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.