When the Sacramento Kings acquired forward James Johnson from the Toronto Raptors last month, one of the first things I did was scour some of the more popular Toronto Raptor message boards and blogs. And the general consensus? The fans weren’t happy. They weren’t happy with the return (just a second round pick) and they weren’t happy losing the player who they had semi-recently acquired from the Chicago Bulls, a player that was making his mark in the NBA according to many Raptor fans.
So why the odd trade? Had Johnson’s stock really fallen so quickly that the Raptors could only manage to pawn him off for a semi worthless pick? Depending on who you ask – in a way, yes.
On court, Johnson put up numbers and at least to the casual eye, played hard, so it was a bit of a question mark as to why he found himself in the dog house of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. Of course Casey refuted that suggestion, simply stating that he and the staff made the choice, as one, to bench the 25 year old forward during an undisclosed spat between the two:
"We chose as a staff not to play him. We’re going build the program the right way, we’re going to do things the right way, and we’ll go from there."
So why did Casey and staff choose not to play the former Demon Deacon? I’ve heard a handful of scenario’s that irked Casey and crew, from spat’s in practice, to not understating his role, to toking it up in the airplane bathroom doing a road trip. As to what’s true, we’ll probably never know, but it’s clear Johnson and Casey didn’t see eye to eye which clearly played a role in the Raptors donating the Wake Forest product to Sacramento.
So what about the Kings? Did they do alright in this move?
Easy answer – yes.
For such a minimal price, it’s hard not to really like this move from the Kings’ perspective. To get a defensive minded, 25 year old cheap small forward – all for a second round pick? How can you not like it? Johnson brings with him tenacious defense, paired with an elite shot blocking skill, something you don’t often see from a three. Offensively, there’s no doubt Johnson is rough around the edges and needs some work – especially when it comes to his jumper, though it has improved (hard not to) over the past two seasons. Johnson also possesses strong ball handling skills for a player of his size, which gives him a bit of versatility, be it on the wing or in the post when dealing with smaller opposition. His hard work ethic and tireless desire to improve will fit well with the current cast of Kings, assuming he’s able to play within himself and not disrupt locker room chemistry, like some say he did in Toronto with a few immature decisions.
The move all but ended the short Terrence Williams era in Sacramento (which I’ll have more on later), but it’s still a solid move for the Kings who were desperate for a true small forward. There’s some small risk with the Johnson addition, but given the clearance price of a second round pick and small contract, it’s one well worth taking. The potential positives heavily outweigh the small risks