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Best Bargain Contracts in NBA Free Agency

Alex Kennedy looks at some of the best bargain contracts handed out in free agency this summer.

Alex Kennedy

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With August here, we can look back on last month’s unprecedented spending spree and evaluate some of the contracts that were handed out. Today, rather than focusing on the enormous deals that were signed, let’s take a look at some of the best bargain contracts that were inked:

Zaza Pachulia and David West, Golden State Warriors

One of the biggest surprises of the summer was the Warriors landing Pachulia on a one-year, $2.9 million deal. Just about every other center signed a ridiculously lucrative contract, but the 32-year-old Pachulia decided to prioritize winning over a big pay day. He felt that the Warriors provided him with his best shot at winning a championship, and it’s hard to argue with him, so he took a huge pay cut.

Reports have surfaced that Pachulia was offered a two-year, $20 million contract from the Washington Wizards, making this decision even more shocking. Pachulia should really strengthen Golden State’s frontcourt, averaging 8.6 points and a career-high 9.4 rebounds last season with the Dallas Mavericks despite playing just 26.4 minutes per game. Even in these limited minutes and despite only started 69 games, he ranked fifth among all NBA players in offensive rebounds (249) and ranked 23rd in double-doubles (26).

Fans of advanced analytics know just how effective Pachulia was during the 2015-16 campaign too. He posted career-highs in Win Shares (6), Offensive Win Shares (3.4), Value Over Replacement Player (1.7), Box Plus-Minus (1.4) and Total Rebound Percentage (19.7 percent). League executives were upset when this signing went down, with Zach Lowe of ESPN tweeting that teams were almost as angry about Pachulia going to Golden State for next to nothing as they were about Kevin Durant deciding to join the star-studded Warriors. Give Pachulia credit though: Few players would sacrifice so much just to compete for a ring.

Well, there are some others willing to make a win-at-all-costs choice; West is doing it for the second straight year. Last summer, West made headlines when he opted out of his $12.6 million contract with the Indiana Pacers to sign a veteran’s minimum deal with the San Antonio Spurs that was worth $1,499,187. West made a similar decision this summer, once again turning down larger offers from other teams in order to join the Warriors on a minimum deal that will pay him $1,551,659 this season.

The 35-year-old West is no longer in his prime, but he’s a terrific leader and he did produce for San Antonio last year, averaging 7.1 points, four rebounds and 1.8 assists in 18 minutes per game. He shot an efficient 54.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range (albeit on a small sample size). In the postseason, West averaged 5.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.7 blocks in 17.6 minutes for the Spurs while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. He ranked 20th among all NBA players in Defensive Real Plus-Minus (2.9) for 2015-16.

In addition to Pachulia and West, Anderson Varejao will re-sign with Golden State for the veteran’s minimum. At 33 years old, Varejao played sparingly last season and isn’t nearly as effective as he used to be, but he’s another big body who can be utilized in certain situations and specific match-ups. There’s no question that adding Durant was the jaw-dropping, NBA-landscape-changing move, but these bargain pick-ups are also important as they fill out their roster.

Dion Waiters, Miami Heat

Initially, reports indicated that Waiters had signed a two-year, $6 million deal with Miami. The deal is even smaller in reality – a room exception deal that will pay Waiters $2,898,000 next season, with a second-year player option ($3,028,410). This one stings for Waiters and his camp, mainly because he could’ve signed for the $6.8 million qualifying offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder for over two full weeks before it was eventually rescinded, but clearly he thought he’d receive a bigger offer. It seemed that Waiters was in good position to get a solid contract once the Thunder allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent, but instead he’s betting on himself in Miami and hoping his big pay day comes next summer (assuming he opts out).

Entering free agency, Waiters was being talked about as a possible near-max candidate and some wondered if a young team like the Philadelphia 76ers or Brooklyn Nets may throw big money his way. Instead, by comparison, he’ll earn the same amount as New York’s Mindaugas Kuzminskas next season. Some players making more than Waiters next season include Brooklyn’s Justin Hamilton, Memphis’ Troy Daniels, Denver’s Mike Miller and many others. This is obviously a great deal for Miami, as Waiters will be motivated to play well (and be on his best behavior) in an important contract year. Losing Dwyane Wade obviously hurts for Pat Riley and Miami, but this is a nice low-risk, high-reward signing to fill that vacant two-guard position.

Festus Ezeli, Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers’ deal for Ezeli immediately elicited shock when the terms were reported because most people assumed the former Golden State Warriors center would earn significantly more. Portland landed Ezeli on a two-year deal worth $15,133,000, and perhaps even more shocking is that the contract isn’t fully guaranteed; he’ll earn $7,400,000 next season, but just $1 million of the second year’s $7,733,000 salary is guaranteed. Not only is the contract a bargain on its face, the fact that so little of Ezeli’s second season is guaranteed means he could be used as a possible trade chip or, in the worst-case scenario, be waived in the event of a major injury or the situation turning toxic for some reason. It’s hard to understand this deal from Ezeli’s perspective, but it’s excellent for Portland.

This is even more of a head-scratcher when scanning what other big men earned last month. While Ezeli didn’t have the most productive postseason and was used sparingly throughout the year, those factors didn’t limit former Cleveland Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov from getting $64 million over four years from the Los Angeles Lakers – and the 26-year-old Ezeli is four years younger than Mozgov. Mozgov wasn’t even the only big man to cash in this summer, with many centers inking lucrative deals including Bismack Biyombo ($72 million over four years from the Orlando Magic), Ian Mahinmi ($64 million over four years from the Washington Wizards) and Miles Plumlee ($52 million over four years from the Milwaukee Bucks) among others. Perhaps Ezeli had larger offers elsewhere and just really wanted to join this attractive up-and-coming Portland team, but it seems like he’s worth more than he’ll earn on his current contract.

Brandon Bass, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton, Luc Mbah a Moute – L.A. Clippers

In addition to re-signing their own key contributors in Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson, the Clippers did a solid job of filling out their roster even though they didn’t have much to work with in terms of salary cap space. They managed to bring in four quality veterans who should bolster their bench and make them a tougher out in the loaded Western Conference.

It goes without saying that the Warriors are the favorite to win the West and, for that matter, to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. But teams like the Clippers must continue to assemble the very best team possible, and Doc Rivers deserves credit for making these moves with what was essentially an empty wallet.

Bass, Speights and Felton were all added on veteran’s minimum contracts, and reportedly turned down larger offers to join Los Angeles. The Clippers enter next season with their same star power and a lot of continuity, but they also added some new role players who should be able to make solid contributions.

Terrence Jones, New Orleans Pelicans

This was a move that truly surprised me. Jones had larger offers from some other teams (such as the Toronto Raptors), but he wanted to join New Orleans and decided to take the veteran’s minimum. In an interview with our Oliver Maroney, he said, “I wanted an opportunity to play for a team that is young and defining itself, but could still compete right away. I wanted a larger role, where I could really compete and help a team win. I want to win. Period. Every level I’ve played at, I’ve been a winner and that’s my motivation every time I step onto the court. I always leave it on the floor and believe in winning at all costs. Part of my decision was a finding a team that fit with that philosophy of always having a chip on their shoulder.”

Jones also said that he wanted to play for Coach Alvin Gentry and play alongside his former Kentucky teammate Anthony Davis. After playing inconsistent minutes in Houston and dealing with some injuries, Jones wants to go to a situation where he can thrive in a contract year. Jones is still just 24 years old, and it’s easy to forget that he averaged 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds in just 27 minutes a night two seasons ago. It’s shocking that he didn’t earn more, but he could cash in next summer if all goes well for him this season in New Orleans.

Brandon Jennings, New York Knicks

Jennings inked a one-year, $5 million with the Knicks, and I love this move for New York for several reasons. I thought the 26-year-old point guard would earn more on the open market, so landing him for just $5 million is a steal. It’s also great when you look at New York’s roster, as Jennings is a starting-caliber point guard (he’s started 416 of his 460 games throughout his NBA career) and excellent insurance in the event that Derrick Rose gets injured.

I understand why Jennings signed this deal, coming off of a down year as he recovered from an Achilles injury before being traded at midseason from the Detroit Pistons to the Orlando Magic. He’s hoping he can get his stock up by playing well on the new-look Knicks and then sign a lucrative, long-term deal next summer. In the meantime, he makes $5 million, which is fair for a back-up point guard who may end up starting a number of games depending on what happens with Rose. I think this is a good deal for both sides and I like the situation for both parties as well.

Honorable Mention: Marcus Thornton (one year, veteran’s minimum from the Washington Wizards), Jared Sullinger (one year, $6 million from the Toronto Raptors), Roy Hibbert (one year, $5 million from the Charlotte Hornets)

Is there another bargain signing that you liked? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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Q&A With Cavaliers Rookie Cedi Osman

Basketball Insiders caught up with Cavaliers rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Spencer Davies

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Monday afternoon, Basketball Insiders caught up with rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Basketball Insiders: Your first experience in the NBA, making the transition from international play and Euroleague—has it been what you’ve expected?

Cedi Osman: I mean of course it’s different rules and stuff and a different type of basketball. In international, it’s like more slow, but here it’s like always up and down, a lot of fast breaks.

Actually that’s the kind of basketball that I like. When I was playing overseas, I was also running a lot, up and down. I was that guy who was bringing the energy, so it was not hard for me to adjust to this basketball.

BI: With Euros in this league, it’s a growing amount. What does that tell you about the talent pool over there?

Osman: There’s a lot of talented players overseas—like really, a lot. Like you said, when you look around the NBA there’s a lot of European players. Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, he’s a big legend. He was the one who chose to do Europe [to show] what he can do. I can give you the example of two Turkish basketball players—Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur, he won one championship. I mean, there’s a lot of European players.

BI: Definitely. So how well do you know Hedo and Mehmet?

Osman: With Mehmet Okur, I was talking a couple times. I saw him one time in summer league this year. I talk to Hedo also because he’s president of Turkish Basketball Federation, so I was talking to him also.

BI: You’ve gotten some crucial minutes with the bench in the last couple of games. The same thing can be said when you played in New York and against the Hawks, too. What’s allowed you and that group to click together?

Osman: I always try to think positive. When I’m getting there on the court with the second unit, I’m trying to bring the energy because I’m the youngest one with Big Z [Ante Zizic] together.

Whenever I get on the court I’m trying to bring the energy on both sides of the court—on defense and offense—and I’m trying to run the floor the fastest that I can. Trying to guard players that are really good. And that also just improves my basketball [skills] a lot. I’m really happy that I am a part of this team and it’s also really important for me that I’m getting these crucial minutes.

BI: In a recent interview, you said that you don’t have a reason to be scared. You’re “cold-blooded.” Why do you feel that way?

Osman: I was playing overseas professionally since I was 16 years old…actually, I started getting paid when I was 12. [I’ve been] playing professionally for a long time. I played with a lot of good players. I’ve played also [with] former NBA players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic who was on the same team.

I know, yeah this is the best league in the world, but I don’t have a reason why to be scared because I was working for this—to come here, to give my best and to be stable to stay for long, long years. That’s why I said I don’t have a reason to be scared, because I know that I can play here.

BI: When you’re on the floor, what do you expect out of yourself? You said you want to get up and down the floor and give it to both ends, but is there anything outside of that, maybe mentality wise?

Osman: Of course. Not just as a rookie, but every time I get on the court like I said, I want to be always that guy who brings the energy. Also like, when we’re going bad or when we have a bad game, I want to change the momentum of the game. That’s what I’m working for a lot. We have great players and I have a lot of things to learn from them.

That’s why I said I’m really happy to be a part of this team, because we’re one of the best teams in the world. I hope that we’re going to win a championship in my first year. That would be a big thing for me.

BI: What kind of things have the coaching staff tried to help you improve in practice?

Osman: There’s a couple defensive plays that’ll be different. There’s also defensive three seconds. That was a bit of adjusting for me because in Europe you can always stay in the paint no matter what. There’s no defensive three seconds. Here it’s different, so it was a little bit hard for me to adjust in the beginning, but now I don’t have any problems and coaches are really helping me a lot.

BI: This team isn’t fully healthy yet, obviously with Isaiah Thomas coming back, Tristan Thompson coming back and Iman Shumpert down the road. That might affect playing time for some. You’ve gone to the G-League and played with the Canton Charge once before. You had a lot of minutes in that one game and did a really good job there. Is that something that you’re prepared for? Would you mind playing there again if that’s the case for you?

Osman: I was the one who asked for Canton, to go there, because before Shump got injured I didn’t have a lot of playing time. I said that I want to play whenever we have an off day, whenever I can go to play there, to run a lot, to try to do my thing. See that I’m working here before practices. That’s why I asked to go there. I talked to [Cavaliers general manager] Koby [Altman] and he said he supported me about that and that would be good for me.

BI: You have your own hashtag—#TheFirstCedi—can you explain the inspiration behind that and what it means?

Osman: So I’m working with one agency in Turkey and they’re doing a really good job about myself, my profile, my brand (laughs). They’re doing a really good job. “The First Cedi” is because my first name is Cedi and a lot of people are calling me Jedi, so that’s from Star Wars. The First Cedi—because in Turkey, ‘C’ reads as a ‘J’ so Jedi. First Jedi, that’s why.

BI: That’s pretty funny. Are you a Star Wars fan?

Osman: Yeah. I watch. But because it’s like old movies and that kind of stuff, but now new movies are better.

BI: It’s a locker room full of veterans here in Cleveland. Do you feel comfortable with everyone?

Osman: Definitely. I feel really comfortable. We have—I don’t want to say veteran players—but they are so good and they are big, big professionals. I have a lot of fun with them—locker room, when we go on the road, team dinners and that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool.

The thing is, like it’s my first appearance. Overseas I’m coming to America and I was thinking the adjustment would be a little bit hard for me, but it was actually the opposite. From the first day that I met those guys, they helped me a lot.

BI: Is there anyone that you’ve gotten especially close to? You mentioned Big Z earlier.

Osman: Me and Z are pretty close. We’re speaking the same language. We played in the same league in Turkey. But like, I’m close with everybody. With Channing [Frye], we are always talking about the games and that stuff.

BI: Playing with LeBron—can you put that into words?

Osman: Look, it’s…(pauses), it’s something crazy. Because I was playing a game—obviously 2K—before when I was younger, I was playing with him and that stuff. Of course, it was my dream to be an NBA player, to play in the NBA. But when you’re playing on the same team with [Derrick] Rose, LeBron James, [Dwyane] Wade, Kevin Love, [Isaiah Thomas], it’s crazy.

I didn’t imagine that I would play with those players. And then, I just realize when I’m playing with them, the only thing that I can do is just work a lot and learn from them.

BI: When you hear these guys talk about you in a good light and coach Lue gives you praise, how does that make you feel?

Osman: That’s something really incredible. I mean… from the first day, from the media day when LeBron was in a press conference, he talked about everybody. But he talked also about me and he knew about Euroleague and that kind of stuff, so I was really happy. I was really proud and I was really happy about it. From the first day, he was so close to me. Not just him, but everybody.

BI: What do you think people need to know about your personality? Is there anything that hasn’t been said?

Osman: Actually, nothing special (laughs). I’m the guy who always smiles and with a lot of energy, always being positive talking to everybody, making a lot of jokes, trying to be friendly with everyone and the most important—I’m trying to be a good character.

BI: Last one—based off of this conversation alone, you’ve picked up the English language so easily. Who’s helped you on that side of things?

Osman: I actually had a lot of American players overseas on my previous team—it was Jordan Farmar, Jamon Gordon, Derrick Brown, he also played here, there was Bryant Dunston, Jayson Granger. I played a lot with Dario Saric, too, Furkan Korkmaz. Those were guys that were always talking English.

Just talking to them all the time. When they talked, I would just listen to them. I wasn’t listening to what they talked [about], but just for what kind of words they were using and what kind of sentences, the way they were talking. That’s how I learned English.

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James Johnson: The Latest Product of Miami’s Culture

James Johnson speaks to Michael Scotto about his success within Miami’s culture.

Michael Scotto

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James Johnson went from an NBA nomad to financially set for life.

Over the summer, Johnson signed a four-year, $60 million deal with Miami, as first reported by Basketball Insiders. The deal included a fourth-year player option.

“It really meant everything to me,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “To be in a situation in my life to overcome so much, and to finally get something like that where it’s long-term, where it’s somewhere I really want to be too, it was just all-in-all the best scenario.”

Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall in 2009 and spent time with four different teams, including two stints in Toronto, before his career year in Miami last season. During that span, Johnson also spent time in the G-League for the Iowa Energy (2011) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (2013).

Despite being nomadic through the first eight years of his career, Johnson never doubted his talent nor the hope that he’d find the right organizational fit.

“No, I never doubted myself,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “I never doubted the Lord neither. I’m a big firm believer of that. Every team I was on I always enjoyed my teammate’s success. I always was a real part of practice players and being a scout guy. My whole journey is just to figure out and experience all the other aspects of this game that we play. It says a lot where I can start helping other guys out like the rookies now and guys that are not getting any minutes right now, things like that. I’m a big testament to just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

After playing for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies, what set Miami’s culture apart?

“Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.”

Johnson credits his relationship with President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for helping him fulfill his potential.

“It’s great, its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a little new still, but the freedom to be able to go into their office and just talk about normal things, you know, is one of the big reasons why I never want to leave this place.”

While playing on a one-year, $4 million deal, Johnson averaged a career-high 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Johnson also shot a career-high 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Looking ahead, can Johnson continue to improve at age 30 and beyond coming off his best year as a pro?

“I got paid, so there’s no pressure of playing for the money,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s really playing for the wins, playing for your teammates, and playing with a pure heart, not going out there with any agendas, not going out there looking to live up to something that everybody else wants you to live up to. For me, it’s just gelling with our team and making sure our locker room is great like I was mentioning. Go out there and compete and trust each other.”

Johnson has put up nearly identical numbers through the first quarter of this season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. Johnson is also shooting a career-high 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s my ninth year, and I’m just happy to be able to be part of the NBA for that long,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders.

Looking ahead, Johnson hopes to maximize years 10-12 in Miami during the rest of his contract and the remaining prime of his career.

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