James Johnson is ready to start “earning my respect back.”
Johnson finally made it on to the practice court for the Miami Heat on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena after missing the first 10 days of training camp and the preseason. The forward was sent away from camp for failing to meet the Heat’s conditioning requirements ahead of the beginning of training camp Oct. 1.
“Day 1 of earning my respect back,” Johnson said after practice. “That’s the only emotion I had is earn my respect back.”
Johnson took part in practice Friday in Miami and will have a chance to get in additional court time with his teammates this weekend. The Heat is idle until Monday when it hosts the Atlanta Hawks for a preseason home game.
Johnson’s absence, which agent Mark Bartelstein said was the result of not meeting a weight goal set by Pat Riley, had him miss all of training camp last week in West Palm Beach, an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday and a pair of preseason games Tuesday and Wednesday.
In a statement issued by the team Oct. 1, Miami announced “Johnson will miss the beginning of camp because he fell short of our conditioning requirements. Once he fulfills and maintains those requirements, he will rejoin the team.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra doesn’t expect Johnson’s time away to have too much of an effect on the veteran’s preparation. Johnson is about to begin his fourth season in South Florida, and he was a captain in each of the last two. He is entering the third year of a four-year, $60 million contract.
“The fast-tracking has been the three years that he’s been with us. It’s not a shock to him what our system is,” Spoelstra said. “We have practice time to be able to get it done, but it’s good to have him back out here. Like I said, it’s hopefully behind us now. We have some practice opportunities over the next couple of days and three more preseason games to get everybody on the same page.”
The day before the Heat announced Johnson missed conditioning requirements, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound veteran expressed optimism in his ability to rebound after an injury-plagued season a year ago. Johnson missed the first 15 games of the season because of sports hernia surgery, eventually lost his starting job and, at points, even fell entirely out of the rotation. He averaged 7.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from three-point range in 55 games with 33 starts. All of those averages except for his three-point percentage were the worst in his three years in Miami.
Although he was pleased with the shape he was in to start training camp, Johnson knows the standard is higher for the Heat. Ultimately, he’s thankful for the organization’s standard.
“It was your own standard compared to the Miami Heat standards. I wasn’t at Miami Heat standards,” Johnson said. “The only way I can reference it is like ‘The Matrix.’ When Neo went to see the Oracle or whatever, she said exactly what he needed to hear.”
Riley said Monday this was the goal of sending Johnson away.
“It’s just something that had to be done,” the president said. “Now he realizes it and I realize it. It’s not going to take away from the team and it’s not going to take away from him once he reaches those conditioning requirements.”
Miami this year, of course, is a different team than the one Johnson last practiced with in April.
All-Star wing Jimmy Butler is the new domineering offensive presence, and rookie shooting guard Tyler Herro is another new critical rotation piece. Adjusting to playing with someone like Butler would take more than just preseason work, anyway.
“Plays-wise and things like that, I’m familiar with all the plays. As far as playing with somebody new and somebody as great Jimmy Butler, that’s just a whole other regime,” Johnson said. “You can’t pick that up in training camp, you know what I mean? It’s going to be more than preseason games to know what his strong points are, for him to know my strengths and weaknesses, and that’s just going to come with trial and error of being in the trenches for real — not preseason games, not training camp.”
One practice in, playing with Butler just feels right, though, after spending last season with Dwyane Wade.
“I had D-Wade last year and it’s the same kind of tendency, the same kind of leadership,” Johnson said, “so just having Jimmy here is like we’re not missing nobody.