Alize Johnson plays hungry. The young big man talks about playing the next game as if it could be his last. And because Saturday’s game versus the Lakers will be the final one on his second 10-day contract, it very well could be his Nets swan song.
The Nets can’t give Johnson a third 10-day deal. They’ll have to make a decision on the intriguing 24-year-old forward: let him go or give him a full roster spot, fish or cut bait.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I try to just go out there and not think about that. If it happens, it does,” Johnson said. “But right now, I’m just focused on the next game, and everything else will take care of itself.”
Some might say Johnson has taken care of business enough to stick with the Nets for the rest of the season. He has averaged 8.6 points and 6.6 boards on 65.6 percent shooting over five games, bringing grit and energy on both ends.
But has he proved himself and done enough to earn a guaranteed spot on this Nets roster?
“Never do enough. There’s always more work out there to be done, so I would never say that,” Johnson said. “But I’m out there every time, and I’m out there fighting like it’s going to be my last game.”
The Nets can give Johnson part of their taxpayer mid-level exception, signing him for the rest of the season or even to a three-year deal. Coach Steve Nash was coy as to their plans.
“Alize’s been great. I can’t make a determination on that right now, but we’ve been really pleased with him and proud of him and what he’s brought to the team,” Nash said. “We’ll see [Saturday], at the end of his 10-day, when it’s time to make a decision what happens.”
Listening to some Nets teammates, Johnson has done enough to show he’s NBA-worthy — be it in Brooklyn, or elsewhere if they’re short-sighted enough to let him walk.
“Yeah, me and ’Ze are boys. We played against each other in college, we’re with the same agency, and now here we are,” Landry Shamet said. “We went through pre-draft together, were roommates at the draft combine in Chicago.“So, really happy for him to have been playing well and created some opportunities for himself. So, whatever happens past this point, happens. He knows that. That’s the NBA. But he’s put a good product on the table, and teams would be stupid not to scoop him up. So, he’s a good player, and I’m happy for him.”
The Nets have a history of player development with Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie. After Johnson was plucked from the G-League, his energy has certainly left both Harris and Nash impressed.
“From the moment he got here, that’s how he’s been. Even in practice sessions, he doesn’t back down from anybody. He’s aggressive on both ends of the court,” Harris said. “I’m glad he got an opportunity.”
It remains to be seen if Johnson will get any more opportunities with the Nets.
“We feel pretty comfortable with what we have with Alize. He’s been outstanding, works hard, plays with outstanding energy, a great teammate. So he’s been really productive,” Nash said. “We feel confident in him as a player. He’s a great kid. We love having him in our clubhouse, love when he gets a chance to play, and we think he’s a player that can help us.”
If he gets the chance. For his part, Johnson appreciated both the praise and the opportunity.
“Nice to hear that coming from one of the greats. Just try to go out there and have a chip on my shoulder, go out there and play and I want to do whatever it takes to come in and have a huge impact,” Johnson said. “It’s been nice to get an opportunity; I appreciate the organization and Steve for giving me that.
“So it’s been a blessing. Just want to continue to keep proving to them that I belong and I want to be here.”