Joe Johnson’s MVP performance in the BIG3 has landed him another spot on an NBA roster, as the 38-year-old swingman agreed to a one-year deal with the Detroit Pistons on Thursday.
The deal is worth $2.6 million and has $220,000 in guaranteed money, a source told ESPN’s Bobby Marks. The balance of the contract will become fully guaranteed if Johnson is on the roster past Jan. 7.
So … what are the Pistons getting in Johnson?
The first answer seems obvious: veteran leadership. The former No. 10 overall pick has 17 years of NBA experience under his belt, so it’s safe to say he knows the ins and outs of the league, as well as its business-like nature. For the younger players on Detroit’s roster, this sort of wisdom could be priceless.
Johnson has also played key roles on several teams around the NBA landscape, including the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Utah Jazz, and most recently, the Houston Rockets. Loads of teams were keeping an eye on his progression in the BIG3, but it was the Pistons who ultimately sealed the deal.
The next element that Johnson will bring to the Pistons is flat-out skill. Yeah, he’s 38, but he can still get buckets and provide the occasional scoring punch.
Johnson was at or near the top of several statistical categories in the BIG3 this season. The seven-time NBA All-Star finished first in points (175), first in assists (31), first in total field goals (63) and second in 3-pointers made (16). He also led the BIG3 in one of their trademarks: the 4-point shot. The Arkansas native knocked down four of his extended range attempts.
At this point, it’s not clear how exactly Pistons head coach Dwane Casey plans to utilize Johnson’s services, assuming he makes the 15-man roster. Casey lobbied for Johnson to sign in Detroit, so clearly the veteran has a fan in the head coach.
Johnson will likely play some kind reserve role alongside Derrick Rose, who signed a two-year deal with Detroit in June. The Pistons will look for Johnson’s scoring punch on the wing throughout the coming season. Detroit has a number of other wings on the roster, but not that many who really stand out as shooters.
Johnson has an impressive resume, though his numbers have been down in recent NBA stints as he has declined. In 1,276 career games played, he has racked up averages of 16.0 points on 44.1 percent shooting from the field (37.1 percent from beyond the arc), 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 34.7 minutes per outing.
The Pistons finished the 2018-19 regular-season campaign with a 41-41 overall record, which earned the team a No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, though, Detroit was swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
Johnson is now the first player to use the BIG3 as a means of making it back to the NBA. If he has a successful season with Detroit, other players from Ice Cube’s league will likely use this story as an inspiration. Even if he doesn’t do all that much, and expectations shouldn’t be high given his age (especially defensively), this jump from the BIG3 back to the NBA is notable.