Raps' James Johnson waiting for the call
Begin with this premise: Dwane Casey has nothing against James Johnson.
And apparently, Johnson has nothing against his coach.
That’s what everybody is saying right now.
There is no feud. There is nothing personal here. There is no frustration. That’s the spin or the truth, or one of the above.
This is a basketball issue and a coaching issue and one game into the Raptors playoff series with the Washington Wizards, there has been no place for a shutdown defender, brought to Toronto because, ostensibly, they didn’t have a shutdown defender.
“It’s not a backup quarterback controversy,” said Casey. “James has been in this role the whole year. Again, there’s going to be a time and place for him in the playoffs.”
The questions, as always, are why and when?
Johnson says he isn’t asking for any kind of answer. He says he trusts Casey to do what’s right for the team. He says he has never had a coach he got along with as well as this one, including this one the first time around as a Raptor.
Johnson isn’t asking for any kind of definitive answer. Fans are. On Saturday afternoon at a very loud Air Canada Centre, fans in the building chanted for Johnson. Fans outside the building chanted for him. The phone-in screamers on post-game radio demanded to know what Casey had against Johnson.
The Raptors were having trouble with Paul Pierce, which is nothing new. The Raps were having trouble on the boards, which is nothing new. So who can defend and who can rebound?
The dynamic man with the dyed bright red hair.
Only he never got the call.
Johnson heard the fans and appreciates their sentiment.
“I love our fans. They gave me a warm spot in my heart. I got chills, man,” he said.
Casey, also, appreciates the sentiment, but says he didn’t hear them on Saturday.
“I love our fans,” Casey repeated. “But I can’t put Landry (Fields) in the game just because they ask for it. If I go with every one of those (calls), I’m going to be up and down.”
Casey then told the story of a game earlier this season in which the crowd was quieter and he could hear the shouting. Fans were calling for rookie Bruno Caboclo to play. He looked down the bench and saw Caboclo, dressed in rather fancy street clothes.
“I wanted to turn around and yell ‘I can’t put Bruno in.’ He wanted to but was smart enough to know Marv Levy’s famous line: “If I listen to the fans, soon I’ll be sitting with them.”
Right now, Casey will do his own sitting on the bench, and mostly standing, not far from Johnson, who has kept whatever disappointment he has to himself. A few years ago Johnson would have exploded by now. A few years ago, he wasn’t a father, wasn’t 28 years old, was far more emotional and erratic and less settled.
“Maybe in my younger years, but now I’m more mature,” said Johnson, asked how he would have reacted to his DNP (coaches decision) for Game 1 against the Wizards.
“We’re a team. I’m supporting my guys regardless how things are. If I play two minutes, if I play 20 minutes ... I just have to be a man about it.”
So far, he hasn’t played any minutes. He didn’t step on the court in Game 1. Casey says it’s all about matchups and that presents something of a problem for Johnson.
The Raptors need him to play power forward more often than small forward.
He can play that role defensively, but not necessarily offensively.
Johnson is caught in between positions on a team he can’t seem to find a fit with.
The backcourt and small forward spot has Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez and Terrence Ross ahead of him (why Ross is ahead of anyone is another matter for another day.) The front court has Jonas Valanciunas, Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson — all ahead of Johnson.
So how and where does Johnson play — and ahead of whom?
“Dwane is going to stick to his principles,” said Johnson. “I’m going to keep doing my work, keep coming here at night time, doing everything I’m doing, preparing myself just in case.”
He says that knowing full well his contract is up at the end of next season, his future in the NBA is forever in question.
“We understand what we’re doing,” said Casey.
“It’s not me being stubborn. It’s a collective decision of our staff.”
And time and this series will determine if his decision is the right one.