May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) reacts after a call in game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets at the Air Canada Centre. Brooklyn defeated Toronto 104-103. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Maturity looms for Kyle Lowry & James Johnson – is there a common thread?

The return of malcontent James Johnson to the Toronto Raptors is a development I wouldn’t have predicted, and still have trouble accepting. The cognitive dissonance I’m struggling with has little to do with what JJ brings to the basketball court. When the long and athletic Johnson puts his mind to it, he’s an excellent wing defender, and can contribute on the boards. His impetuousness on offense will keep him from starting on any decent team, but he’s still a solid bet to contribute more than Landry Fields. So why was the guy begging for work, and why did Toronto bring him back?

Let’s come at a possible answer from another direction. When Kyle Lowry arrived from the Houston Rockets, he was widely regarded as talented but petulant player. One wondered about his courses at Villanova U. - a major in Hoops and a minor in Coach Killing? Since Kyle has been in Toronto, he’s transformed himself into a team leader, something we desperately need. A loyal reader [hat tip: MBH] asked me what I thought the catalyst to his maturity might be. Kyle himself has attributed his personal growth to marriage and fatherhood, and I certainly wouldn’t argue otherwise, except to suggest that the explanation is incomplete. I believe some of the credit should accrue to our coach, Dwane Casey. Kyle has been around Dwane, a quality individual if there ever was one, long enough to absorb and appreciate his best attributes. Dwane is honest with his players, sometimes painfully so. When he promoted Terrence Ross to the starter’s spot following the trade of SF Rudy Gay, he told TRoss that he didn’t earn the gig by his play (keep ‘em humble, Dwane!). Terrence got the message loud and clear that his opportunity would be lost if he got a swelled head, or didn’t defend.

Back to Johnson. When he fought with Coach at a practise two seasons ago, he was benched, and shortly thereafter traded to Sacramento for a token return. He wore out his welcome there, and went to Memphis, where he managed to antagonize that team. Toronto is his last chance in the NBA. Has he learned the virtue of humility, and how to keep his gratuitous opinions to himself?

Coach Dwane Casey was retained in his position by GM Masai Ujiri, despite Dwane not being Masai’s selection. Clearly Masai was won over by our coach’s integrity, and Dwane’s reward was a contract extension. There can’t be doubt in anyone’s mind that Dwane is in command of the Raptors’ bench, and disruptive influences will not be tolerated. If Johnson “gets with the program”, which entails staying within his role, he’ll be a useful member of what promises to be a strong team. If he doesn’t, he’ll be remembered as a cheap gamble who stepped out of line and was gone at warp speed.

Tags: Dwane Casey James Johnson Kyle Lowry Toronto Raptors

  • Guy

    Like you, I was quite surprised to learn James Johnson was coming back. It would be a huge understatement to say it’s a rare occurrence a player with an attitude, traded away for butting heads with the coach, is re-acquired by the team that traded him. That said, I think there’s a couple reasons why I’m actually optimistic about this.

    First, Johnson is older now & despite his desire to play a more important offensive role, understands he needs to accept a role if he wants to keep making millions of dollars a year. And that role is defense. He seems to realize that it’s his defense that will get him playing time, & with the roster as it is, he’ll get his opportunities to score. A solid role on a young, rising team with unselfish players.

    I’ll combine the 2nd & 3rd points as they’re similar…. Casey & Ujiri. These guys are on the same page. If Casey hadn’t felt there was a change in JJ, I doubt he’d have been signed. And while you rightly credit Casey for his influence on Lowry last season, equal credit, if not more, has to go to Ujiri as he’s the one that sat Lowry down before the season & told him how it was. Grow up, be the player we believe you should be & are, or you’ll be a journeyman Pg playing on 1-2 yr deals. Lowry responded with the best season of his career. Point being, Casey & Ujiri put their faith in JJ, & that has to be a humbling experience.

    One final point…Vasquez & Patterson. They accepted their role as 2nd unit guys, played hard when they were on the floor, became solid contributors/fan favorites & were rewarded with multi-year contracts.

    Put all that together & I think JJ sees what a great opportunity he’s been given. I expect a motivated James Johnson & would not be the least bit surprised to see him have a strong season.

    As always… Just my opinion/

    • Newmarket_Brian

      Hi Guy:
      It’s always good to hear from you. Sorry for delayed response, but between vacation and slight illness, I’ve been out of touch.
      Let’s hope James Johnson realizes what a gift he’s been given. Few players get second chances. The guy can play, but he’s got to do what he’s asked to. Play D all the time, and let the offense happen within the flow of the game.