From all accounts, it seems that Johnson has been successfully acclimating to his new environment. By virtue of trading for Johnson it seems safe to assume that there was at least a scintilla of intrigue on behalf of the Suns. A glimmer of hope that he may shake off early career struggles and realize some of the potential that made him a high lottery pick. Likewise, it would adhere to logic that Johnson would welcome a fresh start in a new setting with this being a very important year for him to establish himself as a player in the league (and audition for his next contract).
Johnson has had his ups and downs this preseason. He actually played pretty well the first four games, reaching double figures in scoring in each game, before his role shrunk in the last three outings. His overall points, rebounds and efg% were actually above his career averages (per36) of 11.2, 4.2 and 47.0%. But it's the preseason and there's no way the Suns are making an important decision off of a minute sample size in meaningless games.
Despite the love-fest filled with obligatory platitudes issued from both sides, declining Johnson's team option shows sound judgment. In this situation it's a numbers game. First, Johnson's option amount of $5.4 million is ludicrous. To this point he hasn't shown he can even make a positive contribution to a team. His numbers have been meager and unspectacular. The Suns appear to have at least four players on their roster who will provide more bang for the buck. Why be a wastrel and overpay for the unproven commodity of Johnson when a player like Jared Dudley comes cheaper? Second, the Suns have cap implications to consider and giving Johnson that guaranteed money severely hinders their flexibility.
As the above graphic (courtesy of Dave King) reveals, the Suns are slated to have around $13 million in cap space next season. If the Suns had exercised Johnson's option it would have been closer to $7.5 million. The Suns are still working towards their goal of reaching the zenith of the NBA and competing for a championship and having enough cap room to sign a top flight player is a priority. Locking up money on an unproven Johnson doesn't facilitate that goal.
So where does that leave the Suns, Wes Johnson and their mutual affection? Here are some possible scenarios:
1. Johnson continues on his previous career trajectory. No thanks. Good luck Wes.
2. Johnson solidifies himself as a solid contributor off the bench. The Suns entertain bringing him back at a reduced rate.
3. Johnson wildly exceeds expectations (very remotely possible) and the Suns have a more difficult decision to make. With Johnson being an unrestricted free agent he wouldn't come as economically in this
4. The Suns trade Johnson's expiring contract before the trade deadline.
With either 1, 2 or 3 the Suns will have Johnson's cap hold to deal with this summer. They may have to make their decision quickly, or ahead of time, in order to maintain maximum maneuverability next summer. So while they both love each other now, both sides (especially the Suns) will have important decisions to make between now and July 1, 2013.
The good news is that no matter what they decide I will still love peanut butter cups.
Both teams are entering the season with new optimism. The Phoenix Suns have basically started over, rebooting their hopes and dreams with a new starting point guard and small forward to replace you-know-who and you-know-who-else. In addition, there's a new starting power forward to replace the enlarged-hearted incumbent.
Beginning tonight, the Suns will trot out an Opening Night starting point guard with boring hair for the first time in nine years.
For the first time in just as many years, the offense's production will be unpredictable.
Goran Dragic will run the point for the Suns, while Michael Beasley takes over the starting small forward position. At power forward, Luis Scola takes over for the injured Channing Frye. Only Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley return from last year's opening night lineup that lost to the eventual winner of the #1 over draft pick, New Orleans Hornets.
Oh yeah, remember that night? The Suns coulda won that game, but the Hornets scrapped and clawed and eventually pulled out the victory on the wings of a last-second miss by Jared Dudley. The game was painful to watch. Despite the Suns returning all their starters from a strong finish the prior season, they looked lethargic and unsure of their bearings. Sure, players were out of shape from the lockout, but it's not like the Hornets had any more time to prepare for the season than the Suns.
Let's hope that general malaise does not return this season.
Tonight, the Suns face the open-and-down Warriors, who defeated the Suns handily in Cali last week to the tune of a 15-point win. Were the Suns playing possum? Yes, of course they were! (say Suns fans).
Check out a Q n A I did with Nate at Golden State of Mind for more details on the Warriors.
The season is upon us, folks!
Let's get to it!
Questions from Dave/BSotS. Answers from Nate/GSOM
Nate: Curry is expected to play Wednesday and beyond that I simply can't say right now what his future looks like. Though there are varying feelings about his ankle among Warriors fans, I'm still holding my breath with nearly every step he takes - yes, his last tweak in Portland was more of a random freak accident, but when these things keep happening it's hard for it not to be in the back of your mind. In terms of locking him up for the future, what complicates things is that the team as it stands now is simply not very good without him on the floor - so the question of whether we should keep him around really comes down to whether we're willing to wait yet another few years to even have hope of competing for the playoffs. It's a tough pill to swallow.
Nate: We got great news the other day with the Warriors announcing that Bogut practiced, but given that he hasn't been able to play 5 on 5 basketball in a long time the other question is how much he would play even if he did take the floor on Wednesday. I would love to see him get some run off the bench in the 15-20 minute range for the opener and just rely more heavily on rookie center Festus Ezeli or other frontcourt combinations while Bogut gets into game shape.
Nate: Regardless of what any of us think about Mark Jackson as a coach, coaching has to be the biggest "concern" in the sense that he's still an inexperienced coach who has been tasked with bringing together a team with some uncertainty (Bogut & Curry injuries; will Andris Biedrins ever wake up again?) and some new pieces to integrate (the rookies as well as free agents Carl Landry & Jarrett Jack). Bringing together a unit like that is a tough task for any coach, much less one with less than a full NBA season of coaching experience in his life. So it's really hard to talk about any of the other areas - defense would otherwise sit atop my list of concerns - without starting with how the coaching staff is going to bring this unit together.
Nate: Well, obviously scoring - at full strength, this team will have no problem scoring, scoring often, and - with the number of 3-point shooters they have - scoring efficiently. Even post-Monta Ellis trade and pre-tank mode last season the team showed the ability to score with less talent, led by Klay Thompson's steady improvement over the course of his rookie year. The prospect of having two big men who can score and pass surrounded by shooters - Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Rush - is really exciting. But again, it comes down to a) health and b) how well the coaching staff can maximize the possibilities of this roster.
Nate: You could go a few ways with the answer to that question, but I think one thing that has really stood out for me is Harrison Barnes' improvement since his last game at UNC to summer league to the preseason - it has been quite impressive. He's improved in almost every aspect of the game on both ends of the floor and that's why he was named the starter. If I were to sum it up quickly, I'd probably say that the most noticeable improvement is that he's more patient with the ball in his hands and I think that allows him to complement the guys around him much better than the otherwise would. But the bottom line is that I'm much more excited about Barnes' potential now than I was on draft day just because he's obviously someone who's constantly working to improve his game.
Nate: This might be the best Warriors frontcourt at least since the Chris Webber year and you could easily go back further than that. And by that I mean that a full post rotation actually exists. Obviously the strength of the frontcourt depends heavily on Bogut's health, but Ezeli is looking like a steal at 30th pick in the draft, you know what you're getting from David Lee, and Carl Landry is a solid addition off the bench. Anything the Warriors get from the likes of Biedrins, Draymond Green, or Jeremy Tyler would be a bonus; last year, Biedrins and Tyler earned starts at various times. Don't get me wrong, even with Bogut available this frontcourt has its share of deficiencies, but the point is that this franchise hasn't had a frontcourt anywhere near this strong in some Warriors fans' lifetimes. That's something tangible to believe in.
Nate: Hmmm, a road game against a team that is expected to be close to us in the division...I'm hoping for a win, as always, but coming into this expecting a loss, unfortunately. We have a rookie starting at small forward and can't be sure what the frontcourt rotation will look like until they hit the floor. Again, there's just a lot of adjusting going on and no matter what we think of the Suns it'll be tough to win given the circumstances. I'm just looking forward to seeing the whole roster in action and getting a glimpse of what could be, to be honest.
It's the time folks. Roll up your sleeves and prepare for a season of remote controlling your way through 82 games. You've had a few preseason games to work your fingers into shape. You've had all offseason to work off that extra beer and pizza weight from last season (ha! as if you worked out!!!) and now it's time.
4pm PT / 7pm ET Wizards vs Cavs on NBALP (free for two weeks!)
This game might not excite you based on the teams but at least it features a couple of young...oh, hell, it's the first game so just watch!
5pm PT / 8pm ET Boston vs Miami on TNT
These two teams hate each other. Will KG eat LeBron? Will Rondo punch Ray Allen in the nuts? Anything is possible...it's the NBA!!
7:30pm PT / 10:30pm ET LA Lakers vs Dallas on TNT
Admit it, you want to see Steve Nash play his first game as a Laker. You might not want to watch, but you have to watch. So watch.
Let's get ready to rumble!