MIAMI -- If there's anything Joe Johnson struggles with in his initial days with the Miami Heat, it's gauging whether he or his family are having more fun adjusting to Miami in these final weeks of winter.
"I've got a 2-year-old and a 9-year-old ... we all got down here [Monday]," Johnson said of his fiancé and young kids. "They immediately wanted to go swimming. We'd been in New York; that's been tough. So they've been really enjoying this. I'm glad they're enjoying it, because I'm enjoying it myself."
This latest chapter of Johnson's career is all about family and fit. It's the blend of those two elements that made the Heat essentially a no-brainer choice to play out at least the rest of this season after the seven-time NBA All-Star was released by the Brooklyn Nets last week to join a playoff contender.
So it was no coincidence that two games into his Heat tenure, Johnson repeatedly referred to his family's happiness and his ideal fit with the Heat as proof he made the right decision amid skepticism that he may have been in better position to compete for a championship elsewhere.
To Johnson, the Heat are a defensively sound team that needed the kind of offensive punch, versatility and long-distance shooting touch he's still capable of providing at this stage of a 15-year career. To the Heat, Johnson represents a perimeter plug-in as a replacement on some level for forward and leading scorer Chris Bosh, who has been sidelined since Feb. 9 with an undisclosed medical condition that could keep him out for the remainder of the season.
With Johnson making his new home debut at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat (34-26) continued their stunning post-All-Star break outburst by thrashing the Chicago Bulls 129-111 in which Miami set a franchise-record by shooting 67.5 percent from the field. It was also the most points scored this season by the Heat, who gradually transitioned from one of the NBA's slowest and lowest-rated offenses to one that has posted a top-15-rated offense with the 11th-best pace since the All-Star break.
As Johnson was contemplating whether to pursue a buyout from the Nets, this latest version of the Heat is the one Dwyane Wade kept mentioning in those text messages that peppered Johnson's phone in recent weeks. Johnson admitted Tuesday night that he watched the Heat more closely after he started hearing from Wade. He noticed how Miami, playing without Bosh, Hassan Whiteside and Wade in the first game back from the All-Star break, beat the Hawks 115-111 on Feb. 19 in Atlanta.
That was the same Hawks team that was hoping to secure a reunion with Johnson after he was bought out of the final months of that six-year, $126 million contract he originally signed with Atlanta in 2010 before he was traded to Brooklyn. Two more victories for the Heat followed against Washington and Indiana before they faltered late in a 118-112 loss to the defending champion Golden State last week.
At a time when the Heat could have fallen apart, Johnson saw a squad that bonded through adversity. He saw a team that needed some depth and a veteran who could help Wade carry a burden and load that had been created by the Bosh's unexpected -- and publicly unexplained -- absence from the lineup.
"I wanted to come here and try to take some of that pressure off him," Johnson said Tuesday. "I wanted to come here and help out as much as possible, be that versatile guy that they can use out there on the floor and keep the floor spaced so we can make plays."
If there was a blueprint for what success looks like with Johnson, 34, in a Heat uniform, Tuesday's game against the shorthanded Bulls offered an encouraging example. Johnson scored 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting and added five rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot as the starting small forward alongside Wade, Goran Dragic, Whiteside and Luol Deng.
The simplicity with which Miami coach Erik Spoelstra spoke of in incorporating Johnson manifested itself in one easy stat on the box score: Johnson's scoring total equaled his plus-minus, which was 24.
"[He] knows how to make it work," Spoelstra said of Johnson. "When you put a bunch of those kinds of guys on the floor together, they tend to make the game look a little bit easier than it actually is."
The Heat have been in search of balance all season. Tuesday's historical performance included Deng scoring 20 on 8-of-10 shooting, Wade and Dragic combining for 35 points and 18 assists in the backcourt and Whiteside notching his sixth consecutive double-double off the bench with 26 points and 14 boards.
Johnson had only one problem.
"The most important thing that Pat [Riley] told me was this wasn't just a short-term deal, and he would like for me to finish my career here."Joe Johnson
"I've got to get in better shape," he joked. "I told Spo, 'Come get me.' It's been 10 or 11 years [while playing with Phoenix] since I've been on a team like that. It fits me, getting out in the open court and just making plays. I loved it then, and now, in my 15th season, I still love it. Hopefully, we can keep this pace."
Dragic has been waiting months for that sentiment to seep through the team. Johnson's addition gives the attacking point guard only more incentive to maintain the recent commitment to up-tempo play.
"When he's on the floor, nobody wants to help off him, or they're really scared," Dragic said of defenders matched up with Johnson in the open court. "That opens a lot of opportunities for driving and making a play. He's such a great player. He can do everything. He can shoot 3s. He can pick-and-roll. You can put him in the post. That's going to be huge for us."
It also helps that the Heat catch a favorable part of the schedule to fine-tune. The struggling Suns visit on Thursday and Miami then plays consecutive games against the Philadelphia 76ers over the weekend. Those two opponents are a combined 22-97 on the season.
But if this season has provided any lessons it's that the Heat can't afford to take anything for granted. Johnson told ESPN.com late Tuesday night he did look into Bosh's situation before joining the Heat. This is the second time in the span of a year that Bosh was lost for an extended period, which included missing the final 30 games last season after he was treated for a blood clot that traveled to his lungs.
"I kind of had a little insight as to what's going on, but not much," Johnson told ESPN.com. "But with D-Wade reaching out and me sitting back and watching from the outside looking in I felt I can do something here. I felt I could have an impact as much as possible."
Johnson said he hasn't been told if Bosh is coming back this season from his medical condition.
"They said he caught it a lot earlier than he did last year," Johnson said of Bosh. "But I knew if he had any chance of coming back, it would make our team just that much better. I felt it would be a bonus."
For now, Johnson's acquisition is a bonus that could keep the Heat in position for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference standings. Heat president Pat Riley has told Johnson that he plans for this to be a long-term commitment instead of a short-term rental for the rest of this season.
Johnson insists he's open to the possibility of remaining with the Heat.
"The most important thing that Pat told me was this wasn't just a short-term deal, and he would like for me to finish my career here," said Johnson, who will be a free agent in July. "Obviously, it's a process. I want to enjoy this moment and everything that comes with it."
And he means everything -- from the weather and winning to the swimming and house hunting.
"It's been hectic," Johnson said with a laugh. "But it's a good hectic."