LAS VEGAS - Monday’s dismissal of James Johnson by the Toronto Raptors spoke volumes.
While general manager Bryan Colangelo still makes the ultimate calls, head coach Dwane Casey clearly has a hand on the rudder of the good ship Raptors as well.
Casey could not get through to Johnson about his role and that, along with the arrival of rookie Terrence Ross and free agent Landry Fields, meant it was time for Johnson to go.
Johnson was shipped to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for a 2014 second-round pick.
The Raptors took a flyer on Johnson, drafted 16th overall by Chicago in 2009, and he posted some impressive numbers — 9.1 points, 4.7 rebounds per game last season and the team lead in blocks.
However, the combo forward had a tendency to try to do too much at both ends of the floor and struggled at times with consistency.
The Raptors and Johnson did not see eye-to-eye over his role and at one point last season Johnson was benched by Casey for a pair of games after an undisclosed indiscretion, though the coach insisted that was not the reason he was moved.
“We had our moments like you’re always going to do,” Casey said. “All the great athletes, it doesn’t bother me whatsoever, but we just had a glut of wings. James would not have been happy in that situation, competing for those minutes from the start.
“He’s going to be a good athlete and a good player for Sacramento, they’re getting a good man, a good player and a warrior.”
Now former teammate Ed Davis agreed.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary for a player and coach to get into it,” Davis said. “Coach is competitive, JJ’s competitive, we want to win, so you’re going to butt heads. Everybody’s not going to get along.”
If Johnson wasn’t always content with his place last season, it was only going to become more problematic with more offensive talent on board.
“Nobody’s going to be satisfied (with their role in the NBA), but with five guys, it’s too difficult to get those minutes and we need shooting. James gives us everything else,” Casey said.
Johnson is owed $2.8 million US for the 2012-13 season and will become a restricted free agent next summer when he would likely be seeking a long-term deal.
It was time to go in a different direction.
The Toronto Sun first reported on Sunday evening that the team was close to a deal to move the forward and ESPN later reported that he would head to the Kings for the pick.
Colangelo had alluded to the move on Sunday, saying it would: “Free up some additional flexibility, both financially and with respect to the new makeup and composition of our team in terms of playing time.”
Fields and combo forward Linas Kleiza space the floor better for the Raptors and are more dependable offensive players, while Fields is more consistent defensively, if not nearly as spectacular.
Young Ross will see some minutes at small forward at times and Casey already deemed him the club’s best wing shooter.
The 25-year-old Johnson was originally acquired by Toronto for a late first-round pick. Chicago dealt it to Miami and the Heat made a wise pick, grabbing guard Norris Cole who has cracked the NBA title-winning squad’s rotation at times.
However, early second-rounders like the one Sacramento presumably would be giving up (the team has hovered near the bottom of the league’s standings for years) have similar value to late first rounders like the one Toronto traded to get Johnson in the first place because they don’t come with guaranteed multi-year contracts.
But Davis believes Johnson will make his mark in the league.
“I’ve been here for three years and I had a lot of teammates but me and JJ were close. I knew him since college (both played in North Carolina at different schools). It’s like a family in a sense like losing a brother, but that’s what’s best for JJ,” Davis said, adding that Johnson “is a starter in this league.”
But not on the Raptors and Davis also admitted Colangelo “knows what he’s doing.”
And so does Casey, who supported the drafting of Jonas Valanciunas a year ago even though he was new to the organization and was a big backer of the Ross and Quincy Acy selections this summer, as well as the signing of Fields.
He has a vision of what he wants his team to look like and slowly but surely, with Colangelo in agreement, that squad is starting to take shape.
Not yet a finished product, but inching closer.
RAPS LOOKING FOR HELP, EVEN IF CALDERON STILL AROUND
James Johnson is the latest player to exit, but the Raptors are not yet done tweaking the roster.
The team is looking for depth at point guard, regardless of whether backup Jose Calderon is moved. Ben Uzoh, who had a lead on the third-string spot, has struggled at summer league so far, and though general manager Bryan Colangelo said the right offers have not yet come in for Calderon, if the Spaniard is moved, the team will need a capable backup for Kyle Lowry.
The free agent market is extremely thin at the position with intriguing former Chicago Bulls backup C.J. Watson choosing Brooklyn over other teams, including the Raptors.
Prized rookie Jonas Valanciunas will be signed later this week and his buyout will be completed, according to team sources.
Second-round pick Quincy Acy inked his deal Monday.
Acy was held out of the summer league game against Dallas though because of a back contusion suffered in a fall during Sunday’s game.
Meanwhile, free agent signees Landy Fields and Lowry will meet local media in Toronto on Tuesday.