Boston Celtics sign Joe Johnson to 10-day contract, ending guard's 3-year NBA absence

BOSTON -- Twenty years after he began his NBA career in Boston, Joe Johnson has been given a chance to write another chapter to it by signing a 10-day contract as a hardship waiver with the Celtics Tuesday afternoon.

"I mean, I knew it was a possibility," Johnson said before suiting up for an NBA contest, Boston's 111-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, for the first time since Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals.

"Obviously basketball is my first love. So like I said, to have this opportunity to come about, regardless of how it came, I'm definitely blessed and appreciative of the moment. ... I'm glad it happened, man.

"We'll see where it goes from here."

Johnson, 40, has been in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, working out with his 14-year-old son, who plays high school ball there, and wondering if he was going to get another shot at playing in an NBA game. Since being cut at the end of training camp by the Detroit Pistons in 2019, Johnson has been out of the league since then.

And while he's been on the court since then -- he's won two Big 3 titles and played in the AmeriCup for Team USA this past February -- Johnson admitted he wasn't optimistic that someone was going to give him another chance to extend his NBA career.

"I wouldn't say give up, but I didn't have high hopes," Johnson said. "My son's 14, so he keeps me in the gym. We work and work and work, and I always talk to him [and say], 'Just work. Even when you can't see what's next, you just gotta continue to work.'"

It turned out, however, that the flood of replacement players coming back into the NBA allowed Johnson to get another shot. He said he was sitting with his 8-year-old daughter Tuesday when he got a call from his agent, Jeff Schwartz from Excel Sports Management.

Schwartz told him to be ready and that he might get a call to join the Celtics. Less than an hour later, he got the said call and was told to be on a flight about three hours later for Boston.

"It was a no-brainer for me," Johnson said. "I'm a guy who really takes care of his body. I'm in pretty good shape. So I felt like I was ready to take on that challenge.

"So [my agent] asked me what I thought and we just kept moving. I'm ready for whatever comes my way."

As for what will come his way? It isn't likely to be a lot of playing time. Celtics coach Ime Udoka said that the signings of both Johnson and fellow longtime NBA veteran C.J. Miles this week are more about offering veteran mentorship to the young players on the roster than stepping into Boston's rotation.

Even though the Celtics have several players in the NBA's health and safety protocols now -- prompting the signings of Johnson, Miles and Justin Jackson over the past few days -- they still have 13 available players, including the three hardship signings. Udoka said the plan is to continue playing young players like guards Payton Pritchard and Romeo Langford and forward Aaron Nesmith off the bench, and only go to someone like Johnson if there are further injuries, COVID-19 absences or foul trouble.

Still, Udoka said he's seen enough of Johnson -- who remains in outstanding shape -- to know that if he does need him, he'll be able to give the Celtics minutes.

"Some of it is consistency, as far as their track record and what they've done and, like I said, with the other guys, we saw them in the G League, practices and games," Udoka said. "We have a good young group coming off our bench.

"We've got guys we're relying on -- Payton, Romeo, Aaron -- young guys that are stepping up and playing well. But we want more of a steadying presence and kind of know what they're all about, more so than a project or potential down the line."

None of that matters much to Johnson, though. After being out of the NBA, he's simply happy to get a chance to add another chapter to his prodigious career, one that saw him make seven All-Star teams and score more than 20,000 points.

And he admitted it is nice for him to get a chance to come full circle and return to Boston, where he spent the first few months of his career before being dealt to the Phoenix Suns in February 2002, as Boston tried to make a deep playoff run by adding veteran talent in Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers.

"Yeah I think, for me, it would be nice to come out here, perform well and have fun," Johnson said. "Enjoy this little process that I've got. Because I could probably walk away from the game, but I love it so much, man. Like I said, my son keeps me going, and me and him have so many battles -- one-on-one battles, shooting games, all those type of things.

"So I've always got things to fuel me and keep me motivated. It's just preparation meets opportunity at this point."