Dwyane Wade kept the sales pitch simple.
“Live in Miami, man,” Wade said he told Joe Johnson.
“I live in the best place to recruit,” Wade said.
Apparently, Wade’s argument was persuasive. So were testimonials shared by former Suns teammate Amar’e Stoudemire, long-time friend Udonis Haslem and others.
In his first session with reporters since signing with the Heat, Johnson said those relationships were instrumental in him choosing the Heat over other suitors, which included teams higher in the standings, such as the Cavaliers and Thunder and Spurs, as well as one of his former teams, the Hawks.
“Man, I had a connection with a lot of guys here,” said Johnson, a seven-time All-Star. “D-Wade, Amar’e, UD, guys I’ve been in contact with, not just throughout this process, but over the years. I just felt it was right. So that was the decision I went with.”
Johnson said he heard from Wade “pretty much every day, just brief, small conversations,” an extension of the relationship they established while part of the U.S. team in 2006, when, according to Johnson, they clicked in part because they played the same position.
The decision to join the Heat was the second difficult one Johnson has made recently. Initially, he didn’t want a buyout from the struggling Brooklyn Nets, but then came to the conclusion that, “For me, man, this is my 15th season. So if I had a chance to get out and get a chance to play with a playoff-contending team, obviously I looked into it. Talked to my agent, my family, and we all came to an agreement that it was probably the best thing to do.”
He said he believed he could bring versatility to the Heat. And although his decision was largely based on the current roster, he indicated he would “love” to finish his career with the Heat. Miami does not have his Bird Rights, so for Johnson to stick around, the Heat would need to use cap space, which will already be tight, especially if it chooses to re-sign Wade (as expected), as well as Hassan Whiteside and/or Luol Deng.
Live in Miami, man.
So the emphasis is on integrating him quickly, to contribute for this stretch run. Johnson signed with the Heat “very soon” after clearing waivers at 5 p.m. Saturday, and once the Heat got to New York, coach Erik Spoelstra met him for dinner, to talk about the organization and the plan forward. Wade stopped by, though not for long, because he left to watch the Warriors play the Clippers.
Spoelstra, in his pregame comments, sounded giddy about adding Johnson, after he hadn’t been able to discuss the possibility publicly over the past few days. The Heat coach spoke of being “really excited” to add a player with “class” and “professionalism” that “fits our culture,” adding that the “veteran guys, the guys over 30, they’re fired up.”
“We have the ultimate respect for him,” Spoelstra said.
That was evident, when he gave Johnson the start at small forward, just over 24 hours after the signing.
“Let’s go,” Spoelstra said. “There’s no time to wait.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Stoudemire, the Knicks’ heralded acquisition in 2010 who spent nearly five seasons with the franchise, returned as a visiting player for the first time.
Stoudemire was sick and didn’t travel when the Heat played at Madison Square Garden in November.
“I’ve got mixed emotions, man,” said Stoudemire, who made his 16th consecutive start for the Heat. “This is my first time in this visitor’s locker room. I didn’t know which way to walk in. I was lost for a second. I’m so used to coming in the other way. So many familiar faces. I kind of don’t want to beat them too bad, but then again I do.”
Stoudemire, who took a buyout from New York last season and joined Dallas, said of the Knicks, “There’s been a lot going on. It hasn’t really been great.” He also spoke in support of recently fired coach Derek Fisher, and noted how not everyone “wasn’t a fan of [Jeremy Lin] being the new star,” which seemed directed at Carmelo Anthony.
Stoudemire and Anthony did hug at center court prior to tipoff.
▪ The Heat again declined to provide an official update on Chris Bosh’s status. Bosh has not played since Feb. 9 because of a blood clot in his calf, and his teammates have spoken of him as they’re not expecting his return this season.