The Miami Heat’s third move of 2017 NBA free agency was to agree to re-sign versatile power forward James Johnson. Here’s our grade for the transaction.
Just a day removed from agreeing to re-sign shooting guard Dion Waiters, the Miami Heat are well on their way to bringing the rest of the band back together. On Thursday, the team agreed to terms with versatile power forward James Johnson — an agreement of major importance after Gordon Hayward spurned Miami to join the Boston Celtics.
The deal was initially reported by ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, though without the exact dollar amount.
Many thought Johnson would take some sort of pay cut to remain in South Florida. Unfortunately, they were mistaken, as the agreement will be worth $60 million over four years.
Barring incredibly creative maneuvering by the front office, after re-signing Dion Waiters and adding Kelly Olynyk, and with Johnson taking up $15 million annually, it appears that Wayne Ellington‘s time in Miami is over. (The team has until Friday at 11:59 p.m. to decide whether or not to exercise their team option — worth just north of $6 million — on the sharpshooter.)
In any case, although that type of commitment may raise some eyebrows, rest assured: Johnson is worth the price.
The 6’8″ combo forward is coming off the best year of his career — one in which he scored 12.8 points per contest, to go with 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.1 blocks.
Those clips (12 points, four boards, three dimes and at least one block a night) were only matched by five other players in 2016-17: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins and Al Horford, per Basketball-Reference.
What’s more, with the Wake Forest product on the floor, Miami was simply a better team. According to NBA Math, the Heat had a +2.6 net rating with Johnson in the game, and a -0.8 net rating when he sat.
Finding versatile wings who can do a bit of everything like Miami’s newest signing can are hard to come by. Johnson can play the role of screener in pick-and-roll sets as well as that of ball-handler.
And as if his offensive versatility wasn’t enough, he’s an even bigger asset on the less glamorous side of the ball. With their Swiss Army knife in the game, the Heat’s defense allowed five fewer points per 100 possessions than when he sat.
His ability to block shots, stymie big men down low with his 250-pound frame, as well lock up wings on the perimeter make him the whole package defensively. Erik Spoelstra’s team finished 2016-17 ranked fifth in defensive rating (104.1) — a feat that would have been impossible without Johnson’s prowess on that end.
Finally, when you also factor in Johnson’s play over Miami’s final five games of last season (his only five starts of the year), when he averaged 18.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game, it’s clear his game can still reach even bigger heights.
The contract Johnson just agreed to hints that Riley and co. fancy him as the team’s starting power forward next season. (If not him, then it’ll certainly be the newly acquired Olynyk.) Thus, he got paid like it.
At the same time, will this deal look good three years down the line when Johnson’s 33? Probably not. Not only that, but it may cost Erik Spoelstra his deadliest three-point shooter in Ellington as well.