Tyler Johnson is $50 million richer than he was only a couple months ago, but the money really hasn't changed him much yet.
That gap tooth smile? The 24-year-old undrafted former D-League guard figures there's no reason to go Hollywood and put an implant in -- especially since he's “already got a girl, so it's all good.”
His work ethic? No reason to change that either.
While he has been spending some free time looking for a new home in South Florida after his hefty raise, Johnson says he's also participated in voluntary workouts down at AmericanAirlines Arena every day for the past two weeks.
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He's been practicing with some of his new teammates -- Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Derrick Williams -- and talking on the phone regularly with 11-time All-Star Chris Bosh, who has yet to participate in any of those workouts at the AAA with Johnson, but has been in his ear, like he always has, about the steps Johnson needs to take to improve as a player.
“He's been kind of talking to me about what he needs to see out of me this year, how my role is going to grow and how now it's not time to pace myself [anymore],” Johnson said Wednesday at a youth summer basketball camp hosted by the Miami Heat at Miami Dade College in Kendall.
“It's time for me to make that leap.”
Johnson, who has played in just 68 NBA regular season games and five playoff games in two seasons, is one of seven guards on the Heat roster. With point guard Goran Dragic a given to start, Johnson is clustered into a group of six others vying for minutes.
With a four-year, $50 million salary now attached to his name, he knows the days of being simply a contributor probably won't cut it. A career 46 percent shooter from the field and 38 percent shooter from beyond the three-point line, Johnson has proven he can score. But it's clear the Heat still want to see what he can do as a point guard.
When Dragic was out for a stretch of eight games back in January, Johnson made a handful of starts at point guard, but struggled, averaging more turnovers (2.6) than assists (2.4) during the stretch.
“All the drills we're doing this year are kind of skewed toward being a point guard,” Johnson said. “So, it's definitely going to be an important development to continue to get better. I was kind of derailed last year by sitting out so many games. But I think it's tstill the same goal that [coach Erik Spoelstra] has had from last year -- to get a lot of reps at point guard.”
Johnson said he feels confident he can defend opposing point guards. He says where he needs to improve the most is “controlling the game.”
“If we have a couple bad sets in a row I need to be able to calm the team down, get guys in their spots,” Johnson said. “Knowing when to push the tempo, knowing when we need to drop a play, I think game awareness is probably the biggest thing I have to develop as time moves on.”
Johnson, though, is eager to work on that. His teammates, he says, are also eager to improve. The Heat clearly isn't the same veteran-laden team it was a year ago when Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire were on the floor. Now, it's a collection of journeymen and young players who are hungry to prove themselves.
“We had a lot of veterans that had a lot of playoff experience, guys who won multiple championships on the team,” Johnson said. “So yeah, it's definitely a big-time turnover in that aspect. But you can't really doubt people who come in the gym to get better every day. So, I think it's going to be [different]. We're going to have to change our playing style just a little bit from where we were last year. But I'm excited for it.
“[The new players] are good dudes and they're hungry. It's easier to be around people who want to get better. It's been a good transition so far.”