NBA: If Heat canít lure LeBron, Johnson could be an option
By Michael Wallace
If the Heat's free agency flirtation with LeBron James falls flat this summer, the next-best wing player on the market is open to the idea of joining Dwyane Wade in Miami.
All-Star guard Joe Johnson was noncommittal about his future in Atlanta when he emerged from an embarrassing four-game series sweep Monday against Orlando.
But amid his struggles during the series, Johnson said he would take a look at all of his options this summer, including partnering with Wade.
Not only did Johnson say he wouldn't mind shifting to a secondary role on a team with an established superstar, he also would change positions.
"That's a great situation ó you have to look at it," Johnson told The Miami Herald while discussing his options. "I'm not saying I'll go play with him or him. But being a free agent, you pay attention to everybody's salary cap, what everybody can do."
No team is set up in better position for bolder moves than Miami, the only team in the league with an elite player in tow and the flexibility to add as many as two marquee free agents to max contracts.
With plans to re-sign Wade and with at least $25 million in salary-cap space, Miami vows to be aggressive when free agency opens July 1.
"Most of the players in this league know what Miami is about," Heat president Pat Riley said.
"I'm not able to talk to them prior to July 1. All I can do is use my ó I don't need to say it ó whatever it is you need to do prior to July 1, powers of positive thinking."
Two league sources said there is mutual interest between the Heat and Johnson, although the four-time All-Star has not ruled out returning to the Hawks. Riley's priority ó after re-signing Wade ó is to gauge James' interest in coming to Miami.
Beyond that, the Heat's wish list is believed to feature Toronto's Chris Bosh, Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire, Johnson and, perhaps, Utah's Carlos Boozer. Despite an aggressive push at the February trade deadline, Miami fell short of acquiring Stoudemire. Riley previously balked at trading for Boozer.
In addressing his free agency, Wade said he would meet with James, Bosh and Johnson to discuss where they could play next season. Wade considers Johnson one of his better friends in the league, with the two building a bond on the U.S. national team.
There is league-wide speculation that Johnson's free agency value might have dipped because of his sub-par play against the Magic. Johnson, regarded as one of the league's better shooters and versatile playmakers, shot just 29.8 percent overall and averaged 12.8 points.
Johnson also drew criticism during the most lopsided four-game sweep in NBA history for comments about the lack of fan support at games. He was booed as he was taken out in the final minutes off Monday's series-ending loss.
"We've made nice jumps," Johnson said. "I just think a few more pieces need to be added to be an elite team, a championship team. We definitely need help."
The uncertainty in Atlanta extends beyond Johnson to Hawks coach Mike Woodson, whose contract expires next month despite guiding the team to a 53-victory season.
Woodson believes Johnson would be judged in free agency by his larger body of work once the playoff disappointment wanes. Johnson averaged at least 20 points, 4.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds each of the past five seasons.
"Joe's a good free agent ó and I want him back in a Hawks uniform just as much as I want to come back," Woodson said. "You can't tell a player as a free agent if he should sign or not sign. This all started with Joe. He's been the foundation."
But Johnson also is intrigued with being a supplementary part to a team with a championship-caliber roster.
He played a supportive role in Phoenix alongside Steve Nash and Stoudemire before going to Atlanta. Asked if he could be a second or third option on a team such as Miami, he said, "Yeah."
"I played that role already," said Johnson, expected to also receive interest from Chicago, New York and New Jersey. "It doesn't matter. You can still make your stamp on the game. I could care less about being the one or two guy. I just want to win."