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Pacers sign veteran forward James Johnson to bring experience, toughness to the locker room
The team hopes he can provide the leadership and accountability that they've lacked in recent seasons.
For several years now, the Pacers have talked about adding a veteran to the locker room, a guy to help keep the locker room tight and hold everyone accountable.
A player who has been there, done that and doesn’t have to play, but is good enough to do so when called upon.
That need is even greater this upcoming season after the team offloaded veterans, got younger and went all-in on a rebuild. Their three draft picks are 20, 22 and 19; starters Tyrese Haliburton, Jalen Smith and Myles Turner are 22, 22, and 26, respectively.
Less than two weeks before training camp opens, the Pacers signed veteran James Johnson to a deal on Friday.
Johnson, from Cheyenne, Wyoming, has played for *nine* teams — Chicago, Toronto, Sacramento, Memphis, Miami, Minnesota, Dallas, New Orleans and Brooklyn — so he’s seen it all since he entered the league in 2009 as Chicago’s first-round selection (16).
You’ll notice Dallas was one of those teams. He started the 2020 season with the Rick Carlisle-coached Mavericks — after being acquired in an offseason deal — but later was included in a trade to New Orleans for JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli.
Johnson, 35, has appeared in 747 games, including two dozen playoff games.
In comparison, Haliburton has never reached the playoffs and neither has six-year veteran Buddy Hield. Turner, the longest-tenured Pacer, last did so in 2020 — but he’s never been part of a playoff series win.
This gives the Pacers, who are rebuilding and expected to be a lottery team for the third consecutive season, someone with over a decade of NBA experience.
I asked team president Kevin Pritchard about the importance of a veteran presence prior to free agency.
“It’s an interesting study because you want a player that’s good enough to play, that can hold the locker room and can help the culture of the locker be what you want it to be,” Pritchard said. “But also understand that that’s part of his role too. It’s a little bit more challenging than you think. We’ve identified some already, and we’ll pursue them.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-7 forward with a black belt, appeared in 62 games last season for the Nets and averaged 5.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. The terms of the deal are not immediately known.
“James Johnson has multiple ratings in the martial arts, and he’s been a tough player in this league as long as he’s been in the league,” Carlisle said in 2020 (via DallasMavs.com). “He gives us toughness.”
Added Johnson: “I’m simple. I love to have fun, I love to take care of my teammates, go eat dinner and chill. Family guy.”
Kendall Brown Finally Signs
No, there was not a snag in a deal or terms that were disagreed about.
Despite the Pacers signing other second-round pick, Andrew Nembhard, almost two months ago, they held off signing Kendall Brown for optionality — to repeat a word frequently said by Pritchard.
There was no reason to sign him for the sake of having that complete while the team considered offseason deals elsewhere. Nothing came to fruition so on Friday, they signed Brown, selected 48th overall after the Pacers acquired the pick from Minnesota, to a two-way contract.
And they’re very interested to see how he performs once camp opens. That could eventually lead to a standard NBA contract, but they control his rights by signing him to a two-way to begin the season.
Brown, a 6-foot-8 forward, entered the draft after one season at Baylor University. He should get valuable playing time with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Pacers’ G League affiliate.
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Pacers Depth Chart
PG: Tyrese Haliburton, T.J. McConnell, Andrew Nembhard
SG: Chris Duarte, Bennedict Mathurin
SF: Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith, James Johnson
PF: Jalen Smith, Daniel Theis, Oshae Brissett, Terry Taylor
C: Myles Turner, Isaiah Jackson, Goga Bitadze
15 of 15 spots filled
20 of 20 players signed for camp