Miami’s “Big Three” were mobbed by cameras and tape recorders at every opportunity over the weekend in New Orleans. By comparison, the crowd around seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson was quite meager.
At the start of the season, most would have expected more.
Not reporters. Teammates.
From the Brooklyn Nets, the league’s highest payroll (a sum in excess of $100 million) only Johnson was named an All-Star this year.
It was just the third time since 1997 Kevin Garnett was not, and the first time in five seasons for forward Paul Pierce. And ex-Jazz point guard Deron Williams hasn’t made an All-Star game since signing a five-year $98 million deal with the Nets two years ago.
To say the least, a veteran roster assembled to challenge for an NBA title has underachieved.
“We’re still learning,” Johnson said. “We’re four months into the season and we’re still learning each and every day. Hopefully everything comes together like we would love it to in April.”
In the Nets’ disastrous start to the year, there were long postgame meetings, the removal of assistant Lawrence Frank, and first-year coach Jason Kidd’s infamous attempt to buy a few more seconds to draw up a play by intentionally spilling a drink on the floor (the Nets still lost).
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Nets sit below .500 at 24-27.
“It’s not what we’ve expected, obviously,” Johnson said.
But in the East, the Nets still find themselves in playoff position and they’re surging of late. They’re 14-6 over their last 20, helping Kidd earn Coach of the Month honors for January.
“I think we will definitely make the playoffs,” Johnson said, where he believes a veteran team will be advantageous. “I don’t think no team wants to play us in a seven-game series. We understand what we’re capable of doing. We just have to develop some consistency.”
And the shooting guard, who averages 15 points and three rebounds a game, believes his aging teammates still have something left to give.
“KG’s still a great defender, scorer. He draws a lot of attention. [He and Pierce] both help us tremendously,” Johnson said. “Our record may not show it at this point, but they have.”
As for Williams, who was traded to the Nets for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris (later traded for Marvin Williams) and the draft pick that would become Enes Kanter, Johnson believes he can still be an elite point guard.
“I think he can be right there at the top,” Johnson said. “Deron is still working hard to get back healthy and get back into All-Star form where he would love to be at. It’s just taking a little time.”
Jazz vs. Nets
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 19-33; Nets 24-26
Season series • Nets lead 1-0
Last meeting • Nets, 104-88 (Nov. 5, 2013)
About the Jazz • They have won a season-high three straight games. … They have won four of the last five games against the Nets. … F Richard Jefferson missed practice Tuesday became of stomach cramps and will be a game-time decision. … C Derrick Favors (sprained hip) will also be a game-time decision.
About the Nets • They have won four of their last six games but come off a 92-76 loss at Chicago just before the All-Star break. … They have not won in Utah since Nov. 28, 2008. … C Brook Lopez averages 20.7 points a game but he was lost for the season in December because of a broken foot.
P The Jazz will see two familiar faces Wednesday night when they host Brooklyn. Nets Andrei Kirilenko and Deron Williams played a combined 1,219 games during their careers as members of the Jazz. > sltrib.com/jazz