Heat's Tyler Johnson braced for impending life as $19 million man

The pressure of finishing the playoffs with a thumb injury that likely will require surgery? Tyler Johnson has been through worse, as his gapped-tooth smile exemplifies.

Having to deal with external doubts about whether he should have remained a playoff starter in the just-completed series loss to the Philadelphia 76ers? When you arrive to the NBA undrafted and after time in the development league, what skeptics say is of minimal concern.

But jumping from a modest $5.9 million salary this season to $19.2 million next season? The pressure is about to reach a whole new level, with Johnson poised to become second on the Miami Heat payroll next season only to Hassan Whiteside.

And we've already seen the burden of that contract.

For Johnson, the threefold increase in salary neither was the goal nor the desire, but rather a function of being a restricted free agent in 2016 under a set of circumstances so unique that the NBA has moved to make him the league's last player with such a salary structure.

NBA players do not experience a 325 percent increase in salary in the third year of a four-year contract. But Johnson will.

It makes him distinctive in a way the capped-out Heat hardly would prefer.

"I feel like people already are thinking that's what it is, anyway," Johnson said of his impending salary bump that will make him one of the NBA's highest-paid players over the next two seasons. "They just see the number and that's what I'm already making. So I've really already kind of dealt with all of that. It doesn't really bother me at all."

But it will be troublesome for the Heat.

And already has been.

Because of this impending bump in Johnson's salary, the Heat essentially had to handle all of their free-agency spending last summer, in advance of Johnson's jump. That led to the $50 million-plus deals last June for James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk, deals the Heat won't be able to offer this summer because of Tyler Johnson's jump.

On the other hand, because Tyler Johnson's salary was flat last summer, the Heat were able to slot in Wayne Ellington's contract under the cap, the irony being that Johnson's upcoming salary could preclude Ellington from being re-signed this summer, because of the luxury tax.

There remains a degree of wiggle room, with Johnson still eligible to be traded out at his $5.9 million salary until June 30. But that would come with the realization by a suitor of the $40 million still due over the next two seasons, when factoring in Johnson's trade kicker.

To Johnson, what is done is done. He had his bite at the apple and happened to take it when the quirks in the previous rules allowed for such a salary structure in his four-year, $50 million deal that otherwise would have meant nearly flat $12.5 million salaries over four seasons.

"I feel like I continue to get better every year, so it's not something that I feel pressure on it anymore," he said. "I feel my first year was the one that I felt where I was out here trying to really prove something. Whereas now, it doesn't feel like that."

While there was a brief window when Johnson could have flattened his salary structure, he reminded this week of the unique circumstances of his 2016 free-agency decision, when Whiteside had just been signed to his four-year, $98 million contract and the Heat still were uncertain of Dwyane Wade's status, with the franchise icon instead signing that summer with his hometown Chicago Bulls.

Had Johnson not agreed to the terms laid out by the Nets, he risked losing a contract offer so shocking that he initially vomited when informed of the staggering numbers.

"Nobody could have called what happened with D-Wade in that situation," Johnson said. "After I had signed, I was getting calls from coaches saying, 'I wish you the best' and everything. So nobody really thought I was going to even be coming back."

But then the Heat decided to match, to retain what they had developed out of a prospect who went undrafted in 2014 out of Fresno State.

Thus the current salary status that could leave Johnson either with expectations greater than ever ... or perhaps dealt.

"I had already committed to Brooklyn, that I was going to be there," he said of accepting the Nets' terms that the Heat matched. "And it wasn't until the last hour of before I could sign that all this arose. And by that time, I was already trying to just cut my phone off and not listen to anything.

"So maybe if it was a situation where if it had come about sooner, it maybe would have been different. But I think at the timing of it all, I had 45 minutes to an hour to try to make a decision on whether I would not to commit to the team that gave me the chance and the opportunity in the first place."