Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson has heard the whispers the past two years.
When he first signed a contract worth $50 million in 2016, he figured there would be some doubters. At first, he paid attention to the chatter but no more. Johnson is done wasting time on the critics because he would rather focus on proving his worth.
“I had some ups and downs last year,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have a terrible season, but I didn’t have the season that I wanted to have and the coaches expected me to have. I’m looking forward to getting back on the right track and not even proving to anybody anything, but just showing myself that I know where I’m supposed to be at as a basketball player.”
Johnson will make a guaranteed $19.2 million each of the next two seasons. He averaged just 11.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists last season, all down from the previous year when the Heat decided to invest in him. Johnson said he isn’t under any more pressure this year than when he first signed the deal.
“The beautiful thing is that there’s a huge cap hit this year, but people have been saying that for the last two years, ‘Oh, he’s got to do this or he’s got to do that,’” Johnson said. “My first year was probably the year I had the most pressure. I don’t even like to use that word because pressure is made up in your head. It’s whatever you make it to be. That first year was probably the year I wanted to come out the most. It was like, ‘Look, I’m worth 50 million dollars.’ I had a good season that year, but obviously I had a little bit of a drop off last year.”
Johnson has blocked out all the “outside noise,” as coach Erik Spoelstra likes to call public criticism. His only intention this season is helping the Heat improve on last year’s first-round exit in the playoffs.
“I’m not interested in proving anything to anybody because that’s when you get messed up in your mind,” Johnson said. “You don’t live up to somebody’s expectations or you don’t do what somebody else wants you to do, and then all of a sudden you feel like you’ve failed instead of actually learning from the experience.”
Without making excuses, Johnson attributed some of last year’s struggles to returning too soon from injuries. For the last half of the season, he played through a sprained ankle he sustained in January. Johnson also underwent offseason thumb surgery, an injury that affected his production in the postseason. He returns to full-contact drills in three weeks.
“My problem is I don’t know when to take my foot off the gas,” Johnson said. “I always want to just grind through it and be there for my team. In the long run, I think sometimes I hurt myself by trying to push through some of the injuries that I was playing with and I would have little slumps that I was going through.”
To ensure he is healthy, Johnson made a stronger commitment to his offseason training so he arrives for training camp in peak shape. He participates in twice weekly beach workouts with trainer Tony Falce of Elite Skills Training. The sessions, which last about an hour, are geared toward improving Johnson’s agility and explosiveness. They have worked together since Johnson was an undrafted rookie free agent in 2014.
“Essentially what it is, it’s non-impact so you can do more training without the toll that it takes on your body,” Johnson said. “ … If you ever just try to walk in sand, you sink into it. When you jump, it takes a lot more for your body to get up out of the sand than it would be to do it on concrete or inside the gym. It’s almost like an added weight, but without putting that extra weight on your joints.”
The workouts, combined with reverting to an old mentality, should have Johnson ready for the season. Instead of vacationing this summer, he returned to all the places that helped him go from the G League to an NBA rotation player. He spent time at Fresno State, where he attended college, and with his mother, Jennifer, who lives on a military base in California.
“I’ve really been taking time to get my mind right and get it prepared for this year,” Johnson said. “The way the season ended last year left a bitter taste in my mouth. Really what I wanted to do was to be able to clear my mind and get my body in a position where it is going to last me this whole season. I went back and just visited all the places I was at before I got into the NBA … Really, just going back and seeing how far I came to get to this point.”