Don’t ask why I was awake at four in the morning, but that was when Marc Stein tweeted and then posted to ESPN.com about James Johnson getting sent to Sacramento for a future second round pick. The trade clears $2.8 million off the Raptors’ 2012-13 payroll, so this could be a precursor to another move — either that, or the Raptors simply wanted to do whatever it took to ensure Johnson wasn’t on their roster next season.
There was some kind of altercation between Johnson and Raptors coach Dwane Casey in April that resulted in him being benched for a couple of games. We never really got specific details about what occurred that led to this pseudo-suspension, and neither party has been forthcoming about those details. After Johnson missed the second game, Casey mysteriously said, “We chose as a staff not to play him. We’re going to build the program the right way, we’re going to do things the right way, and we’ll go from there.” It turns out “going from there” entails dumping him for essentially no return.
I know most of you didn’t value the contributions of Johnson and Jerryd Bayless the way that I did, but they were my two favorite Raptors last season so the way Bryan Colangelo cast them away is pretty disconcerting. Was Johnson a goner even if the Knicks matched the Landry Fields offer sheet? Did they even consider getting rid of Linas Kleiza and keeping Johnson? We’ll probably never know the answers to these questions, nor will we get a straight answer about whether the April kerfuffle had anything to do with this move.
Colangelo runs a tight ship when it comes to this kind of information, and it’s not like we’ve got a rabid team of muckraking reporters digging for scandals about this team — if Johnson was consuming fried chicken and beer in the locker room, we’d probably never find out about it. Regardless, he’ll likely compete for the Kings’ starting small forward position next season and he should help improve their defense, which ranked 29th in points allowed per 100 possessions last season.
Some people will point to the fact that he’ll begin his fourth NBA season with his third team as a sign that he’s going nowhere fast in this league. I see a promising 25-year-old player who improved his Player Efficiency Rating in each of his last two seasons and is one of the best shot-blocking wings in the sport. There is a lot of talent there, if it can be harnessed. My best guess is that Casey doesn’t think he’s worth the effort.