Johnson makes first trip to ATL since trade

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
9:00
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Joe JohnsonNed Dishman/Getty ImagesJoe Johnson, who played seven season for the Hawks, has moved on since joining the Nets.
Joe Johnson answered questions about his return to Atlanta with apathy.

"Not to downplay it, but it'll be just another game," said Johnson, who will face the Hawks on Wednesday for the first time since they traded him to the Brooklyn Nets.

"It'll just be a little different because it's a familiar place. Don't get me wrong: It'll be great to see some familiar faces and old friends, but I still got one goal and that's to try to go in there and get a win. It's not gonna be better than any other win (if we get it)."

Johnson played in Atlanta for seven seasons, making the All-Star team the last six. But despite having several strong statistical years there, he was better known -- fairly or unfairly -- for signing a massive six-year, $124 million contract and failing to live up to it. With Johnson carrying the offensive load, the Hawks made the playoffs five times, but never got out of the second round.

[+] EnlargeJoe Johnson
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesVeteran guard Joe Johnson was a six-time All-Star during his tenure with the Hawks.
So will Atlanta fans boo him or cheer him Wednesday?

"Honestly, I have no idea," Johnson responded. "It won't affect me one way or another. I just want us as a team to go in there and do whatever it takes to get a win."

In the offseason, in an effort to keep point guard Deron Williams, Nets GM Billy King made a bold move, acquiring Johnson, who still has four years and $89 million remaining on his contract, in a blockbuster deal that sent expiring contracts and multiple draft picks to the Hawks. After signing a max contract to remain in Brooklyn, D-Will told reporters that the Johnson trade was the main reason he decided to stay.

"I wasn't upset at all (about being traded)," said Johnson, who told reporters in training camp that he had nothing to do with the trade. "That's the direction they wanted to go in as an organization. I'm fine with that. I understand that this game of basketball is a business. They did what they had to do, but I'm glad they were able to trade me and put me in a great situation."

In July, when "Brooklyn’s Backcourt" -- the supposed best backcourt in the NBA -- was introduced at Borough Hall, Johnson, normally quiet and soft-spoken, said the Nets were better than the rival New York Knicks, a statement he hasn't backed off of.

Johnson and Williams both got off to a slow start as they tried to become acclimated with one another, but have picked it up since interim coach P.J. Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson. Joe Johnson, who has seemingly gotten used to not having the ball in his hands as often as he did in Atlanta, is averaging 17.3 points on 43.3 percent shooting, and has already made two game-winning jumpers for the Nets in double overtime.

"I'm still learning, but every day I'm getting more comfortable with my surroundings, my teammates, my coaches," said Johnson, who thrives in post-ups and isolation plays. "I just try to do whatever I'm asked."

Before the season started, Johnson told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that this Nets team was the best team he has ever played on.

And now?

"I feel like it's the most complete team I've ever played on," Johnson said. "I think we've got the total package. We've just gotta keep piecing it together."

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Joe Johnson
PTS AST STL MIN
16.3 3.7 1.0 34.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsK. Garnett 8.4
AssistsD. Williams 6.8
StealsD. Williams 1.1
BlocksB. Lopez 1.7