Former Nets Exec Sounds Off on Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson, Brooklyn Nets

Getty Cameron Johnson #2 of the Brooklyn Nets.

With their season now over, the Brooklyn Nets’ top priority is clear: get Ben Simmons healthy.

But what about after that?

“Getting a healthy and playable Simmons continues to be the main priority for a second consecutive offseason,” writes ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks who spent 20 years with the Nets organization. “The next is retaining [Cameron] Johnson, who averaged 16.6 points with Brooklyn, up from the 13.9 he was averaging in Phoenix. In his time with Brooklyn, Johnson had to create more for himself. According to Second Spectrum, 56.8% of his shots came directly off a pass with the Nets. Last season with the Suns, that percentage was 77.4%.”

Johnson, 27, posted a .468/.372/.851 slash line during the regular season while also providing sound defense ranking in the 82nd percentile, per Cleaning The Glass, which was a drop from his numbers with a stronger supporting cast with the Phoenix Suns.

“The Phoenix Suns discussed a contract extension spanning four years between $66 and $72 million with forward Cameron Johnson at different points before the start of the season,” reported Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. “It’s worth noting the Suns previously extended Mikal Bridges on a four-year, $90 million deal, and there are executives around the league who don’t believe the Suns want to go anywhere near that range to keep Cam Johnson.”

Johnson’s improved performance in a bigger role is only part of the reason the Nets could find themselves with a different line of thinking when it comes to paying him top dollar.

He’s also extremely close with an apparent building block in Bridges.

“I’m going to be able to look back on this and talk to him about this summer what this felt like, what it looks like going forward because he’s a part of it,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said in potentially telling statements about the Nets’ plans via the YES Network on April 22.

Will Bridges’ opinions have any sway in the Nets’ decision-making? And, if so, just how much should they consider it?

The Houston Rockets Could Make Run at Cameron Johnson

“You’ve got to figure out what the number is going to be for Cam Johnson,” said Marks in a follow-up video on April 22. “Restricted free agent. You have the right to match an offer sheet. Five or six teams that have significant cap space [this offseason]. Does a team like Houston come in and give them four for $90 [million], which is a big number? They can do that and go out and still have a max slot to go out and get James Harden for example. You go and get Cam Johnson, James Harden that’s a nice offseason for the Rockets here.”

Harden’s potential return to Houston even as Philadelphia tries to make a title run has gotten plenty of headlines. But this is also not the first time that they have been mentioned as a possible suitor for the Nets sharpshooter.

“Both in style and in price, the Rockets may be the perfect team to acquire the former North Carolina sharpshooter this offseason,” explains Michael Shapiro of Chron. “Brooklyn could choose to move Johnson in a sign-and-trade, where they could both preserve future salary space and recoup at least a modicum of draft capital in return.”

Houston notably controls the Nets’ draft picks from 2024 through the 2027 cycle.

Perhaps a deal that sends some picks back or at least removes the swap options from the 2025 and 2027 firsts is enough for the Nets to consider breaking up The Twins.

Overvaluing Mikal Bridges Could Lead to Overpaying Cameron Johnson

Potentially keeping Johnson to build around Bridges comes with a certain level of risk since they are basing it on a small sample size of just 29 games for Johnson including the postseason and 31 games for Bridges.

“Mikal Bridges…is probably the third-best team on a top-four team,” Marks said. “I mean that’s the reality of it. I think he had a great year. He’s not a No. 1 [option]. I think he’s probably a No. 1 on a bad team. He’s probably a No. 2 on a team that’s the fifth seed, the fourth seed. He’s not the No. 1 if you’re trying to win a championship.”

Bridges led the Nets averaging 23.5 points in the postseason and shot 40% from beyond the arc while also guarding top perimeter options on the Philadelphia 76ers in the playoffs. But he was held to 17 points on 33.3% shooting in the closeout game as the Nets were swept. Marks’ assessment of Johnson — who had just 11 points but did snag 11 boards — was as brutally honest.

“Nice wing,” Marks said. “Not your third-best player on a good team. Back-end starter — fourth or fifth-best player here so you’ve got to figure out what that number is going to be.”

Johnson also shot 1-for-6 from beyond the arc in Game 4.

As Marks notes, the Nets will be roughly $10 million below the luxury tax line pending a new deal for Johnson. They can get under with subsequent moves if they do re-sign him but just how much are they willing to spend for a team that isn’t ready to contend for a title as currently constructed?