A relatively quiet buyout market heated up Thursday, when the Brooklyn Nets and Joe Johnson agreed to a deal that makes the seven-time All-Star an unrestricted free agent in advance of the stretch run.
According to a report by ESPN's Marc Stein, seven teams are pursuing Johnson before he clears waivers on Saturday: Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Oklahoma City and Toronto. More than any other buyout candidate, Johnson could play a role in the postseason no matter which destination he chooses.
Of course, Johnson's new team won't be getting the high-scoring shooting guard who averaged more than 20 points per game each of his first five seasons with the Hawks (2005-06 through 2009-10). At 34, does Johnson still have something left to offer a contender? And where might he fit best?
Spot-up Joe replaces Iso Joe
In his prime, Johnson earned the nickname "Iso Joe" for his preferred form of scoring -- creating his own shot out of isolation plays. In both 2008-09 and 2009-10, Johnson was one of the league's five leading scorers on isolations, according to Synergy Sports tracking.
Those days are long gone. This season, per Synergy tracking available on NBA.com/Stats, Johnson has shot just 34.8 percent on isolation plays.
More broadly, Johnson is no longer capable of creating his own shot like he once did. Johnson's usage rate declined to 17.9 percent of Brooklyn's plays, his lowest mark since he was a rookie. When he has tried to create his own shot, Johnson has struggled. Most of his unassisted attempts come inside the arc and Johnson is shooting just 42.7 percent on 2-point attempts, down from 47.2 percent last season.
In some ways, Johnson's decline has made him a better fit for a contending team. Wherever he goes, Johnson will be joining a team with existing go-to players. He's likely to fit into a role spacing the floor. And Johnson can still be effective there. Over the course of the season, Johnson is shooting 37.1 percent from beyond the arc, right at his career mark.
Besides spotting up, Johnson can still take advantage of his size in the post against smaller defenders. According to Synergy tracking, he has shot 44.3 percent on post-up plays this season.
Move to the frontcourt
The other way teams aren't getting All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson is, well, he might not be a shooting guard anymore. Johnson swung between the two wing spots his past couple of seasons with the Nets, and was frequently part of interchangeable duos. As his quickness wanes, Johnson has had more difficulty containing smaller opponents. He's better off matching up against bigger players, allowing him to use his size and strength.
So in defensive terms, teams should look at Johnson as a forward -- or as a combo forward. At a listed 6-foot-7, 240 pounds -- he actually measured 6-6¾ without shoes at the NBA draft combine many years ago, which would usually translate to 6-foot-8 in shoes -- Johnson is the same size as Sacramento Kings power forward Quincy Acy. He's not far off from Carmelo Anthony (6-8, 240), who has thrived as a power forward, and even All-Star power forward Paul Millsap (6-8, 246) has relatively similar dimensions.
Overall, Johnson should be looked at as a minus defensively. ESPN's real plus-minus rates his defensive impact costing his team 1.1 points per 100 possessions compared to an average player.
Where Johnson fits
All signs seem to point toward Johnson landing with the Cavaliers, and he seems to be a fit there. Johnson could slide into the role of combo forward played by Richard Jefferson and occasionally James Jones.
As compared to Johnson, Jefferson (40.7 percent on 3s) and Jones (just 35.1 percent this season, but 39.6 percent career) are better shooters. However, Johnson brings a better all-around game. The incumbent Cleveland reserves aren't really threats outside the 3-point line, and are weaker defenders than Johnson, who could share the responsibility of defending power forwards with LeBron James in smaller lineups.
It would be a stretch to suggest that adding Johnson would dramatically change the possible NBA Finals matchup between the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, but having another wing option could make it easier for Tyronn Lue to play smaller, quicker lineups against Golden State.
If Johnson wants to go to a Western Conference team, the Los Angeles Clippers also look like a good fit. At this point, he might be an upgrade on aging Paul Pierce as a combo forward, and there's playing time to be had in L.A. -- particularly before Blake Griffin returns.
Because of his defensive shortcomings, Johnson isn't exactly the 3-and-D wing the Thunder have long coveted. He could make it easier for Oklahoma City to play Kevin Durant at power forward, though, giving Billy Donovan more strategic flexibility.
Other possible contenders make less sense. Given their wing depth, a return to the Hawks seems to work only if they envision Johnson seeing additional time as a backup to Millsap at power forward. The Raptors need their small forward to take the tougher defensive assignment and will have few minutes available if DeMarre Carroll is able to return from knee surgery. Johnson could help the Rockets but wouldn't solve their problems and wouldn't be guaranteed a playoff spot. The Heat need to save their available money under the luxury tax for a point guard with Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih sidelined. And while the Celtics could use some more size on the wing, their rotation is already full.
The team Johnson ultimately picks certainly won't be getting an All-Star, but they could be getting a boost from a role player to add to their depth for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.