Eric Koreen of the National Post first reported on Thursday that Dwane Casey revealed that “personal things” may be contributing to Amir Johnson’s poor play of late (less than three points and under three rebounds per game over his last nine games), a revelation that Johnson, himself later confirmed.
I’ll start by saying that obviously, none of us know the specifics or the depths and severity of these personal issues Johnson is currently facing, and no one should spend time trying to guess what the issues entail. But having said that, while we should let Amir deal with those issues privately, we also shouldn’t let them be an excuse for poor effort and a lack of hustle from a professional athlete.
Many people, if not everyone at some point in their lives, has to deal with varying levels of personal issues while still waking up everyday and finding a way to work hard and contribute at their respective places of employment, most likely for a lot less money and praise that someone in Amir Johnson’s position would receive.
After today, Amir’s personal issues should no longer be a topic of discussion, and I’m sure he wouldn’t want it any other way. He comes across as a humble guy who wouldn’t want people making excuses for him, and I respect that.
Amir, himself, was quoted in the article as saying “It’s no excuse. I’ve just got to pick it up.”
So after getting that out of the way, I’ll come to the main point of this post, and a topic that I was planning to write about before any news of Johnson’s personal issues came to light.
That topic, or question, is should the Raptors consider using the amnesty clause on Amir if his numbers and overall game don’t improve by the end of the season?
I know, given the workmanlike attitude, the usual hustle that he displays and how well he has taken to the city of Toronto and its basketball fans, it seems almost unfair to ask, but in reality, it’s very fair.
Coming into the season, the three names on the Raptors roster most linked to amnesty rumours, whether by legitimate sources or just venting fans, were Jose Calderon, Linas Kleiza and Andre Bargnani.
With Calderon’s big contract becoming an expiring contract next season and given the fact that he is a capable veteran pass-first point guard, I refuse to believe that the Raptors would have to amnesty him. There has to be a trade out there, whether it happens this season or next, that can benefit the Raptors by way of cap flexibility and/or draft picks and talent.
As for Bargnani, while I don’t think Bryan Colangelo would ever really consider using the amnesty clause on his prize possession and former No. 1 overall selection, even if Colangelo did consider it before the season, Bargnani has shown that he might just be a budding All Star under the tutelage of Dwane Casey.
I’d still like to see Kleiza over an extended period of time since he is just coming off of microfracture surgery, but overall, I actually think he has been surprisingly good since his return. He did miss Wednesday night’s game in Boston with soreness on his surgically repaired right knee, and if the injury becomes a long-term problem, he would obviously be the ideal amnesty candidate. But if he can continue to build on what we’ve seen over the last few weeks (7.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, one assist per game in about 19 minutes) and continues to bring an element of toughness to a young team, I would have no problem with the Raptors paying him $4.6 million for the next couple of seasons.
When you look at the Raptors roster, after Calderon, Bargnani and Kleiza, the only other players under contract for next season are DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, James Johnson, Gary Forbes and Amir Johnson (and they can offer a $4.1 million qualifying offer to Jerryd Bayless, according to Hoops Hype).
Forbes signed his deal under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, so I believe that means he cannot be amnestied. Regardless of their regression or progression this season, there is no way in hell the Raptors amnesty any one of DeRozan, Davis or James Johnson. All three, especially DeRozan and Davis, still have too much potential and untapped talent to give up on at 22-to-25 years old. Not to mention, they will earn less than $9 million between the three of them combined next season.
That leaves only Amir Johnson’s contract if the Raptors intend to use the amnesty clause while they still can. That contract (which runs through the 2014-2015 season) is reportedly worth $19.5 million over the three seasons following this one. Johnson is averaging 6.4 points and 6.1 rebounds in 23.6 minutes per game this season, with a Player Efficiency Rating of just 12.78. In 177 games played with the Raptors, he’s averaging 7.6 points and 5.6 rebounds.
As I’ve stated, I love Amir’s hustle, his highly efficient offence, his work on the boards and his athletic defence. From what I can gather from listening to and watching him talk, I’m sure I would like him as a person too. But in the cut-throat world of professional sports, where winning should be the main focus, being a good guy who works hard can’t be what carries you throughout your career.
At some point, Amir is going to have to finally break out if he wants to justify his fairly large contract for a role player.
I’m rooting for Amir, and hoping that his play ensures we never have to think about this possibility, but it’s not fair to quickly throw the amnesty option out there for some players, while totally ignoring the elephant in the room that is Amir Johnson’s contract.
If Colangelo and the Raptors elect to use their amnesty clause option and Amir fails to take his game to the next level, can you really find a more worthy candidate on this roster?