Last summer, Johnson foresaw being traded, but not recently
By Mike Wells
Anthony Johnson saw this coming last summer.
Johnson was just a couple of months removed from playing a key role in the Indiana Pacers' playoff run when the team signed point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius. Johnson quickly surmised he could be the odd man out, demoted to third string behind starter Jamaal Tinsley and Jasikevicius.
"The thought was in my head," Johnson said in a phone interview Tuesday. "They signed Sarunas, then they hyped him up with his jersey hanging in the store and doing other promotions about him. I knew they wouldn't be able to keep three guys that want to play major minutes."
Johnson, traded to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, changed his mind somewhat after he stepped in for the injured Tinsley again and put up career numbers, including walking off the Conseco Fieldhouse court to a standing ovation following a 40-point performance in a Game 6 loss to the New Jersey Nets in the playoffs.
That notion vanished Saturday when Johnson learned the Pacers agreed to trade him for Darrell Armstrong, Josh Powell and Rawle Marshall because they wanted to avoid a point guard controversy and poor chemistry this season.
"I'm a little surprised," said Johnson, who avoided most phone calls for several days. "I was tripping because (the Pacers) wouldn't take my agent's calls to tell him what was going on. They told me why they did it after the deal became official.
"At the same time, I felt like I was one of the most reliable players on the team. I always took pride in being ready when guys were out of the lineup. I felt like I cemented a spot as one of the guys they would build around."
Johnson started 89 games the past two seasons. His contract and reliability made him easier to trade. The Pacers think Tinsley gives them the better chance to win, but they also thought it would be tougher to move an injury-prone player who is signed through 2010-11.
Then there was the issue of whether Johnson would accept being Tinsley's backup again next season.
"If Jamaal came in in great shape and played the way he's capable of playing, I wouldn't have had no problem with that," Johnson said. "At the same time, though, if there's a competition and I'm playing the best, I feel like I should play the most. I just know the best guy should play and that's how I feel about that."
Johnson got people's attention when he said the team's "culture has to change" at the end of their 41-41 season.
"It's no secret they have issues," he said. "You can talk about injures, but you also have to talk about professionalism and being ready to play when the ball goes up. We didn't have the ship pointed in the right direction as far as being rested, being ready to play and playing with pure heart.
"I wasn't afraid to say the culture has to change because it does. It's not the front office; it's the players and the coaches. I respect (CEO) Donnie (Walsh) and (president) Larry (Bird); they're doing what's best for the franchise. I feel like I earned (coach) Rick Carlisle's respect with the way I played. I thank them for sending me to a team like Dallas."