Following his team’s exit from the playoffs, Nets General Manager Sean Marks identified retaining Cam Johnson as a “big priority” this summer.
Johnson was one of two future building blocks Brooklyn received in return for Kevin Durant at this year’s deadline. Mikal Bridges has dominated headlines while breaking out as a lead scorer with the Nets. However, it was Johnson who quietly emerged as the team’s most efficient performer during the team’s first-round series against Philadelphia.
HAVE A HALF, CAM JOHNSON.
22 points (Playoff career-high)
: TNT | Game 2 | PHI Leads 1-0#NBAPlayoffs presented by Google Pixel pic.twitter.com/e8smk0R9tm
— NBA (@NBA) April 18, 2023
In four playoff games, Johnson averaged 18.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 51/43/86 shooting splits. The sharpshooting wing posted 16.6 points on 37.5 percent shooting from three over 25 regular-season appearances with the Nets. He will now enter restricted free agency:
“Cam knows how we feel,” Marks said Sunday. “(Head Coach) Jacque (Vaughn) and I sat with him this morning. We hope he’s back.”
Brooklyn can match any offer for Johnson, who is expected to garner interest from several teams on a deal worth as much as four years, $90 million. The 26-year-old hasn’t made any decisions on his future fresh off the Nets’ first-round sweep:
“I haven’t fully developed that plan yet,” Johnson said Sunday during his exit interview. “One thing I’ve learned this year from this summer onto now is the business will be the business and everybody acts accordingly in that aspect, so in my case, I will do whatever I determine and my family and representatives determine is best for my future – whether that’s being here or somewhere else I can’t fully say.”
While Johnson was non-committal on his intention to re-sign with Brooklyn, he did speak glowingly about the franchise:
“I’ve talked to the people here a little bit, in terms of how the season went and what the future could look like,” he said. “The people in this organization, I believe are very, very high-quality people. Everything from the front office to coaching staff to performance staff to equipment staff, to chefs. And that is not lost upon me.”
“I take that into very serious consideration. I don’t assume that that’s the case everywhere. I think there’s a special group of people here and that’s really the main thing that I take away from this end-of-season push.”
Cam Johnson on his contract decision this summer:
“I’ve talked to the people here a little bit in terms of how the season went and what the future could look like. The people in this organization I believe are very high-quality people… That is not lost upon me. I take that… pic.twitter.com/xD2m8Un7qF
— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) April 23, 2023
The Nets also hold the advantage of having Bridges, Johnson’s best friend, under contract for the next three seasons. The duo has been inseparable since Johnson’s rookie year, becoming fan favorites in Phoenix before the trade to Brooklyn. The pairing spent so much time together that Suns center Deandre Ayton gave them a nickname, “The Twins.”
Johnson said remaining teammates with Bridges will play a factor in his decision-making:
“Yeah, I’d say so. That’s my twin. I haven’t played an NBA game without him literally,” he said. “He’s been in all of them barring maybe one preseason game. I played a preseason game or two without him. (That’s) the guy that I came into the league alongside and somebody that I’ve grown close to. I value those people in my life.”
“One of the things I’ve appreciated about playing with him the most is that he’s one of the most dependable teammates I’ve ever had… So the continued opportunity to play with him is going to be very important.”
It remains to be seen whether the prospect of paying the luxury tax will play a role in Johnson’s contract negotiations. The Nets project to have $146 million in guaranteed salary on their payroll next season. Re-signing Johnson at $20 million annually would push them just over the $162 million projected luxury-tax line.
Such a scenario would mark Brooklyn’s fourth-straight season over the line. Teams that have a payroll exceeding the tax line three times in four years are subject to the repeater tax, meaning they are taxed $2.50 per every dollar of salary over the tax line. That figure increases to $2.75, $3.50 and $4.25 for every additional $5 million.
Marks hinted that the Nets would like to avoid the scenario next season if possible:
“We’re very fortunate to have Joe and Clara (Tsai) as our owners here and really partners in this,” he said. “They’ve never been short to help out whether it’s through philanthropy or whether it’s through putting the best team possible on the court and paying for it. So at the right time, Joe has always said, ‘Hey when we’re ready to go back, we’re ready to go back in.’”
“Now are we gonna pay tax just for the sake of paying tax? No, that wouldn’t be a smart business decision, right? And I couldn’t sit here and say Joe we should do this or we should do that. But we’ll be strategic about how we get out of the tax or at the same time our objective here is to compete and that’s been the objective from day one. I don’t think JV is of the cloth of wanting to be mediocre. I certainly am not either and I don’t think Joe is. At the same time we want to do something special in Brooklyn and if it costs tax he’s been willing to pay it.”
Johnson’s free agency looms as a main storyline in Brooklyn’s first offseason of the new-look era. While it may require some cap gymnastics to get there, all indications point to the Nets doing what’s necessary to retain the deadline acquisition:
“High character. His IQ is off the charts. That’s exciting to be around,” Marks said of Johnson. “He adds a lot to our group, not just on the court. Everybody sees what he delivers on the court, but when you see him in the locker room, it’s certainly refreshing to be around. Hopefully he’s here, but he’s gonna have decisions to make, so at the right time we will certainly be having those discussions with him and his agent, and we hope that Cam will be back. He’s a big priority for us. There’s no question.”
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