Joe Johnson was as stoic as a lamp post much of his time in Atlanta. He played hard and well most of the time, becoming a perennial NBA all-star. But he did not seem enthused about what was happening around him, which, frankly, was not all that exciting.
Teaming in the backcourt with Olympian Deron Williams after a surprising trade and playing in Brooklyn has energized the 6-foot-6 guard.
“I haven’t been this excited since my Phoenix days,” Johnson said, which is a real stab at his six years with the Hawks.
Ironically enough, Nets general manager Billy King was not interested in acquiring Johnson until he called new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry — like King, a graduate of Duke — to congratulate him on his new job when Ferry raised Johnson’s name. King became interested then, and a massive deal eventually took place that got Johnson and his enormous contract (still $96 million on it) out of Atlanta.
Johnson called his new team — featuring him, Williams, center Brook Lopez and swingman Gerald Wallace — better than the other half of the East River Rivalry, the Knicks. But he and the rest of the Nets are so optimistic about the team that beating New York does not register as their highest ambition.
“It’s not just about winning a local championship or a regional championship,” coach Avery Johnson said. “It’s really about winning an NBA championship, and that’s what our focus is on.”
This coming from a team that went 58-172 in the last three seasons and have not made the playoffs since 2006-07. Johnson’s presence is one reason the Brooklyn Nets have their heads held high, even after several failed attempts to acquire Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard in a trade.
“I’m just glad now that we have a direction,” said general manager Billy King, adding that Lopez will get into the Metropolitan area to take his physical Friday. “We know where we’re going.”
He knew on Wednesday, when he and the club became exasperated in trying to negotiate a trade for Howard.
“It wasn’t about moving on,” King said. “At some point, you’ve got to decide, we’ve got a young center that’s pretty good, and it was about him under contract and getting him focused and getting our team focused.”