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NBA Saturday: Timberwolves Assembling Exciting Core

The Minnesota Timberwolves add Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to their exciting core of young players.

Jesse Blancarte

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New Era in Minnesota

Today, the Cleveland Cavaliers will officially acquire star power forward Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love, one of the most productive players in the NBA, leaves Minnesota after six seasons with the Timberwolves.

While there may be an inclination to feel as though the Timberwolves have taken a major step back after losing their franchise player, the fact is that Minnesota acquired a solid haul of young talent to build around moving forward. The Timberwolves acquired two number one overall picks in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett from Cleveland, and will concurrently send Cleveland’s 2015 first-round pick (acquired from the Miami HEAT) along with Alexey Shved and Luc Mbah a Moute to the Philadelphia 76ers for Thaddeus Young.

This was a strong return for Love, who made it clear to the Timberwolves that he would leave Minnesota for nothing at the conclusion of the upcoming season if he was not traded. While losing Love hurts, the Timberwolves now have one of the best core’s of young talent in the NBA, and are still talented enough to have an outside chance of making the playoffs moving forward.

Wiggins, the number one overall pick in this year’s draft out of Kansas University, is a top-level NBA prospect and potential superstar. In his one season at Kansas, Wiggins put up 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals and one block per game, and shot 44.8 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from beyond-the-arc. While Wiggins’ stats don’t jump off the page, he has the size and skill of an elite wing player and should be able to develop into a well-rounded offensive player and lock-down defender.

Over the last few years, Wiggins has drawn comparisons to LeBron James, but a better or fairer comparison may be someone like Paul George. George entered the league as a wing player who could play defense immediately and had the size and skill to develop into a versatile offensive weapon. George, to his credit, made huge strides in his game early in his career, improving his jump-shot and ball-handling, allowing him to be a play-maker on offense. Similarly, Wiggins will need to add consistency to his jumper, and improve his ball-handling to take his game to the next level. Assuming Wiggins can make the same sort of strides in his game that George did, coupled with his elite athleticism, Wiggins could be a top wing player in the NBA in just a few years. Wiggins has been criticized in the past for being too passive, but he seems to recognize this and sees Minnesota as a place where he will have to embrace being a lead-player, and not just another piece.

Joining Wiggins in Minnesota will be the number one overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Bennett. Last season, in 52 games played with the Cavaliers, Bennett averaged 4.2 points, three rebounds and 0.3 assists per game and shot 35.6 percent from the field. It was a truly disappointing rookie campaign for the former number one overall pick. Bennett entered his rookie season rehabbing from shoulder surgery and suffered a knee strain in March. He struggled with injuries and conditioning last season, but has lost weight this summer and is looking to have a bounce-back sophomore season. In addition, Bennett underwent surgery in May to remove his tonsils and adenoids to help improve his sleep apnea, and says it is now easier for him to breathe while playing.

Bennett’s improved conditioning and breathing does not guarantee that he will have a breakout sophomore season, but it is a positive step in the right direction for the talented forward. At UNLV, Bennett was a versatile offensive player who shot well at the rim, could take the ball off the dribble and knock down three-pointers consistently (38.3 percent). And while he was not a great defender in college, he moves well for a player his size and has potential defensively. With Minnesota, Bennett can learn from Thaddeus Young how to play the power forward position at the NBA level. However, Bennett also has the potential to play small forward, but he will have to keep his weight down in order to do so, which may make it harder for him to guard the bigger forwards in the league. This is something that Bennett and the Timberwolves will need to experiment with and figure out moving forward.

Fortunately for Bennett and the Timberwolves, Bennett will not have to rush his development with Corey Brewer and Wiggins in place at small forward, and Young set to take over for Love as the starting power forward. Last season, Young averaged 17.9 points, six rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game. At age 26, Young is young enough to continue improving along with the young talent in Minnesota, but brings seven years of valuable NBA experience to the starting unit. At 6’8, 220 pounds, Young is slightly undersized at the power forward position, but can shoot the ball from the perimeter and has an overall solid offensive game. While Young will not be able to completely make up for the loss of Love, the Timberwolves have managed to add a solid replacement to help keep the team competitive moving forward.

In addition to these newly acquired players, the Timberwolves are bringing in another bright, young talent this upcoming season. The Timberwolves drafted Zach LaVine with the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft out of UCLA. LaVine is arguably the most athletic player in this year’s rookie class and at 6’5, 180 pounds, has good size for an NBA combo guard. At UCLA, LaVine averaged 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and shot 44.1 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from beyond the arc. Similar to Wiggins, LaVine did not put up overly impressive numbers in his one college season, but his upside is off the charts. LaVine has the ability to handle the ball and initiate Minnesota’s offense, but is still very much a work in progress as a point guard. In the Las Vegas Summer League, LaVine had an opportunity to run point guard for Minnesota and showed flashes of his potential.

“I feel like I’ve been just setting up the plays really well, running the team,” LaVine told Basketball Insiders. “Getting to the hole, creating for others and then making my shots when I have to.”

LaVine still has a ways to go in terms of playing point guard, but there is certainly potential there. As a shooting guard, LaVine has shown his ability to score the ball from the perimeter and on drives to the basket. His three-point shooting will be a nice addition to Minnesota, as the Timberwolves were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last season. At age 19, LaVine is certainly a raw talent, and will struggle on many nights in his rookie season. But, with good size, developing point guard skills and a solid offensive skill-set, LaVine has a ton of potential and could one day be considered one of the best players from the 2014 NBA draft class. And with athletes like LaVine and Wiggins running the lanes with point guard Ricky Rubio, there is certain to be some highlight plays in Minnesota next season.

In regards to Rubio, it is easy to forget that he is still just 23 years old. Rubio’s rookie season in the NBA started off well as he averaged 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 2.3 steals in 34.2 minutes per game. However, he suffered an ACL tear in March 2012, and missed the second half of his rookie season. In the following two seasons, Rubio continued to score roughly 10 points, and register roughly eight assists per game, but his perimeter shooting remains an issue. Rubio, a career 36.8 percent shooter from the field and 32.3 percent three-point shooter, has flawed shooting mechanics and an especially slow release. This is something Rubio will have to address moving forward, which, at age 23, is very possible. If, and when he does, he will join the upper echelon of point guards in the league as he is already a great play-maker, passer and solid defensive player. With Love on his way to Cleveland, now is the time for Rubio to take the next step in his development, and become the leader of the Timberwolves.

Also on the roster is Shabazz Muhammad, once considered the best NBA prospect in the nation. After a disappointing rookie season in which he only played in 37 games, Muhammad is looking to have a bounce back sophomore season. Before his rookie season, Muhammad spent one underwhelming season at UCLA before declaring for the 2013 NBA Draft. Muhammad, age 21, is a talented offensive player, but is not a great athlete, and has not shown much ability to make plays for his teammates. However, he does have a thick frame, is a good rebounder for a wing player, and plays with supreme confidence. While he may never live up to the hype that surrounded him as an amateur, Muhammad could still find a niche as a bench scorer and put pressure on opposing guards by taking them down into the post where he often has a size advantage. Much like Rubio, Muhammad is not as far along in his development as many had hoped, but he is still very young and has an opportunity to be another piece of Minnesota’s promising core of young talent. 

In addition to all of these young wing players, the Timberwolves have some young talent at center as well. Timberwolves starting center Nikola Pekovic missed significant time last season with an Achilles injury. To fill the void left by Pekovic, the Timberwolves turned to rookie center Gorgui Dieng from the University of Louisville. Dieng was a revelation for Minnesota and had some outstanding performances throughout the second half of the season. On March 20, Dieng logged 22 points, 21 rebounds, 4 assists and made 10-of-11 from the free throw line. Four days later, Dieng registered 15 points, 15 rebounds, two assists and one block. These are two of Dieng’s best performances from last season, but there were many other nights in which Dieng registered a double-double and contributed a few blocks. Pekovic will remain the starter next season, but with Dieng behind him, the Timberwolves now have a legitimate shot blocker and another young piece to develop moving forward.

Also, while Pekovic is 28 years old, he has only been in the NBA for four seasons, and is one of the league’s best scoring big men. At 6’11, and weighing in at 285 pounds, Pekovic is massive and does not rely on athleticism to score points. He has a well-rounded offensive game and knows how to use his size to clear out defenders and score at the rim. While he is older than many of his young teammates, he is still relatively young and should maintain his current level of play for a long time since he does not rely on athleticism to be effective.

It is true that the Timberwolves would probably win more games this upcoming season with Love than they would with Wiggins, Bennett and Young, especially considering it takes a few seasons for rookies to become real impact players. But the fact is that Love wanted to move on, and in his six seasons in Minnesota he never led his team to the playoffs. To be fair to Love, he did about as much as he could in terms of filling up the stat sheet every night, but it was never enough to get Minnesota over the hump. The reality is that the Western Conference is, and has been stacked with playoff teams and contenders for many years. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers are all teams to be reckoned with, and even with Love, there was no guarantee the Timberwolves would make the playoffs this upcoming season.

With the addition of LaVine, Wiggins, Bennett and Young to Rubio, Dieng and Pekovic, the Timberwolves now have a core of players that can develop over the next few seasons and hopefully peak at a time when teams like the Spurs are rebuilding, and other teams are exiting their window for contention as well. In the meantime, this is a team that can still compete with opposing teams on a nightly basis, and fight for an outside shot at making the playoffs. And while Timberwolves fans may bemoan the fact that it may take some more time to break Minnesota’s 10-year playoff drought, they should take solace in the fact that Minnesota now has one of the best and most exciting cores in the NBA.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and 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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