Cam Johnson was heralded as a centerpiece of the Brooklyn Nets' blockbuster return for Kevin Durant at the trade deadline. Less than four months later, the Nets are facing heavy competition for the 27-year-old in restricted free agency.
With several teams expected to enter the bidding for Johnson's services, Yahoo Sports' Jake Fischer reported on the Nets' plan for the 6-foot-8 sharpshooter.
“On the wing, the Rockets do hold an interest in sharpshooter Cam Johnson, sources said, although Brooklyn personnel has indicated the Nets' plan to match any realistic offer sheet for the restricted free agent, who was part of the franchise’s return for Kevin Durant,” Fischer wrote.
The report raises one key question: What does Brooklyn consider “realistic?”
What kind of contract will Cam Johnson get in free agency?
Johnson turned down a four-year extension from Phoenix worth between $66 and $72 million early this season, according to HoopsHype. The former lottery pick proved his worth after joining the Nets at the deadline, averaging 16.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.3 steals on 47.5 percent shooting. More importantly, he was the team's top playoff performer during a first-round sweep against the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 18.5 points on 50.9 percent shooting from the field and 42.9 percent from three (7.0 attempts per game).
HAVE A HALF, CAM JOHNSON.
22 points (Playoff career-high)
— NBA (@NBA) April 18, 2023
Johnson's bet on himself is expected to pay off with league executives now projecting a deal worth as high as four years, $90 million. The Houston Rockets are the team most frequently connected to the forward. The Detroit Pistons could also be in the mix with former Johnson's former head coach, Monty Williams, signing a record-breaking deal Friday.
Nets general manager Sean Marks is no stranger to the restricted free agent game. He signed Allen Crabbe to a four-year, $75 million offer sheet in 2016, which the Portland Trail Blazers matched. He then inked Tyler Johnson to a four-year, $50 million offer sheet, which the Miami Heat also matched.
Mikal Bridges, the Nets' top player and Johnson's “twin” dating back to his first season in Phoenix, is set to make $23.3 million annually over the next three seasons. It's difficult to see Brooklyn going higher than that to retain Johnson, especially given Nic Claxton's impending free agency and the spending limitations of the new CBA. Despite this, Bridges made it known how he wants his team to handle Johnson's negotiations:
Mikal Bridges with a message to the Nets ahead of Cam Johnson’s free agency. pic.twitter.com/h9AmWLvrqv
— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) May 25, 2023
How would re-signing Cam Johnson affect Nets' salary cap?
Re-signing Johnson will push Brooklyn into the luxury tax for the fourth straight season. Teams with 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. If the Nets hope to avoid this and reset their tax bill, they would have to dump another player to a team with a trade exception or cap space.
While general manager Sean Marks said the Nets “aren’t gonna pay tax just for the sake of paying tax,” he did call retaining Johnson “a big priority” this summer.
“Cam knows how we feel. We hope that Cam will be back. He’s a big priority for us. There’s no question,” he said.
Johnson did not comment on his plans in free agency but did speak glowingly about the Nets organization:
“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, performance staff, equipment staff, and 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
In addition to his comments, Johnson has been training in California alongside Brooklyn teammates Spencer Dinwiddie and Nic Claxton recently. The Nets will hold the right to match any offer made to Johnson. They could also entertain sign-and-trades should the price get too rich for Marks and owner Joe Tsai's blood.