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Free Agency

Report: Raptors sign Stanley Johnson

Within hours of letting go of Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors have signed Stanley Johnson. A  6’7 small forward, Johnson spent the second half of the last season with the New Orleans Pelicans, and the three seasons prior with the Detroit Pistons.

While Johnson is not known as a shooter, making less than half of his two-point shots (48.8% last season), his shooting percentage did pick up, even while his minutes decreased. In just over 13 minutes per game with New Orleans, the 23 year-old shot nearly 43% from the field, compared to the 38% he was averaging in 20 minutes with Detroit. Johnson has been described as an “elite one-on-one defender” by former coach, Dwane Casey.

In a game against the Raptors last November, Johnson’s defensive abilities were apparent when he was able to lock down Kawhi Leonard, and win the game 106-104, despite Leonard scoring 26 points.

The Raptors may not have Kawhi Leonard any longer, but we do have a small forward who doesn’t excel at shooting, but can defend against the league’s top players. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this sounds very similar to the scouting reports of Toronto’s most recent and beloved ex.

Heavily recruited out of high school, Johnson played one season with the University of Arizona Wildcats, where he was voted First Team All Pac-12, and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Arizona, known primarily for their ability to develop players defensively, would win both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament championship during Johnson’s only season with them.

Stanley Johnson may never reach the level of skill that Leonard possesses, not many players will. But playing for the defending NBA champions is sure to light a fire under Johnson, pushing him to succeed. He may never be Kawhi Leonard, but given the right tools, he could become Kawhi-Lite. At only 23 years old, Johnson is two years younger than Most Improved Player and new teammate Pascal Siakam, and who could have predicted that breakthrough?

If the enticement of a return to the Finals doesn’t drive Johnson, his mother sure will. Karen Taylor was a basketball star in her own right, playing for Jackson State University, and eventually being inducted into their Hall of Fame. She spent five years playing professionally in Europe before coaching her son Stanley from ages 5 through 14 with the So Cal Tigers AAU Club, a league she created.

The Pelicans did not extend a Qualifying Offer to Johnson on June 27th, making him a free agent. According to his agent (via Shams Charania), the deal is for two years, with a player option for the 2020-2021 season, and worth $7.5 million. To put it into perspective, Johnson’s two year contract is $2.5 million dollars less than the Toronto Raptors paid Danny Green for his singular season with them.

Stanley Johnson was signed using the Bi-Annual Exception, meaning Toronto was able to sign him for up to two years, with a salary starting at $3.29 million. Acquiring Johnson at such a low price brings the Raptors’ total player salaries to $124 million, leaving them $9 million dollars below the tax line with an 11-man roster, and room to sign another player starting at $8.4 million dollars annually.

If Masai Ujiri is known for anything, it’s bargaining and developing.

Welcome to Toronto, Stanimal!

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