Two years ago, Tyler Johnson was clinging to his NBA life, earning the rookie minimum as he tried to stick with the Miami Heat as an undrafted free agent. Now, he's a $50 million man.
The Brooklyn Nets reportedly plan to sign Johnson to a four-year, $50 million offer sheet when the NBA moratorium ends July 7, per Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. David Aldridge of NBA.com reported the deal will carry a player option after the third season.
Miami will have three days to match the offer once it is signed.
Doing some quick math, Johnson has been guaranteed about $735,294 for every NBA game he's played. The former Fresno State star has 68 professional games under his belt over the last two seasons in Miami. He averaged 8.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists as a reserve in 2015-16, knocking down 48.6 percent of his shots overall and 38 percent from three-point range.
Shoulder surgery cost him the final 36 games of the regular season, before he returned in limited fashion in the playoffs. Appearing in five games, Johnson scored just 21 total points and was clearly playing at less than 100 percent.
Johnson plans to work on a number of things to improve his game during the offseason, per Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:
I thought I was making a lot of great strides at the beginning of the season, and I’m trying to improve on those things as far as ball-handling and finishing at the basket. My biggest strides are going to be mentally and getting my body right. The mental aspect is continuing to transition to that point guard role so that I can play both and be available for both.
The Heat will now have to decide just how much they value his development. As a so-called Arenas restricted free agent, Johnson can only make up to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.6 million) in 2016-17. He can earn a slight increase in salary the following year ($5.8 million) before the restrictions are lifted. Wojnarowski reported he'll make $18.8 million in Year 3 before a $19.6 million base in Year 4.
That number could push Miami well past the luxury-tax line or, at the very least, hurt its free-agency plans moving forward. Wojnarowski reported star Dwyane Wade was angry Miami offered him a starting salary of only $10 million early in negotiations.
Imagine how contentious it would be if Johnson were making more.
Signing Johnson could continue what's been a banner offseason for first-year Nets general manager Sean Marks. Looking to retool a roster devoid of draft picks and talent, Marks traded Thaddeus Young for a first-round pick (Caris LeVert) and has orchestrated a series of solid deals in free agency.
The Nets signed Jeremy Lin (three years, $36 million), Trevor Booker (two years, $18 million) and Justin Hamilton (two years, $6 million) to reasonable contracts in the first two days of free agency, per ESPN.com's tracker. Johnson's is the biggest and riskiest of the deals signed so far, given his inexperience and relative lack of production.
Brooklyn is also not bound to the onerous poison-pill structure. Because it is signing Johnson into cap space, it can smooth his $50 million salary over four years to a $12.5 million average. Johnson's cash earnings would still be the same, but his cap number would be more manageable, similar to Lin's 2012 deal with the Houston Rockets.
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