Following The Threads (The James Johnson Memorial Post)

So James Johnson has been traded to the Sacramento Kings for a 2nd round pick.

James Johnson has been the best wing defender (and possibly best defender period) on the Raptors, since he was traded for, a year and a half ago. While he had his troubles on offense, and he’s never going to be a star, this is a guy who had the 4th highest PER, 2nd highest Block Percentage, 2nd highest Defensive Rating, highest Defensive Win Share and 4th highest Win Share on the team. And he was just 24 years old. And for what it’s worth, he was the only returning Raptor I gave an Exceeds Expectations grade. And now he’s gone for a second round pick.

Now, I have no idea what incident caused Dwane Casey to bench Johnson, last season, but I can only guess that it was the main reason he was shipped out of town. I’ve heard one rumour that is completely unfounded and will do everyone a favour by not repeating it here.

Again, I don’t think Johnson is a game changer, but he has a skillset that could make him a perfect role player off the bench. He’s a versatile defender who can defender quicker guys on the perimeter or bigger guys on the block. He’s a rim protector and pretty good, and good timely, rebounder. He’s also a good ball handler for his size and a willing passer. He’s a consistent jumpshot away from being a good player in this league.

The part I find frustrating about this whole thing is that, on paper, he is everything Bryan Colangelo and Casey say they want in a player. He’s versatile, good defensively and, seems to at least, work hard when he’s on the court.

The reason for this post, though, wasn’t to talk about what the Raptors are losing with Johnson leaving. It’s to talk about threads. Now I’m not claiming this is not anything but interesting trivia, and it’s obviously not as simple as I will be boiling it down to. It is interesting, though, and possibly a manual on how to progressively downgrade assets.

With James Johnson being turned into a second round pick, it appears whoever the Raptors draft with that second round pick is what they ultimately got for Chris Bosh. What I mean by that is that Chris Bosh was turned into a trade exception and first round pick. The trade exception was turned into Jerryd Bayless, who was let go, and the first round draft pick was traded for James Johnson, who was just traded for a second round pick. So Colangelo was able to turn the 4th pick in the 2003 draft into a second round pick.

Was it fun following that one?  Try this one…

When Colangelo took over as GM of the Raptors, one of his first orders of business was trading Charlie Villanueva for T.J. Ford, who was eventually traded, along with Rasho Nesterovic (who the Raptors got for Matt Bonner) and a first round pick (that turned into Roy Hibbert) for Jermaine O’Neal, who, in turn, was traded for Shawn Marion. Marion, of course, was traded in a rather convoluted way, for Hedo Turkoglu, Antoine Wright and, eventually, Marco Belinelli. Wright was eventually let go, Belinelli was traded for Julian Wright (who was also eventually let go), and Turkoglu was eventually traded for Leandro Barbosa, who was eventually traded for a 2nd round pick that became Tomislav Zubčić.

Did you follow all that?

Here’s a map to help with things…

Charlie Villanueva -> T.J. Ford (and Rasho Nesterovic & Roy Hibbert) -> Jermaine O’Neal -> Shawn Marion -> Hedo Turkoglu -> Leandro Barbosa -> Tomislav Zubčić.

So, basically, the Raptors turned Charlie Villanueva, Matt Bonner and Roy Hibbert into Tomislav Zubčić, a late second round pick that will probably never play a minute for the Raptors. Maybe it’s not that simple, but it does give you a bit of a picture of how things unfolded.

When Colangelo took over the Raptors, they had four pretty good assets: Chris Bosh (a perennial All-Star), Charlie Villanueva (All Rookie 1st team), a #1 pick and cap space (about $10 million). 6 years later, those assets have turned into two second round picks and Andrea Bargnani. And all the Raptor fans got out of those 6 years were two first round playoff losses and a fair amount of frustration.

During those 6 years, Colangelo made 6 notable free agent signings: Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa, Jason Kapono, Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack and Linas Kleiza.

Garbajosa was waived. Anthony Parker left as a free agent. Kapono was traded for Reggie Evans who left as a free agent. Hedo Turkoglu was traded for Barbosa, who was traded for a second round pick that became Tomislav Zubčić. Jarrett Jack was traded for Jerryd Bayless who was let go. Only Linas Kleiza remains, and that’s probably because his contract makes trading him difficult, and he happens to be from the same country that Jonas Valanciunas is from. So after spending tens of millions of dollars, the Raptors now have Kleiza and Zubčić to show for it.

In those six years, Colangelo has failed to acquire one All Star, any post season award winner and only Bargnani and Garbjosa appeared on any post season team, the All Rookie first team. Unfortunately neither player has built on that honour.

One of the things I’ve liked about Colangelo is his ability to pick up undervalued assets for relatively little. Marco Belinelli, Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson were all players who looked to have talent, but weren’t getting a chance to show it in the situations they were in. Colangelo traded for all of them, they all showed flashes of why Colangelo traded for them, but he ultimately gave up on them and only has a second round pick to show for all of them. In each case, he bought low, then sold lower. Not exactly the best way to manage your assets.

So while there may have been very good reason to get rid of James Johnson, it did add to a resume that really makes one wonder how he still has a job. And on that note…

11 thoughts on “Following The Threads (The James Johnson Memorial Post)

  1. I could name a few players I wanted gone before JJ, AKA Puff the Magic Dragon.
    He was a surprise last season and wanted to see him grow with this team, although I hear his short term memory is shot.
    He can play in this league and is still young, and I heard he buying a farm out in Cobourg(or was it a townhome in Brampton)?

    Bosh trade now looks….. Babcockian!!

    • I agree that things should stay in-house, but unfortunately there are lots of rumours circulating and people are starting to believe parts of them. I’d never heard any mention of him and weed until I read the unsubstantiated rumour about him on the plane, but now people are starting to assume it’s partly true. That’s the problem with rumours. Maybe he and Casey had a blowup. Maybe he got sick of the double standard that continues to exist, with guys like Bargnani and DeRozan apparently getting free passes on the defensive end while the rest of the team gets yanked immediately. I’m obviously speculating, but so is everyone else.

      While Doug Smith may just be a glorified Raptor mouthpiece, he does talk to a lot of Raptor brass and he said it was no big deal.

      What I do know is that players smoking weed is a big deal because it’s something they are randomly tested for and will eventually get suspended for. If Johnson was as much of a weed-head as is being portrayed I’m guessing he would have been suspended, by now.

      And, ya, that Bosh trade makes Babcock’s look good, by comparison.

  2. Something occurred and the story has stayed in house. BC has to stand behind his coach and that is just how it should be.

    It’s too bad though. I agree that he was about the only positive from last season, aside from a HOF 13 game stretch. Sure seemed like a Casey type player, maybe not a Casey type character.

    Didn’t save us much money either.

  3. And to be honest, the first I heard of the potsmoking was on the same posting on Raptorblog that you did.
    Makes more sense then your double standards theory – but who knows? The nicknames are endless, I like “Dimebag” Johnson.
    Doug Smith saying no big deal, doesn’t rule out the potsmoking as it is no big deal. Retired basketball players have mentionned ways around the testing. The NBA is more lax towards weed, or at least that is the impression I get.

    • Again, completely speculating, but I read a few comments on RaptorsHQ that mentioned they could see issues between Johnson and some other players. Maybe the whole Double standards thing makes some sense. I know even at pickup ball that I play, I get really frustrated with guys that consistently don’t give effort on defense and sometimes freeze them out on offense, to make a point. I can see there being divisions among the players, if some feel there are double standards (which there certainly seems to be- still).

      I do agree on the pot smoking. Not that it, in itself, is a big deal. It’s just that if it’s an eventual “suspendable” offense, then it might be considered a big deal for management.

      I do find it ironic that he’s going to the Kings, though. Especially after they just signed Aaron Brooks. I know Trevor Ariza couldn’t stand playing with the guy, Marcus Thornton basically got run out of town by Monty Williams in New Orleans, Hassan Whiteside, DeMarcus COusins and Tyreke Evans all have maturity red flags. They should change their name to the Sacramento Headcases.

  4. James Johnson was suspended for two games and never got much court time after that.

    There was no doubt in the mind of anyone who really pays attention to the Raptors that Johnson was history after the season was over.

    Colangelo probably couldn’t get anymore for him then he did because of what led to the suspension.

    I consider the Raptors lucky to have gotten a second round pick for him.

    • Johnson wasn’t suspended, just benched. And Johnson struggled with his game when he returned, but was soon back to playing as many minutes as he did before, including the second last game of the season when he played 41 minutes and had his best game of the season.

      Since we don’t know exactly what led to the benching, it’s hard to say whether or not it is something that would bring his trade value down.

      Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that Colangelo turned a first round pick into a second round pick in a year and a half.

  5. Love, love this post. Tim, the depreciating threads of talent you nicely laid out say it all about the BC experience. I was excited when he arrived but move after move I became more and more underwhelmed. I thought he was the type who would think outside the box and understand that the way to build a team in this league was by creatively collecting/hoarding assets. All he’s done is buy high on players after career years and then sold low or given them away after they’ve failed. He’s been the antithesis of Alex A. (Jays) who’s been a master at taking chances on struggling talents and working the draft brilliantly.

    I have some hope for JV and Ross, and do like Lowry (though he’s buying high on him as well – everyone agrees that he’s talented, though the fact that other teams didn’t compete for his services worries me a bit), but all it’s taken to acquire them was being a bad team year after year. You actually think with as often as they’ve been in the lottery that we shouldn’t be stacked with talent. And don’t get me started on his record drafting in the second round, or in maneuvering in the draft….

    • @Chris

      I actually like most of the players on the current team. I just don’t think any of them have star potential. Valanciunas might, but unless the Raptors want a repeat of what happened with Bosh, they’ll need more than just one.


      I don’t think Tomislav is a diamond, but a Cubic Zubcinia!

  6. I do like the double-standard theory. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had words with Casey about/against BC in regards to other players.

    On a different thread, it never felt any kind of team was being built around Bosh at the time–even looking at it now, it always looks like the team was being built around players BC picked.

    On that note, anyone here believe that if Calderon never played for the Raptors/was on a different team, and if he was available, BC would be trying to sign him?

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