clippers in the buyout situation, it opened up a spot. You see if the need for the spot and if anything else is going to happen. But we talked to him on the Friday between games, had a really good meeting with him and told him it was very much under consideration.”

There’s more on the Pacers:

  • In a separate story, Dopirak examines why Indiana often comes up short against the league’s worst teams, including Friday’s loss at Washington. There was a team meeting earlier this week about potential trap games, but the Pacers failed to heed the warning as they were badly outplayed by the Wizards, who were on a six-game losing streak coming into Friday. “It’s just the characteristics of a young group,” Tyrese Haliburton said. “Playing to your competition. Every team in the NBA is good, but there’s some games we’re going to look back and say, ‘Damn, we probably should’ve got that one.’ We’ve gotta grow up as a group at some point. It starts with us as players, us as a first group and me as a leader. We’ve just gotta be better.”
  • Haliburton is listed as questionable for tonight’s game at Minnesota with a left knee bruise he suffered Friday, Dopirak tweets. “I’m fine, I’m just banged up a little bit,” Haliburton said. “There was a little wet spot on the floor. I landed on my hip, that’s fine, but me and Bilal (Coulibaly) went knee to knee, so just a little sore right now.”
  • Andrew Nembhard feels like he “dodged a bullet” with the right knee bone bruise he suffered in the in-season tournament semifinals, per Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files (subscriber only). Nembhard is considered week-to-week and he’s thankful that the injury wasn’t worse.
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