'He’s that positive voice that you need in the locker room': Why the Pacers brought back veteran James Johnson
Johnson is 36 and still has plenty to give to a team. The Pacers remained in contact throughout the offseason and then re-signed him once Daniel Theis moved on to the LA Clippers.
With the 8:14 left in Friday’s blowout win over the Atlanta Hawks, James Johnson replaced Bennedict Mathurin in the lineup and played his longest stint since joining the team.
Then, about one minute later, rookie Ben Sheppard found him cutting to the basket and Johnson finished with a two-handed flush. It was a 32-point game and the Pacers’ vet was out there having fun with his teammates — both new and old.
Johnson grimaced and immediately reached for his legs; he was fine, but that took a lot of willpower for the old man — at least in NBA years — and he leaned into that storyline as he glanced toward the Pacers’ bench. He’s 36 years old, which makes what LeBron James is doing at age 39 even more spectacular.
Johnson joined the Pacers in training camp before last season and earned the final roster spot. And soon after, he quickly won over his teammates. After last season, he wasn’t ready to be done with basketball and move on to the next chapter in his life.
“We had talked about it really since the exit meetings last year,” head coach Rick Carlisle detailed. “With the moves that were made early in July, we were gonna have 15 guaranteed contracts. Just weren’t sure about bringing him into camp and then having to cut him if it was going to be that kind of situation.
“We had maintained conversations with him and his agent Mark Bartelstein (of Priority Sports) throughout the summer, throughout September and the beginning of the season just to stay ready and to get in the best shape that you can possible get into.”
So Johnson did just that down in Miami. When the Pacers visited for a pair of weekend games against the Heat, they had a meeting with him between games on Friday, Dec. 1 — and it clearly went well.