Vivlamore reporting. Here is my story on Ivan Johnson for Thursday’s print edition of the AJC. The Hawks play at the Spurs tonight.
Ivan Johnson is not much for conversation. In fact, the Hawks’ hulking power forward will often use one word when three will do.
Johnson enters his second NBA season in was has been a tumultuous basketball career not without incident even as a 27-year-old rookie last year.
So, Johnson spent an offseason of reflection.
“It was a good time to think some things through about what I did last year, what I could do to make things better,” Johnson said. “It was a thinking offseason on how I could make my second year a better year.”
What was his conclusion?
“Keep my hands to my side and just play,” he said with a diamond-encrusted smile.
Johnson and the Hawks played at San Antonio Wednesday in the second exhibition game of the season.
Johnson was a surprise addition to the Hawks’ roster last season after a strong training camp. The 6-foot-8, 255-pounder became a fan favorite for his menacing appearance and physical style. His wayward college career and anger-management issues, including a ban from the Korean Basketball League, have been well documented.
Johnson’s temper did get him into trouble on a couple occasions last season. Coach Larry Drew sent him home from a trip to Orlando and fined him after Johnson argued with teammates on the bench. The NBA also fined Johnson $25,000 for giving fans the middle finger while leaving the court following Atlanta’s final playoff loss to Boston.
The Hawks made a qualifying offer to Johnson, a one-year, $966,000 deal for the restricted free agent, this summer. Drew then made two trips to California for separate conversations about what will be expected this season. The two had breakfast on one trip and Drew watched Johnson work out on the other.
“When the decision was made that we were going to bring him back as part of our team I thought it was important that I reach out,” Drew said of his trips to Los Angeles. “He’s always been a guy who I truly admire. He is one of my favorites.
“In both meetings we had a very good discussion about my expectations from him. When I left the meeting, we were on the same page.”
Johnson admits that his issues last season centered on being an old rookie. He was sent home from Orlando after failing to give up his seat on the bench to a veteran.
“I knew I had some rookie duties to do but I wasn’t going to be put through all the rookie duties because I’m an older rookie,” Johnson said.
Johnson appeared in 56 games last season, averaging 16.7 minutes per game. He finished his initial NBA campaign with averages of 6.4 points and 4.0 rebounds. He was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April. Johnson led the Hawks in field-goal percentage (.513), which was the third-best mark among all NBA first-year players.
Of Drew’s trips to California, Johnson said the coach was “seeing how much I was working out, seeing if I was working out.” Drew wanted Johnson to come to training camp in shape. He was told he would have an expanded role, meaning more playing time, this season.
The Hawks coach covets Johnson’s physical style. He gives the team an edge – when properly controlled.
“He understands that,” Drew said.
Johnson split is offseason between Dallas and Los Angeles for workouts. He said he did basketball drills weightlifting and running. “A whole bunch of running,” is how Johnson explained the regime that including workouts in the mountains and at the beach.
“That is just my mindset,” Johnson said of his physical style. “I always like to go hard, throw my body around.”
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