SALT LAKE CITY — Joe Johnson, playing like a seven-time All-Star, gave the Utah Jazz an incredible performance in the first round of the 2017 Western Conference playoffs.
The Jazz and their fans will always have the cherished memory of watching a 35-year-old Johnson defy his age and lead the team past the Los Angeles Clippers with two particularly terrific outings — a game-winning Game 1 shot and another offensive explosion in Game 4 — en route to advancing to the conference semifinals.
If Johnson gets his wish, however, the Jazz will no longer have the veteran forward on their roster after the upcoming trade deadline, according to a New York Times report.
Johnson is "angling behind the scenes for a trade out of Utah," the Times' Marc Stein reported on Thursday morning. The former ESPN reporter speculated that Johnson could also be a buyout candidate and land with a contender if a deal isn't worked out before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
Johnson signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Jazz in the summer of 2016, a move that caused some to raise their eyebrows. But the established and seasoned pro was excited to extend his career with a big paycheck while providing veteran leadership and mentorship to a young and up-and-coming Utah squad. In the 2016-17 season, Johnson did just that, averaging 9.2 points, mostly off the bench, while adding an experienced voice in the locker room and tutoring the likes of Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward.
Johnson's playoff heroics against the Clippers will not soon be forgotten by Jazz faithful. In Game 1, he helped Utah overcome the early loss of Rudy Gobert, who injured his knee seconds into the contest, and scored a team-high 21 points, including a buzzer-beating floater that gave the Jazz a thrilling 97-95 upset win at Staples Center. It was his eighth game-winning shot at the horn in 10 years, an NBA-high.
"That's what he's been doing all his career," then-Jazz big man Boris Diaw said. "So when he gets the ball at the end of the game, we are pretty confident."
Johnson rose to the occasion again three games later, scoring 28 points in a series-tying Game 4 105-98 win at Vivint Arena. Utah went on to eliminate the Clippers 4-3 after a Game 7 blowout victory in L.A. It proved to be the beginning of the end for the Blake Griffin and Chris Paul "Lob City" era.
This season has been less productive for the 36-year-old Johnson, who has been hampered by injury and inconsistency on a Jazz team that has taken a couple of steps backward in the wake of Gordon Hayward's departure. Johnson has only played in 29 of Utah's 50 games, averaging only 7.3 points, after dealing with a wrist injury.