Rapcast #95: The James Johnson Experience

You’ll notice that there hasn’t been a real post about the James Johnson trade so far, that’s because nobody at RR is pretending to know much about him.

Contest Note: We’ll be giving away two excellent sets of two tickets each (four in total) to the Mavericks game on Sunday. Check back tomorrow for the details.

You’ll notice that there hasn’t been a real post about the James Johnson trade so far, that’s because nobody at RR is pretending to know much about him. The initial reaction to this trade was that the Raptors were better off using the pick, perhaps on Duke senior Nolan Smith as Steve had suggested earlier in the week. The skepticism stems from Johnson being a complete nobody in the league and having failed to impress anyone in his year and a half stint in Chicago.

I talked to Matt McHale from Bulls by the Horns and Basketbawful about Johnson and frankly speaking, he didn’t have one flattering thing to say. Johnson was described as having effort issues (the worst kind), a painfully inconsistent player, and not much good at anything except kick-boxing. Tom Thibodeau lost patience with him a while ago and when Johnson wasn’t in Thibodeau’s doghouse, he was in the D-League.

The interview is actually quite funny as we struggle to find positives for the Raptors. The only one that we could muster up is that maybe given the opportunity to play heavy minutes, he might prove his place in the league, but Matt doesn’t think so but does admit that he took a step back under Thibodeau as his minutes decreased, perhaps he didn’t react well to a reduced role? McHale’s even questioning whether Colangelo has seen any of Johnson’s games this year. Colangelo’s description of Johnson as a “strong, athletic and versatile small forward” is the same one the Bulls were feeding their fans around the 2009 NBA draft, except that none of those things have come true.

On the surface this appears to be a trade where Colangelo feels he can revive a faltering NBA career and save one year of guaranteed salary, although Johnson’s salary is higher than what the Raptors would have paid a late first-rounder, on account of Johnson being drafted 16th. If a revival is to happen it won’t be without Johnson playing minutes that he’s thoroughly undeserving of, much like Sonny Weems. The Raptors do have a solid reputation of giving marginal talent playing time so Johnson should fit right in, for example, last night’s 26 minutes was the third highest total he’s ever played in the NBA. Before we write him off completely, we should note that Colangelo has a tendency to find half-decent role players in trades.

Chicago had drafted him (ahead of Taj Gibson) with the idea that he could backup Luol Deng, that certainly hasn’t happened and Johnson’s bounced around the D-League. After his stint there, the first thing he did was airball a 16-footer which was, at the time, described as the last shot he’d take for the Bulls. To me, he sounds like Sonny Weems with less talent, aka a D-League player. I’m sure he’s going to have his moments like last night, but remember that Primoz Brezec had a magnificent debut with the Raptors as well. Twenty-four isn’t the age that players peak by any means, however they do display a projection of their NBA careers and right now Johnson is a massive unknown. His athleticism, size and defensive potential are his pros and that’s what Colangelo’s hoping to mine.

Grab the iTunes feed or the plain old feed. You can also download the file (15:50, 5.7MB). Or just listen below:

The interview continues with some Bulls talk and how they fare against Boston, Orlando and Miami. Matt also fails a quiz about Chuck Swirsky. Thanks to Matt for coming on and check out his site for Bulls talk and of course there’s Basketbawful.

Some quotes:

Tom Thibodeau:

“I hope he gets an opportunity to play. He did a good job with us; professional every day, and this is a young team and he’ll have an opportunity.”

James Johnson:

“I’m not disappointed at all. It’s a business. I understand fully what Gar Forman and John Paxson had for me they came and sat down and talked to me after I went to the D-League and they just want what’s best for me. And to have a general manager and a vice president like that who cares about the players and not as much about the organization, about keeping the kid there, even though he’s not playing, goes a long way and shows what kind of character they have.”

Derrick Rose:

“J.J. is a good player. A good young player. Didn’t have enough time to play with us because of who we have on our team, just didn’t have enough time. I think that he’s going to be a good player in this league.”

James Johnson on changing his number:

“I just wanted a fresh start. I didn’t want 16 anymore. I wanted to start from zero and work my way up.”

John Holllinger brings us the Raptors connection, this is in addition to calling him “the most high-mistake perimeter player I’ve ever seen”.

On the foul side of the ledger, Johnson committed a foul every 6.0 minutes, a shockingly high rate for any position and an absoltely extraordinary one for a wing. The closest wing player to that number, Denver’s Joey Graham, was whistled once every 7.3 minutes.

Welcome James, the expectations couldn’t be lower so you can’t possibly fail here. The only way to go is up.

Personally, I would have gone with the draft because history has shown that if you do your homework, you will find gems with late picks. Actually, wait, given Colangelo’s drafting record with late picks, James Johnson sounds about what he’d get through the draft as well.

So much for that Miami pick.

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