4-year deal secures Johnson's NBA future
By Mark Montieth
July 17, 2004
Anthony Johnson achieved something Friday that had eluded him throughout seven NBA seasons: security.
The 29-year-old point guard signed a four-year contract with the Indiana Pacers, a landmark for a player who had subsisted on a series of one-year and 10-day contracts.
Johnson averaged 6.2 points and 2.8 assists as the primary backup to Jamaal Tinsley last season, a role he's likely to continue.
Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh signed Johnson to a one-year contract for a veteran's minimum salary of $814,000 last season.
Johnson's steady, mature play on a Pacers team that won a league-best 61 games improved his value in the marketplace. Johnson's agent, Richard Howell, said he received inquiries from up to a dozen teams. Walsh got Johnson for less than $11 million over the length of the contract.
The Pacers gave Johnson about half of the $5 million midlevel salary exemption, leaving them with the remainder and a $1.6 million exemption if they want to sign another free agent.
Rafer Alston, who averaged 10.2 points and 4.5 assists as a backup in Miami, signed a six-year, $30 million deal with Toronto. Carlos Arroyo, who averaged 12.6 points and 5.0 assists as a starter in Utah, signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Jazz.
Walsh first watched Johnson play at the College of Charleston, and kept an eye on him throughout his NBA career. He was particularly impressed with Johnson's play for New Jersey in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons.
"I'd go out there before the game and watch him shoot and think, 'This guy has made himself a really good shooter,' " Walsh said. "He always played well against us."
Pacers president Larry Bird was won over last season.
"When you talk about Anthony Johnson, you're talking about one of the best professionals ever to come through this league," Bird said.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle started Kenny Anderson at point guard for 31 games last season and Tinsley for 43. Johnson, who started just seven games, was usually the No. 2 guard regardless of who started because of his steady play and defensive ability.
"There's no question he was an important guy on our team," Carlisle said. "He finished a lot of games for us and hit a lot of big shots for us. He's one of our veteran leaders. That certainly weighed into the equation of getting him back."
More time for Bender
One of the ripple effects of the Pacers' trade of Al Harrington for Stephen Jackson should be more playing time for Jonathan Bender.
Harrington played both forward spots, while Jackson will play shooting guard and small forward. Bender, who has played both forward positions and shooting guard, is expected to move up in the rotation.
Bender, a 23-year-old five-year veteran, averaged 7.0 points in 21 games last season, which he began on the injured list after undergoing knee surgery in October.
Bird was asked Thursday if the trade means more playing time for Bender.
"It better," he said, turning to Carlisle and laughing. Carlisle expects that it will.
"This opens (an) opportunity for him to really step forward," Carlisle said. "That's why this summer is critical for him. He'll have a clear-cut opportunity here."