I’m very happy that Amir Johnson is returning to the Raptors, but let’s start with addressing the “overpayment”. Don’t get me – or anyone else who is opposed to Colangelo throwing out money like it’s of the Monopoly type – wrong, but does one season of averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds warrant this kind of cash, or is this contract based entirely on potential and not proven worth? The hustle and effort that Johnson plays with was one of the lone bright spots on the Raptors last year, but that’s only so because the rest of the team was terrible at exactly those things. Hence the saying and the title of this post. If Johnson had the year he had last year on any other team, he would’ve been negotiating with all 30 NBA teams for a contract, luckily for him his GM is Colangelo who’s haggling techniques would see him pay 5 bucks for a mango in Chinatown.
Nobody can be against the actual signing, but the speed of which it happens tells me that the Raptors were the only team that Johnson seriously talked with. Apparently there was interest from Golden State and Phoenix, but once they saw what Colangelo had offered, they backed out. Looking around the league, you’ll see contracts on either side of the debate of whether Johnson is deserving of the coin. For every Carl Landry ($3M), there’s an Emeka Okafor ($11.5M), but the trend in large seems to be teams using rookie contracts to fill the “dirty work” big man positions – Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Dejuan Blair, J.J Hickson, and Taj Gibson come to mind, a strategy that makes too much sense. I realize that’s comparing apples to oranges since those guys have yet to sign their first non-rookie-scale deal or are second rounders, so let’s look at those who have:
Dan Gadzuric – $7.2M
Anderson Varejao – $7M
Nick Collison – $6.7M
Jeff Foster – $6.6M
Marcin Gortat – $6.3M
Drew Gooden – $6.4M
Channing Frye – $6.0M
Darius Songaila – $4.8M
Ronny Turiaf – $4M
Chris Anderson – $3.9
Chris Wilcox – $3M
Carl Landry – $3M
I’d like to think this is a site where you get to have an opinion and not just receive one, so you decide if we paid too much. The one thing I’d like to point out is that Johnson is only 23 years of age which is younger than any of those players.
Perhaps it’s the Raptors’ desperate need for defense now that Chris Bosh is gone that prompted Bryan Colangelo to nab Johnson early, but now that he’s got a big deal, the latter better do more than just play one side of the floor. Johnson needs to do significantly better than just come off the bench, play aggressively (and recklessly), and then return to the pine dripped in hustle sweat. Those on-off stats tend to be a little skewed when your tendency to pick up fouls limit your minutes and basically leave your team hanging out to dry for the majority of the game. Unlike last year, the competition in the hustle category is going to be fierce with Ed Davis, a defensive-oriented big man, whose rebounding could make a case for minutes even ahead of Johnson, and Solomon Alabi. So maintain status-quo is not good enough, after all, averaging 6.2/4.8 on the league’s worst defensive team is nothing to write home about to begin with. Overpaying role players in Toronto seems to be a trend, Jerome Williams, Rafer Alston, Kris Humphries, Jason Kapono…the list literally goes on and on. Hopefully this time around the potential the GM saw when offering the contract actually pans out, because that is what the contract was handed out on – potential.
Johnson will be entering his sixth season, granted he only played a total of 11 games his first two seasons, and will be asked to carry more of an offensive burden than before. The first thing he needs to work on is his mid-range jumper, which is what defenses will test if he gets increased minutes. The easy thing to do when that shot is presented is to pass it up to a teammate, hopefully for a better look, but the great thing to do is to knock it down and add another, never before seen, dimension to your game. As I already noted, he’s only 23 years old and has gotten significantly better in all categories (counting PER48 here) the last two seasons. If he adds a jumper and a post-move to the mix, you could see Kurt Thomas or Udonis Haslem type player in no time. Key word in the previous sentence is if. His offensive game has a long ways to go, one can’t just look at his TS% of 63.9% and call him an efficient scorer, that can only be done when he has a high enough usage rate (currently only 11.1%) and plays starter minutes, not just 17.7.
The impact of Jose Calderon’s likely exit should not be discounted; Calderon was instrumental in setting up Johnson with a lot of his offense, the familiarity on the pick ‘n roll the two had developed was great to watch and it’ll be interesting to see how he functions if Calderon exits, a likely possibility. Johnson never developed great chemistry with Jarrett Jack, and if Johnson’s offensive game is expected to flourish, you’d have to bet against that happening with Jack as point guard. You never know how increased minutes combined with a better defensive frontcourt partner would fair, but it looks like all his increased role will do is put him on the court with Andrea Bargnani, a man who can singlehandedly get everyone else but himself into foul trouble. It’ll be interesting. To say the least.
There’s tons more going on, including PJ Carlesimo paying a visit to see Hedo Turkoglu and the Raptors being interested in Amare Stoudemire. The Turkoglu story isn’t great news for me because I wanted that era to end just as quickly as the O’Neal one did, he doesn’t strike me as a player who will wake up one day and suddenly become motivated to play defense, try hard and become a leader on the team. After all, he already got paid. The Raptors would do well to listen to the Magic offers for Turkoglu and see if they can grab Marcin Gortat, that to me would instantly make the Raptors a better rebounding and defensive team. With Gortat, Johnson, Davis and Alabi’s shot-blocking and 7’1″ frame manning the painted area, maybe, just maybe, they could excuse Andrea Bargnani for only playing man-defense.
There’s obviously some history between Colangelo and Stoudemire (he drafted him in Phoenix), but is that going to be enough for Stoudemire to come to Toronto? The lack of proven players on the Raptors roster is going to be a big deterrent for any serious free-agents used to winning to want to come here. Once again, gross overpayment might be required but if Phoenix is willing to swallow Bargnani in return, we could do it.
It’s a great day for Amir Johnson and this guy. Check the newly added “Hot Topics” throughout the day and of course, the effervescent forums. I’ll leave you with some Chris Bosh tweets including a tweaser (What’s a tweaser you ask? It’s a tweet designed to tease):
I’m starving and ready for dinner. Grabbing some food with close friends… Maybe we’ll discuss everything that happened today
This tweet came after he met with the Nets and said:
New Jersey meeting was very good as well. These guys really know how to sell a franchise
Before that he met with the Heat:
Off to a great start. First one went well. Pat Riley is very passionate about winning.
That was after he met with Houston and the Raptors:
It’s been an exciting first couple of hrs. Got some interesting visits and presentations from Houston, Toronto,
I really want this Bosh issue handled by July 11th when the World Cup ends, I can’t afford to go back to following basketball closely and deal with this guy. Some World Cup stuff now – today is Netherlands vs Brazil and Ghana vs Uruguay, reason I mention this is because I think the Ghana flag is the most bad-ass flag in the world with the best colors.Follow @raptorsrepublic