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?

Comments (16)

  1. That decision is for a later date! Amir in my opinion is playing out of position much like Bargnani was for many years. The Raptors have a bunch of guys at the bigs position and might just get worse with many quality big men at the front of the draft. No one thought this team was going to look good and more than a few look worse than expected. Before you consider releasing someone you first have to determine that you can’t move them for something else. Next year the team will have two (would think) new players along with possible free agents. Until you know what your depth chart is going to look like at that time you have no ability to decide on dumping anyone.

    My gripe with Colangelo is that he hasn’t got a decent big man in the past to go with what he had. He drafted Hibbert who I would have loved or second rounder Jordan in LA to go along with Bosh or Bargs at PF but kept going soft no inside presence for some reason.

    • I’m not saying the decision should be made right now. That would be senseless. I’m saying that if the Raptors actually use their amnesty clause, and Amir is still just a “hustle guy” at the time they decide to use it, then his $19.5 million over three years would be a legitimate candidate.

  2. Aren’t the Raptors pretty comfortably under the cap right now (Not being a smart ass here, I’m honestly wondering if they are)? I don’t really understand what purpose amnestying him at the moment would serve seeing how he’s still a very useful player for them and the Raptors don’t need the room with Barbosa expiring this year and Calderon expiring after next season. They’ll have enough room to fit in Val and their 2012 first rounder over the summer.

    • Yes, they will have a good amount of cap space. I don’t think they should just carelessly amnesty him right now, and even if they wanted to move him, I’d still obviously prefer they try to trade him and get value. I’m simply pointing out that while everyone used to talk about Calderon, Kleiza and even Bargs as amnesty targets, when looking at this roster, it’s clear to me that Amir would be at the front of that conversation.
      Jose has trade value as a veteran PG who will be an expiring contract next season. How many teams would be willing to take on Amir for $19.5 million over three years after this one? I’m guessing not many.
      Again, I’m not suggesting the Raptors immediately amnesty Amir or anyone else, simply stating that if they are going to use that option and Amir doesn’t improve this season, he has to be an amnesty candidate.

  3. The Raps could improve more, faster, if they amnesty Calderon. He’s overpaid by a good $5M/year right now. Amir proved last year that his contract was alright and possibly a bargain down the road (keep in mind his age and the fact that he improved his shot so much last year), and he looked even better to start this season. He’s looked awful recently, but you can tell something was off with his body language.

    I’d have more sympathy for him if he wasn’t constantly on twitter joking around, and if you’re going to lace them up, play like a pro instead of a disinterested scrub with no pride. I couldn’t believe his body language when Aldridge was killing him in TO a while back.

    So yeah, way too early for me to support the idea but he needs to either sit out or pull his head out of his ass. Energy is infectious on the court and Amir is not providing any sort of good energy these days.

    • I usually hate the joking around after losses too, but Amir is one of those guys I let it slide with, because he does usually bring a great level of hustle/effort to the floor. I’m not just basing this on the fact that he’s had a rough nine games. It’s just that if you’re going to rebuild and want to clear as much cap space as possible, you might have to make some tough decisions, which includes getting rid of a fan-favourite, no matter how hard he usually plays.
      Part of the blame falls on Colangelo for giving Amir a contract that even makes us think about the amnesty, but can a rebuilding team afford to pay a “hustle guy” $19.5 million over three years when he might be their fourth big on the depth chart next year?

  4. yup its true. colangelo overpaid big time. feel bad for amir, not his fault, and even more now that he has personal problems. i never knew he was going to make that much over the next 3 years. I dont want to see him go but you cant pay him that much $ unless he becomes much better. hopefully they can trade him tho and dont have to amnesty him. that will be really embarassing for gim.

  5. I believe that the salary for Amir is scandalous. For this type of talent, it is.
    I don’t know if the best solution is to amnesy or trade Amir.
    But we have Amir, Davis and Bargnani in PF spot.
    And from these 3 players, Amir (my opinion of course) is the weakest link.
    He’s not a true Center, even if he’s trying alot at this spot, but he’s a mediocre tough player, who uses his toughness and gets a good point / rebound ratio. But give Ed Davis Amir’s minutes, and i believe that he will get the same numbers (even if this year Ed is a little dissapointment).
    We need a true, good Center (to pair with JV), a point guard or/and a offensive-minded SF.
    And we have to get rid of the centers we have, Forbes and Butler…for start.
    Im speaking for the next season of course.

  6. Good take on the raps’ situation. However, I’d like to see Kleiza get amnestied. Amir will bounce back and I think he has more upside for contribution to the team than Kleiza who takes bad shots and doesn’t really board or defend..

    As for Calderon, it’s simple: he’s the raps’ best player. The stats testify (www.thenbageek.com) and his play on the court is just excellent. I think it would be a huge mistake to get rid of him now (through amnesty or trade). He could get back to his 2008 great play if the raps could get a better core. He’s far from overpaid. That PG has numbers that rival the NBA’s best.

    Which brings me to my main point. Why couldn’t Toronto trade DeRozan? I like the dude, but he does not seem to be filling the gap within the raps’ roster. I’d like to see a good SG who takes good shots and makes them consistently and efficiently (side note: Calderon is super efficient). Do you think it would be too soon to trade DeRozan? Do you think Colangelo could get anything good in return? Please not a draft pick!

    Cheers

  7. Kleiza is unlikely to be amnestied with his fellow-countryman coming soon from Lithuania. Linas will help JV feel comfortable here, the two might well create some synergy and excitement on the court together, and the pair will increase visibility for the Raptors back home – which could help recruiting in future.

  8. I don’t think you need to amnesty him , if you look around the league he has a more than reasonable salary for a backup big man. Kwame brown just got paid 7 + million and we all know his talent level. Alot of teams would love to have Amir as a backup big coming of the bench , he has great hands , great touch around the basket and can block shots and rebound . He is more suited on a contender and I believe it won’t be a problem if we want to trade him . The raptors should amnesty Jose Calderon and his 10..9 million salary for next year if they hope to make any kind of splash in free agency .

  9. Does the boss know you want to get rid of his binky?

  10. Axl: I do now. Joseph and I are going to have a little “chat” about this later.

    Seriously though, I don’t think Amir should be amnestied or traded, but he’s been playing like crap this season. Hopefully, he snaps out of it.

  11. I think Butler has earned a place in a poster this year.

  12. Repeat after me: YOU CAN’T HAVE TOO MANY BIGS!! Now say it again…
    Amir is not a diamond in the rough. He doesn’t project as an All-Star in 3 years. That said, he’s an effective player who can, and will, contribute for a long time. If the Raptors are ever going to be within hailing distance of a championship season, they will need Amir as an anchor on the second unit (I know he’s starting now – that won’t last) But when you consider how many bigs (Yao Ming, Oden, Reggie Evans, Andrea) have had their careers curtailed or ended because of injury, you will understand why a tough kid like Amir has to stay.

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