Amir ready to 'blossom'

Amir Johnson addresses the media as the Toronto Raptors announced he had been re-signed for 5 yrs...

Amir Johnson addresses the media as the Toronto Raptors announced he had been re-signed for 5 yrs at a reported $34 million. (Mark O'Neill/QMI AGENCY)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:22 AM ET

When he arrived in Toronto to sign his breakthrough contract, Amir Johnson wore a smile on his face.

When he addressed the media, Johnson couldnt wipe the smile off his face.

Im happy and Ive been smiling all day, Johnson said on Thursday, when his free-agent deal was officially signed, a sign of the changing times in Raptorland.

Ive been given a very great opportunity. For five years, Ive been playing on potential. Now, this is a big step for me and Im ready.

The Raptors hope Johnson is ready, committing roughly $34 million US over five years, a sum that may turn out to be a bargain if he continues to improve.

Johnson is not the type to ever take a day off, be it in a game situation or in practice.

He earns everything he gets by working hard and by leaving everything out on the floor.

Johnsons first year in Toronto raised eyebrows, getting minutes when Reggie Evans suffered his foot injury and earning plenty of praise when Johnson replaced an injured Chris Bosh late in the season.

Torontos investment in Johnson should tell everyone that the team envisions him playing alongside Andrea Bargnani in the starting frontcourt, which may or not include Hedo Turkoglu.

Johnson complemented Bargnani well because of his ability to rebound and defend.

Overlooked during last seasons late-season losing was how much growth Johnson showed when the ball made its way into his hands, how much more confident he was when heaving a mid-range shot.

Hes far from being a complete package, but Johnson has made strides and you know hell always work hard to get better.

Prior to signing his contract, Johnson used his Twitter account to keep touch with fans in Toronto.

I know the fans have got my back, he said. Ive been tweeting every now and then, but this is exciting. Im ready to make something happen.

Down that road

With Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi, whose rookie contract became official on the same day Johnson signed his deal, in the Raptors fold, the team will be younger, more athletic but more prone to making mistakes.

Johnson has been down that road before, becoming the last high school prospect to go straight into the NBA, but he welcomes the challenge of being a mentor.

Im going to lead by the only way I know, Johnson said. And thats to work hard every day and show my work ethic.

Even though hell take Boshs starting role, Johnson is not capable posting consistent 20-point nights, but he can average 10 rebounds.

For now, scoring will be a bonus.

Johnson will go off for the occasional game in certain matchups, but the Raptors need him to run the floor, defend the post and retrieve misses.

We feel like were getting Amir right as hes about to take off, enthused general manager Bryan Colangelo. Amir will end up playing 15 to 18 years in this league, but right now he is ready to blossom.

Hes talented, plays with energy and enthusiasm and is always willing to work.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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