Four years ago, Tyler Johnson was all-in on joining the Brooklyn Nets, and the feeling was mutual.
In Sean Marks’ first summer as Brooklyn’s general manager, he targeted the young guard who had earned his way into the NBA through a couple of 10-day contracts after going undrafted out of Fresno State. Coming off his second season with the Miami Heat, Johnson was a restricted free agent.
“I just felt like they really wanted me,” said Johnson of his meetings with the Nets that included a huge group ranging from the coaching staff, including then-assistant and current head coach Jacque Vaughn, players like Brook Lopez, and even the training staff.
Johnson agreed to a four-year, $50-million offer, but as a restricted free agent, the Heat had the final say, and he went back to Miami. But in the final season of that contract, albeit during an unexpected part of the calendar following the NBA hiatus, Johnson finds himself to be a Net after all.
“My mom still says Sean is one of her favorite people of all time,” said Johnson. “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.”
The Nets moved to sign Johnson when the NBA’s transaction window for the return to play opened up on June 23. The Heat had traded him to Phoenix during the 2018-19 season, and the Suns waived him back in February. Although there was no guarantee Johnson would get an opportunity to finish the season, he worked to stay sharp at a local gym alongside his younger brother Logan, a sophomore guard at St. Mary’s in California last season.
“Obviously it didn't work out the way I would have wanted it to,” said Johnson of his time in Phoenix. “There was a handful of things that I felt could have gone better, not necessarily from it being nobody's fault, I just felt like coming in there and having the quick change, I think it took a long time for everyone to get on the same page as far as me with the team and what my role was with the team. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, but fortunately, I'm here. I find myself in a position where I can have a little bit of redemption.”
After traveling to Orlando separately from the rest of the team, Johnson had a longer wait in quarantine before he could be cleared to practice. He had his first session with the team on Wednesday evening, along with veteran guard Jamal Crawford, who was signed a week ago as a Substitute Player.
Along with Crawford, Johnson fortifies Brooklyn’s guard depth with the ability to create, shoot from 3-point range — career 35.8 percentage — and move between backcourt positions.
“I think it starts with his ability to compete. Him on both ends of the floor being able to take some of the knowledge that he has from other teams, whether that is cutting at the right time, whether that is multiple efforts on the offensive end, whether that is moving into windows and getting into space to receive the basketball,” said Vaughn. “So there are some things that he does extremely well and that are instinctive, and then defensively, being able to fight through screens, being able to guard multiple positions, to be able to come back and help rebound, just because of his toughness. Those things, we’ll definitely depend on both ends of the floor from him.”
“It’s actually been pretty seamless,” said Johnson of getting acclimated through two practices. “JV 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.”
Johnson joins the Nets under far different circumstances than originally envisioned. He and the Nets are each in a different place than they were four summers ago. It took the suspension of the NBA season due to pandemic to open the window of opportunity for him to finally become a Net.
“Part of life’s twists and turns, we get him a little later,” said Vaughn, “and fortunate to have him on the team now.”