Udoka Praises Veteran All-Star as Celtics Send him Back to Free Agency

Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

Getty Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

Joe Johnson’s 10-day return to the Boston Celtics has officially come to an end, with the veteran scorer returning to the free agency pool as a result.

Johnson joined the Celtics due to the team’s lack of available players and was never projected to feature heavily during his short stint. In 10 days, Johnson made one appearance for the Celtics, coming off the bench during Boston’s December 22 contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring two points on 1-of-1 shooting.

Johnson hadn’t played in the NBA for three years before that game, with his last stint in the league coming with the Houston Rockets during the 2017-18 season. Despite Johnson’s lack of playing time for the Celtics, head coach Ime Udoka was impressed with the veteran’s conditioning and leadership skills during their short time together.

“His experience stood out immediately, his voice stood out immediately in the locker room, and from a respect level from all of the players, that’s something that was very notable. Other than the coaches, he spoke up more than some of the guys who had been here,” Udoka told the media before the Celtics victory over the Orlando Magic on January 2.

Johnson is 40-years-old, and like most players his age, has lost a step along with the lion’s share of his athleticism. Yet, after witnessing the veteran in training and around the facilities, Udoka believes there’s still gas left in the tank and that Johnson would be able to hold his own while fighting for an end-of-bench rotation role on an NBA roster.

“From a physical standpoint he’s as good as end of bench players across the league, so there’s no doubt about that. It’s just opportunity. He got that due to the circumstances, and maybe it will open something else up for him,” Udoka said.

The COVID pandemic is still ongoing, and players continue to enter health and safety protocols around the league, albeit at a slower rate than in mid-December. But if another team should find themselves stuck for game-ready players, there’s a genuine possibility that we see Johnson take to an NBA floor again before the end of the season.

Johnson Gave Advice to Every Roster Member

After returning to the NBA and scoring his first professional bucket in three years, Johnson was open with the waiting media on December 22. As with any veteran with a wealth of knowledge within the league, Johnson was asked if players had been picking his brains since his arrival in Boston.

“I’ve probably talked to everybody on the squad, before and after the game. But they seem as if they’re trying to find an identity, trying to come together as a squad and pile up as many wins as possible. It’s a great group of young guys in there. I just try to go in there and be vocal.

Whether I can tell them about some of my experiences, or throughout the game, whatever I see, I try to convey it to guys like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, or Schroder. Whether it’s being more aggressive, decisive, on plays, just the little things like that, it goes a long way,” Johnson said following the Celtics victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Joe Johnson on returning to Boston after 20 years | Celtics vs CavaliersBOSTON, MA — Veteran Joe Johnson was interviewed following Boston's win over Cleveland on Wednesday night. Johnson, 40, was signed by Boston on a 10 Day contract early Wednesday due to the Celtics missing several players due to Health and Safety Protocols. He was first drafted by the Boston Celtics when entering the NBA, but…2021-12-23T04:32:01Z

While Johnson’s short-lived return to the Celtics didn’t end up in a considerable amount of playing time for the veteran, it would seem he found a way to leave a lasting impression on his teammates. And for a young Celtics team who have struggled for leadership at times in recent seasons, Johnson’s presence, however short-lived, can only be deemed as a positive moving forwards.

Johnson Has Dominated The ‘Big 3’ in Recent Years

Since leaving the NBA, Johnson has become a key figure within the BIG 3 league and was named the 2019 MVP, winning the BIG 3 championship in the same season.

After returning to an NBA floor with the Celtics, Johnson spoke of how the Big 3 was integral to his eventual return to the league and why he holds the competition so close to his heart.

“The BIG3 was everything for me. Shoutout to Ice Cube for allowing me and giving me a chance to put my skills on display, man, and go out and have fun every weekend. That was special. I got a chance to play with guys that I hadn’t played with since college. Competing every weekend in the BIG3 was awesome. I mean, it’s still fun, don’t get me wrong, I love it. If it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t be here right now, so I appreciate Cube for that,” Johnson said.

Johnson also won a second BIG 3 MVP title during the 2021 season, following yet another impressive set of displays. But now, after getting another taste of NBA basketball, it will be interesting to see if the veteran ends up on another roster. Perhaps a team like the Miami Heat, who have their own roster struggles, could see value in Johnson’s presence for a short time. Or maybe we will have to wait until the 2022 BIG 3 tournament before we can watch Iso Joe get back to work.


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