James Johnson speaks about his impending free agency, future with the Heat

MIAMI — James Johnson has made it clear multiple times that he prefers to re-sign with the Heat this summer. But the impending free agent knows there’s no guarantee he will be back in Miami next season.

During an appearance on WTVJ-Miami’s Sports Final on Sunday night, Johnson was asked if he felt the Heat would reciprocate the love he’s expressed for them in free agency.

“I think the Heat already did plenty for me and even more than that,” Johnson said Sunday. “Just giving me the stage to work on and the opportunity to go out there and to become the best player I can be. They definitely gave me that stepping stone or eight stepping stones. For me, I feel like they did already more than what I had asked them or thought they would do. Anything after that, I’m truly grateful for the Miami Heat and I’m truly honored to be a part of it and hopefully it keeps on going.”

Miami Heat forward James Johnson, drives to the basket against Philadelphia’s Robert Covington, in the second quarter of the Miami Heat vs Philadelphia 76ERS, NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 01, 2017. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS)

The 30-year-old forward is expected to sign the first big contract of his NBA career this summer after outperforming his one-year, $4 million deal with the Heat this season. Johnson, who now has eight NBA seasons under his belt, has never made more than $4 million in a season.

Johnson put up career-best numbers in his only season with the Heat, averaging career-highs in points (12.8), rebounds (4.9) and assists (3.6) in an important role off Miami’s bench. Those stats could draw Johnson contract offers that reach the $15 million per season range.

When asked Sunday if he would give the Heat a hometown discount in free agency, Johnson was non-committal in his answer but seemed to hint that it was a possibility.

“I love this place so much and the opportunity they gave me, I couldn’t thank them enough,” Johnson said when asked about the possibility of signing with the Heat for less than market value. “Down the line, it’s hard in this phase of my career to try to find somewhere that you call home or you want it to be home and things like that. So you know the love I have for this team is up there. But it’s just something I got to let the agent and Pat [Riley] discuss and try to figure out, and then just give my last say so at the end.”

The Heat are expected to enter free agency this offseason with about $38 million in cap space after it clears Chris Bosh’s contract off their salary cap. Along with trying to bring back Johnson, the Heat also have some other players to worry about this summer.

Luke Babbitt and Udonis Haslem are set to be unrestricted free agents this summer, and Willie Reed and Dion Waiters have already informed the Heat they intend to decline the player options in their contracts to become unrestricted free agents. Miami also has a decision to make regarding Wayne Ellington, as it has a team option worth $6.3 million to bring him back.

During an appearance on WSVN’s 7 Sports Xtra last week, Waiters was asked about the possibility of re-signing with Miami for less money than market value. Similar to Johnson, the 25-year-old guard didn’t rule it out but also was non-committal in his answer.

If Miami does choose to bring back last season’s core, retaining Johnson and Waiters would turn into a top priority. Johnson and Waiters have made it known they both want to return to the Heat, but the price has to be right as it could require around $30 million to sign both players.

Johnson said when he gets together with Waiters, free agency talk is something they try to avoid.

“We try to stay away from that, to be honest,” Johnson said when asked if he talks with Waiters about their upcoming free-agent situations. “When we get together, we’re just the same normal James and Dion. We’re not worried about basketball or what’s to come.”

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