James Johnson hasn’t changed his tune.
The 6-9 Miami Heat forward and impending free agent continued to express his desire to stay with the franchise which helped turn his career around when he made an appearance on WTVJ-NBC 6’s Sports Final on Sunday night.
“I think the Heat already did plenty for me and even more than that,” Johnson replied when asked if he feels as though the Heat will reciprocate the love he’s expressed for them once free agency begins on July 1.
“Just giving me the stage to work on, and the opportunity to go out there and to become the best player I can be, they definitely gave me that stepping stone – or eight stepping stones. For me, I feel like they already did more than what I had asked them or thought they would do. Anything after that, I’m truly grateful for the Miami Heat and I’m truly honored to be a part of it. Hopefully, it keeps on going.”
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Johnson enjoyed his greatest season in the league last season with the Heat after he transformed his body with the help of team trainers. He went from being a pudgy, 274-pound guy with 14.5 percent body fat to weighing 235 pounds and having 6.5 percent body fat by season’s end.
Johnson put up career-best numbers across the board and was a huge key to the team’s 30-11 second-half turnaround. But at age 30, Johnson, who has never made more than $4 million in any of his first eight seasons in the league, is also looking for some financial security.
Teams across the league with significant cap space like Philadelphia ($56.6 million in projected cap space), Sacramento ($53.6 million), Denver ($43.1 million) and Dallas ($34.7 million) could raise the ante on the Heat ($38 million), which is also looking to retain 25-year-old starting shooting guard Dion Waiters.
Johnson is ranked the 40th best available free agent by HoopsHype.com and Waiters is ranked 25th.
Johnson’s 2016-17 averages in points (12.8), rebounds (4.9) and assists (3.6) last season were matched or exceeded by only 16 other players in the league and most were All-Stars. That list includes: James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokic, DeMar DeRozan, Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Nicolas Batum.
Much like Waiters did a week ago in his interview with WSVN-7, Johnson was non-commital when asked if he would sign with the Heat for less than market value. But Johnson, who has played for five different teams in his career, did express his desire to find a place he could call home.
“I love this place so much and the opportunity they gave me, I couldn’t thank them enough,” he said. “Down the line, it’s hard in this phase of my career to try to find somewhere that you call home or want it to be home. So, you know, the love I have for this team is up there. But it’s just something I got to let the agent and [team president] Pat [Riley] discuss and try to figure out, and then just give my last say so at the end.”
At his season-ending press conference in late April, Riley hinted that resigning Johnson and Waiters would be the team’s priority. He added: “I hope Dion and James and the rest of our free agents like it here enough. We’re going to be fair with them and [hope] they will be fair with us.”
The Heat, though, is also expected to make a free agent run at Jazz All-Star forward Gordon Hayward, who would command a max contract at over $30 million per season.
As for Johnson and Waiters, Johnson said Sunday they’ve tried to avoid free agent talk when they’ve gotten together for off-season workouts.
“We try to stay away from that to be honest,” Johnson said. “When we get together, we’re just the same normal James and Dion. We’re not worried about basketball or what’s to come.”