DALLAS – The most intriguing player on the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league roster is a 30-year-old fresh off a “six-month practice” in China and hoping to get his foot back in the NBA door.
The well-traveled Ivan Johnson, a thickly muscled, 6-foot-8 power forward who spent two seasons in the Atlanta Hawks’ rotation before heading overseas again last year, will basically be auditioning for every NBA team during the Las Vegas summer league. But there is mutual optimism that Johnson, who worked individually with coach Rick Carlisle after Wednesday’s practice, can earn a roster spot with the Mavs.
“He’s more than just a summer league guy for us,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “We’re definitely taking a peak, and we like what we see.”
Johnson was a productive role player for a couple of playoff teams in Atlanta, averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game during his two seasons with the Hawks. He said it was his choice to play last season in China, where he dominated with 26.0 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, a decision he made because he wasn’t satisfied with the NBA contract offers he received last summer.
“Most teams were offering the minimum, and I needed money,” said Johnson, noting that his second child had just been born.
Would Johnson be willing to sign for the minimum this summer?
“It’s not what anybody wants, but I’m here,” Johnson said, flashing a smile that shows off his six-tooth gold-and-diamond grill.
The Mavs aren’t the only NBA team to express interest in Johnson this offseason. He also had workouts for the Spurs, Trail Blazers and Nets and canceled workouts with the Pacers and Cavaliers due to a minor injury.
Dallas has need for frontcourt depth and could use a guy with Johnson’s junkyard-dog disposition, particularly if DeJuan Blair does not return.
Johnson, who has played in China, Korea, Puerto Rico and the Philippines during his professional career, hopes to prove he’s a fit for the Mavs with his summer performance.
“I want to be in the NBA,” Johnson said. “That was my dream in the beginning, and it still is.”