Lost in the good vibes of Alan Anderson playing well in his first start as a Raptor on Wednesday and the frustration of falling in the Tank Nation standings was the fact that James Johnson, who has started 38 games for the Raptors this season and is seen as perhaps the most pleasantly surprising player on the roster, was a “DNP-coach’s decision.”
On Thursday, Doug Smith wrote that it’s an “internal matter,” adding that “the suggestion in private conversations was that it wasn’t that big a deal.” Smith goes on to praise the way Dwane Casey has handled situations like this so far in his debut season as Raptors head coach, and I’d have to agree with him. If you’ve forgotten about DeMar DeRozan’s “Straight Bulls#!+” tweet after he was benched for most of the fourth quarter in Houston, it’s because Casey diffused the potentially volatile situation quickly.
But let’s stick with the James Johnson storyline.
For my money, Johnson has been one of the most consistent and improved Raptors this season, averaging 8.9 points (on 45 per cent shooting), 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals in about 25-and-a-half minutes per game. His defence has been superb – the third year man currently leads all small forwards in blocks per game – and both his shot selection and shot making have improved on the offensive end.
From the outside looking in, it appears that Johnson has done everything that could possibly be asked of him this year, but of course, we don’t know what goes behind closed doors, and chances are we’ll never know the reason James was a DNP-CD on Wednesday in Philly.
Hopefully the sources are proven correct and whatever the issue was between Johnson and Casey “wasn’t that big a deal.”
But you have to wonder, if the Raptors get the opportunity to draft a stud small forward in June and Kleiza’s $4.6 million per year contract is deemed worth keeping, would a small internal issue like this one towards the end of the season be a deciding factor in making James Johnson the odd man out?
If it’s as minor as it sounds, considering that Johnson costs only $2.8 million next season, I would hope not, but you have to admit, this latest development might add a little bit of intrigue if the Raptors do, in fact, land that coveted small forward.