According to Marc Stein, the Nets are entering into buyout negotiations with Joe Johnson, meaning that he'll be waived soon, clear waivers 48 hours after that, and then sign with a team of his choosing. Plenty of teams are already reported to be interested in the 34-year-old wing scorer, and so far, the Clippers aren't among them.
But they should be. Joe Johnson has played in the NBA for 15 seasons, and his third point on his new team will be the 19,000th of his career. He's scored 20 points (or more) a game in 5 different campaigns, and is, of course, a seven-time All-Star. None of that really matters though. What matters is that a player that we've been cracking jokes about has actually emerged as someone who can seriously help the Clippers down the stretch of this season.
Now, of course the Clippers were predestined to sign Joe when he was playing poorly--I mean, he's an Eastern Conference All-Star from Doc's time in Boston who is now older and (at the time looked) washed up, so of course some people were quick to mock Doc and Jeff by suggesting a partnership. Now, however, the tables have turned--Johnson turned 35/28/85 November splits and 36/34/67 December splits into 49/47/96 in January and 48/44/88 in February. That's right--Joe Johnson is now shooting 37% from deep on the season and he's at 46% in the last two months (exactly 46/100). The field goal percentage is rising more slowly but he's been above 48% in each of the last two months at over 250 total attempts, and he has a true shooting percentage above .600 in 2016.
The Clippers are a shooting team riddled with average shooters--it's been the case since Matt Barnes' biggest wart as a starter was that he "only" shot 35% from three-point range. This season, the only Clippers shooting better than that mark and shooting regularly (not counting sample size kings like Lance Stephenson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and C.J. Wilcox) are Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. They're also the only two shooting better than Joe Johnson's 37% mark on the season, and his 46% mark in 2016 actually puts him well above Paul and close to J.J. Redick's territory. The Clippers' other shooters are all mediocre--Wesley Johnson leads the way at 33.6%, and nobody else breaks that 33% plane.
|Player||3PT %||3PA per 36|
|Joe Johnson (January/February)||46.0%||4.4|
|Joe Johnson (Nets)||37.1%||4.1|
|Matt Barnes (2014-15: Clippers)||36.2%||4.9|
|Jeff Green (2015-16: Total)||30.8%||3.2|
This is a make-or-miss league where the importance of quality outside shooters grows nonstop. The Clippers have increasingly worked to put more shooting around Blake Griffin, and then in his absence for the last two months have found themselves turning to even more outside shooting to compensate. Joe Johnson has plenty of shortcomings at this point in his career, but he clearly brings more value than Paul Pierce, and a potential 10% upgrade in three-point shooting frankly makes him more valuable than Crawford and Johnson as well. The Clippers should target him.
However, they probably won't. Or if they do, they won't get far. As I mentioned above, there are a lot of teams interested in Joe--Cleveland could use a veteran shooter on the floor with LeBron late in games, OKC could use someone at the SG position who can shoot so badly that they just traded for Randy Foye, a half-dozen second-tier Eastern teams would like his services, and I'm sure the Warriors and Spurs wouldn't mind another veteran shooter on their bench in a smaller role. In years past, the Clippers have been a major landing spot for buyout players. This was normally because they're used to having no depth and huge gaping holes with guaranteed minutes that players can easily slide into. Is that the case this year?
The team is in flux--they just traded a little-used player in Stephenson for a guy who will get a lot of minutes in Jeff Green, and the most vulnerable rotation player on paper is Paul Pierce, and whether Doc is willing to put his old friend on the bench is far from certain. Conceivably, in the long-term, Green and Wes Johnson could handle backup duties at PF while Joe Johnson plays SF off of the bench--but it's a long shot as it would require some big minute cuts to Pierce as well as Jamal Crawford, two of Doc's most relied-upon veterans.
So, whether due to inactivity or inability to recruit him, the Clippers will stand pat as Joe Johnson signs with a different team, and one of this unit's long-standing issues will remain--they're a three-point shooting team full of mediocre, high-volume shooters, and the ultimate goal is to upset a team full of very good, high volume shooters. The Golden State Warriors have seven rotation players who would be one of the Clippers' top three shooters, and five who would be second-best behind Redick. The Clippers are currently banking on getting hot at the right time--and adding a third good outside shooter would help that cause.