Were you surprised when the Heat decided to give Tyler Johnson (Tyler who?) a four-year, $50 million contract back in early July? Of course you were, especially since the Heat seemed hesitant to give Dwyane Wade a large contract at the time:
There were a lot of surprising contracts handed out during the offseason, but Johnson’s contract was one of the most surprising because: A) Most people didn’t even know Tyler Johnson existed, and B) Those who did know who Johnson was knew that he only averaged 8.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists during the 2015-16 NBA season. And did we mention that he’s a former D-Leaguer who went undrafted out of Fresno State back in 2014 before finally catching on with Miami? So yeah, $50 million seemed like a sliiiiiiight stretch.
But here’s the thing: Johnson was surprised, too. Heading into free agency, he thought he might be able to get, like, $8 million per year due to the NBA's increased salary cap, which obviously would have been a ton of money. But an average of more than $12 million per year? That number surprised him so much that he threw up—twice!—after hearing the news. Clearly, NBA fans weren’t the only ones who were shocked.
Johnson sat down with ESPN The Magazine reporter Pablo S. Torre recently to talk about his new contract, and in doing so, he revealed that he totally understood why people were so surprised. "People were like, 'Who is this guy?' I have to look his name up on Google," he said. "They don’t look at me and see $50 million, necessarily."
In fact, if you really want to put it all into perspective, even Johnson’s own girlfriend was stunned to hear about the number the Heat threw at Johnson. In the days leading up to him agreeing to a contract with the Heat, the Rockets, Kings, and Nets were all in hot pursuit of his services. Johnson couldn’t believe it was happening. "I kept feeling like someone was going to be like, 'Psych! Just kidding! None of this is real!'" he said. But it was real, and the Nets eventually made him an offer so good that Johnson's girlfriend Ashley didn't think there was any way the Heat would match it. She immediately sprung for a box of Nets shirts and pants for the couple’s 2-year-old son Dameon. From Torre’s story:
By that point, Tyler's teammates had already waved farewell on Twitter. Johnson had already started bookmarking Brooklyn real estate on Zillow.com. Ashley, his fiancée, had even gone online and shipped a box of Nets-branded shirts and pants for their 2-year-old son, Dameon, to their Miami condo.
The Heat did decide to match the Nets' offer, though, and gave Johnson $50 million, which led to all of the confusion, bewilderment, and of course, throwing up (who can forget the throwing up?!) on the part of Johnson. It also led to him facing backlash from NBA fans who couldn’t comprehend the deal he had received. Initially, we’re sure Johnson felt some type of way about that backlash, but while speaking with Torre, he said that he’s done trying to defend the money he was given.
"I won’t bother explaining the salary cap, that the game is different now than it was before," he said. "It’s hard to break all that stuff down."
Torre’s entire profile on Johnson features an excellent look into why the Heat invested so much money into him. Torre suggests that, while $50 million might seem excessive, it actually could end up being a great deal for Miami. Especially if Johnson continues to play like he did against the Magic in the Heat’s first game of the regular season on Wednesday night:
You can check out Torre’s ESPN The Mag piece on Johnson here. You might still be surprised about how much money Johnson is making this season, but at least you’ll understand it a little better and see what makes Johnson a unique player in the league.