Vinnie "Da Microwave" to Don the Green?
September 5, 1991
There was no hesitation in Dave Gavitt's response.
Would you be interested in Vinnie Johnson?
"Absolutely," the Celtics' basketball boss said yesterday.
That interest may translate into something more concrete as early as tomorrow. That is when Johnson, who turned 35 last Sunday, is expected to clear waivers, making him available to the team of his choice. And that team just might be the Celtics.
Reached at his suburban Detroit home yesterday, Johnson expressed interest in playing for Boston, but chose not to comment until he had a chance to discuss all his options with agent Mitch Frankel. Johnson did say, however, that Knorr Bologna, the Italian team that romanced former Piston James Edwards, already had called expressing interest. Frankel was out of town and could not be reached.
Johnson, who has been a certified Celtic assassin in the past, almost came to Boston last year. But Gavitt declined to sign the aptly named "Microwave," then an unrestricted free agent, saying at the time that he didn't think the move would enable the Celtics to overtake the Pistons.
There will be no competition this time from Detroit, which surprised a lot of people, including Gavitt, by waiving Johnson. If he clears waivers, which should happen tomorrow, Detroit will be obligated to pay him his entire 1991-92 salary of roughly $ 1.57 million. The Celtics wouldn't be able to offer Johnson anything more than the NBA minimum ($ 130,000), but he would not lose a cent if he signed with Boston.
"We'd certainly like to take a hard look, although we wouldn't have anything to offer other than the minimum," Gavitt said. "Vinnie is a specialist and, when he's on his game, there aren't many who do it better. And besides, then we wouldn't have to play against him."
Johnson has a long history of lighting it up against the Celtics, and Boston has a demonstrated need for a shooter. He has never been known for accuracy - a career 46.7 percent - but he has experience and always has elevated his game in the postseason.
It was Danny Ainge who coined the nickname "Microwave" after a regular season game early in the 1985-86 season. Johnson has averaged 16 points a game in Boston Garden over the years, shooting 50 percent.
Johnson was listed on the Pistons' salary cap as earning $ 1.4 million (there are special cap distinctions for players who reach 35), and thus Detroit will get half of that to sign someone else. Johnson had a no-trade clause (as a 10/5 player, he qualified) and thus would have had the right to veto any deal.
"I was aware Detroit was waving some things around, but I hadn't heard this one," Gavitt said. "It really surprised me. It was a bolt out of the blue. I sort of expect a second hit to come."
A Pistons official who requested anonymity agreed.
"Something else is coming down," he said.
The Pistons have jettisoned five players from last year's team, the two most prominent being Johnson and Edwards, who was dealt to the Clippers shortly after he thought he had struck a deal with Knorr Bologna. Detroit acquired shooting guard Jeff Martin in the Los Angeles deal and also has three more years invested in Lance Blanks. In addition, Roy Marble has been invited to training camp.
Johnson had been a Piston since Nov. 23, 1981, when he arrived in a deal from Seattle for Greg Kelser. He was Detroit's career leader in games played with 798 and hasn't missed a game since the 1986-87 season. In his nine full seasons with Detroit, he played 731 out of a possible 738 games. In addition, he never missed a playoff game while with Detroit, playing in 108.
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