Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey promised aggressiveness during free agency, and late Friday night, he delivered with a two-year, $22 million deal with veteran Joe Johnson.
Utah agrees to terms with Joe Johnson on a two-year, $22 million deal, per league source.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 2, 2016
The 35-year-old Johnson is years removed from his days as a major-impact player, but he’s coming off a late-season resurgence following a trade to the Miami Heat in 2015-16.
If the Jazz get the more-motivated version of Johnson, this is a deal that makes plenty of sense for the young, emerging team.
He would instantly be the veteran presence in a locker room that has consisted almost entirely of players aged 25 or younger over the last two seasons.
The seven-time All-Star has 15 years of NBA experience under his belt, something these young players simply haven’t been around recently (or in some cases, ever). If nothing else, Johnson can imbue his new teammates with some of the wisdom he’s gained over the last decade and a half.
The Jazz didn’t sign him for war stories, though. Utah finished outside the top half of the league in three-point makes last season, and shooting is a skill that generally ages well.
As a member of the Heat, Johnson posted a .603 True Shooting Percentage, which would’ve been a career high if extended over the entire season. Of course, it wasn’t, and his 24 games in Miami could be little more than a hot streak.
However, Johnson’s had a reputation as a shooter for as long as he’s been in the NBA (ninth all-time in both threes made and attempted) and has a better career three-point percentage than current Jazz wings Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks.
And that’s not all he does. His Assist Percentage of 18 last season would’ve ranked fifth on the Jazz, behind Hayward and three point guards. Plus, he’s been a decent wing rebounder his entire career, averaging 4.1 per 36 minutes.
There are concerns with this deal, though, and most of them circle back to age. Johnson’s already 35 and hasn’t had a league-average Player Efficiency Rating since 2013-14.
And for someone who’s always faced questions about his defense, adding Father Time to the equation is a bit of a concern, especially when the Jazz may already have someone younger on the roster who fills his role.
Despite entering the league in 2014, Joe Ingles was the “veteran presence” for Utah in the locker room and quietly carried his role quite well when he was on the floor. Last season, he was more impactful than Johnson by a few metrics.
That doesn’t mean the Johnson deal is a bad one, though. Johnson clearly lacked motivation on a terrible Brooklyn Nets team at the start of the season. Things took a radical turn for the better when he went to the culture, coach and competitiveness of the Heat.
Johnson should find all of the above in Utah as well. Lindsey has fostered a culture reminiscent of the one he came from with the San Antonio Spurs. Quin Snyder is one of the brightest young coaches in the league. And with another year of development to go with the addition of Johnson and George Hill, the Jazz should be competing for a playoff spot for the second straight year.
A motivated Johnson could be a lethal weapon for the bench, behind Hayward, Hood and possibly even power forward Derrick Favors.
Per @bball_ref, Joe Johnson played 36% of his mins in Miami at the 4, highest of his career. Will play that role for Utah as well.
— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) July 2, 2016
The ability to play multiple positions is what drew Utah to names like Luol Deng and Jared Dudley this summer, and Johnson has that versatility. At 6’7″ and 240 pounds, he’s the same height as Draymond Green and 10 pounds heavier.
If he can bully wings with his size and keep big men off balance when he plays the 4 in small-ball lineups, there’s every reason to believe Johnson can cause problems for opposing second units.
Early prediction: Joe Johnson for 6MOY.
— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) July 2, 2016
Forecasts like Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal’s are obviously a best-case scenario, and if they come true, Utah will likely be in a great spot as a team. But even if Johnson is merely a veteran presence who can play slightly-above-replacement-player level, he’ll have a more positive impact than Burks or Chris Johnson had last season.
Johnson’s history, combined with the length and price on this deal, make it a pretty safe move for the Jazz. And it’s one that inches this team just a bit closer to the postseason.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.