Is Joe Johnson a pioneer or an anomaly?

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This was the SB Nation NBA newsletter for Sept. 3. The top blurb was updated on Sept. 12.

Joe Johnson never actually retired from the NBA. He just didn’t get signed by an NBA team after the 2017-18 season split between the Rockets and Jazz. So in 2019, he joined the BIG3. And on Saturday, he capped off his BIG3 MVP season by hitting the game-winner to give his team the championship. Even LeBron was courtside to watch. Nice work, Joe Johnson!

Soon, of course, multiple NBA teams — the Pistons, Bucks, and Nets — worked out Joe Johnson to get him back in the league. A week later, he signed with the Pistons, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes.

This is a new one for the BIG3: a retired NBA star falling out of the league, and getting his juice back in the BIG3 to get another swan song out of it the association. But it is a game-changer? Did everyone just forget Joe Johnson can score the ball, and Ice Cube reminded us?

We’ll see. Clearly, Joe Johnson did not appear to be getting these calls from NBA teams until clips of him burying jumpers in Stephen Jackson’s face got passed around. So there’s some connection. But the fact that it’s Joe Johnson — a player we all know better than most — getting the “BIG3 call-up” and not a younger player without an illustrious NBA career to call upon, a fringe NBA player who proves their mettle in 3-on-3 basketball … that’s something worth keeping in mind.

I think about Donte Greene, who played in the BIG3 title game for Jackson’s Killer 3s. To be fair, I often think about Donte Greene’s career. He washed out of the NBA quickly and painfully, and never really caught on elsewhere. He never committed to doing the whole G League thing even though that’s probably his best path back into the NBA. Is the BIG3 working for him? Is it going to get him a call? So far, the BIG3 is more of a nostalgia machine and a Joe Johnson appreciation vehicle than anything. Can it be more? Three years in, we still don’t really know.

Meanwhile, In the World Cup …

There haven’t been many surprises in the first stage of the FIBA World Cup through three and a half days of action (as of this writing). Just before the tournament, I wrote about seven teams that could knock off Team USA in the right conditions. Just ignore those words I committed on Germany — they are 0-2 and basically eliminated already despite nearly beating France in the opener. Basketball is a cruel mistress.

The tournament will get more interesting later this week as half the field gets eliminated prior to the second group stage, and only the top eight squads will make the knockout round. There are not 32 good national teams in the world, unfortunately. Or if there are, a bunch of them aren’t in China for this tournament. It makes the earlier rounds a bit of a drag, though there have been some interesting games.


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