It has been an eventful offseason for Joe Johnson, whose trade from Atlanta to Brooklyn clinched the re-signing of Deron Williams and sparked mixed reactions among diehard Atlanta fans. Right now, Johnson is one of about a dozen NBA players going through a week-long “boot camp” with trainer Manning Sumner at Sumner’s Legacy Fit facility in Miami. Johnson took some time before a workout to chat with SI.com about the last few months and what comes next in Brooklyn. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation:
SI.com: How did you first learn you had been traded? Had you heard inklings of a possible deal earlier?
Johnson: My agent told me about four or five days before the trade that there was a rumor going around. He doubted it would happen, but he wanted me to know the rumor was out there. So the day of the trade, probably like 11 a.m., our old GM, Rick Sund, and our GM, Danny Ferry — they were telling me that the rumors were true, and that if anything goes down, it was probably going to go down by 4 p.m. that day.
I was like, “Cool. It is what it is.”
SI.com: Really? That’s it?
Johnson: Yeah. So around noon, I’m sitting there playing a video game, and I look at ESPN, and there it is: “Breaking news.” And I had just gotten off the phone with them!
SI.com: Well, I guess they were basically done by the time they called you — or very close.
Johnson: Yeah, they were done by then, and I guess they wanted to call and tell me. But it’s no hard feelings. I’m fortunate enough to be coming to a great situation, to play with a great point guard and a great big man.
SI.com: What video game were you playing?
Johnson: NBA 2K.
SI.com: And were you playing with the Hawks? Did you immediately reset and switch to the Nets?
Johnson: [Laughing] Me and my home boy, we just kind of sporadically pick teams — we kind of just close our eyes and pick one. But I did go right away and trade myself to the Nets, and I’ve been playing with them since.
SI.com: Did you replicate the trade as it happened? Or did you give the Hawks a really unfair deal?
Johnson: I made it like in real life.
SI.com: You’ve obviously been to New York a bunch of times by now as an NBA player, but had you ever set foot in Brooklyn before the trade?
Johnson: I’ll tell you what: I’ve been to New York, but I’ve never really been out in New York like that. I had never been to Brooklyn until the press conference, and that was something like I’ve never experienced before. It was unbelievable — all the fans coming out to welcome us. It was something I’ve never been a part of. I had a great time.
SI.com: This is a very important question: Are you going to live in Manhattan or Brooklyn? Or neither?
Johnson: Man, I’m from the south, and you get a lot for your money in the south. I’ve been to New York a few times since the trade, and I’ve looked at about 30 different places. No exaggeration.
SI.com: It sounds like you have some New York City rent shock. Welcome to the city, by the way. Even though NBA players make a ton of money in the scheme of things, I have heard guys from out of town say they can’t believe how expensive it is here.
Johnson: [Laughing] Like I said, I’ve seen about 30 different places, and I think they are just finding the highest rent prices and taking me to those places.
SI.com: I can’t let you off the hook: Manhattan or Brooklyn? Imagine walking to games?
Johnson: I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m trying to see a lot of different places.
SI.com: Fair enough. I’m pretty confident you guys will be one of the best half dozen or so offensive teams in the league next season. The skepticism centers around defense, and especially whether the Kris Humphries/Brook Lopez front line is good enough to protect the rim and center a defense. How will you guys build that defense? What schemes can you use, and what have you seen from Lopez and Humphries going against them?
Johnson: It’s just a mindset that you have to embed in those guys. Everyone knows Kris Humphries is a relentless rebounder, and I think both him and Brook Lopez can be good defenders, man. It’s just going to take some time and some communication. It’s going to depend on how bad they want it. But I think everyone is inspired right now by this Brooklyn thing. I know I’m excited. I’m doing things I’ve never done before as far as working out and preparing myself.
SI.com: So is the goal to win a championship in Year 1? Or do you look at Miami and think, “Wow, even they needed a year to figure it out and gel”?
Johnson: That’s what we are shooting for — the ring. There’s no need to sell ourselves short. You talk about gelling and figuring it out, and I think we have the perfect pieces: a great point guard, a great center. I don’t think any of our positions are the same or overlap at all.
SI.com: You can play small, too, with Gerald Wallace swinging to the four and you to the three. Have you talked to guys about that kind of Xs-and-Os stuff yet, or is it too early?
Johnson: To be honest, I’ve only talked to Deron and the coaching staff. I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to the rest of the guys.
SI.com: You mentioned you are training in a way you never really have before. You’re down in Miami, with Manning Sumner, right? What new stuff does he have you doing?
Johnson: I’m really just training a lot more this summer, with a lot more focus, and being down here with Manning really helps. My role is going to change a lot playing with the Nets, and I’m fine with that. I just want to be prepared for that situation. I want to start on a positive note.
SI.com: So it’s just volume and focus? You’re not down there doing crazy stuff, like chopping down trees and flipping giant tires?
Johnson: I’m doing more agility work, more weight training, even some sled-pushing. It’s crazy what goes on down here. If people could watch us work, they wouldn’t believe it.
[This is where Sumner chimes in to explain his goals with a veteran player like Johnson: to improve conditioning, explosiveness and endurance. Sumner says he doesn't do much heavy weightlifting, though a new client, Shaun Livingston, is trying to put on weight. The focus for a guy like Johnson is on intense agility drills: defensive slides while wearing a resistance band, repeated jumps over 24-inch hurdles, ladder drills (similar to football players jumping/running through a series of tires) and plyometrics. Johnson found Sumner via Irving Roland, a skills coach for Sumner who used to be a video coordinator for the Celtics, Johnson's first NBA team. Sumner calls Johnson "one of the hardest workers" he's ever trained.]
SI.com: And there are a bunch of guys down there, right? Rudy Gay, a lot of the Heat guys…
Johnson: Yeah, and Manning’s a guru. We come in, and he has six or seven stations for us ready to go. And you could be doing everything right, and he’ll still get in your face and cuss you out.
SI.com: Do you pay more attention to your training now than when you were younger?
Johnson: Oh, yeah. The older you get, the more you have to train, and the harder you have to train. You have to work on all the little things just to stay away from injuries. Your body doesn’t react the same way now like it did when you were 22 or 23. I train a lot harder now than I did when I was 23. You don’t really know how to train that hard coming out of college.
SI.com: Last question. I can hear the gym getting noisier in the background. I have to ask you about the contract. Some Atlanta fans were almost celebrating the trade, given how much money you make and the salary cap. You dealt with that for years. How do you do it? Just tune it out? Use it as fuel? Just play? Do you care?
Johnson: You just have to tune it out. We had a great squad there. Unfortunately, we got hit by the injury bug last season, with Al [Horford] getting hurt early in the season. It happens. I can take the criticism, as long as I know I’m giving it everything I have.