In their first-round match up against the Brooklyn Nets, the Toronto Raptors were reminded of the importance of having a lockdown wing defender. On Tuesday afternoon, they added an athletic stopper with the signing of former Raptor James Johnson.
“We are happy to have James return to our club, Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri said. “He provides us with size at small forward and gives us additional depth up front.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward, started last season playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League before being signed by the Memphis Grizzlies in December. In 52 games with the Grizzlies, Johnson averaged 18.4 minutes and 7.4 points per game.
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During Johnson’s first stint with Toronto the team was still creating its identity. This time around, Johnson comes to a Raptors team fresh off its first postseason experience in five years. Along with growth comes clearly defined roles.
“They’re a solid foundation already,” Johnson said. “They already went to the playoffs. They had a successful end of the year. You don’t want to mess that up. You have teammates [here] that know what I can do and know I can help. [They] know I can blend in with the team well, gel with the team, they don’t have to worry about any problems with that. All I want to do is win. I’m about winning. I feel like these guys know that.”
Johnson feels he has matured since his last stint in Toronto and now understands the importance of playing within the role assigned to him when it comes to playing winning basketball. Whatever is asked of him, he said he’s willing to do it.
“Playing defence, being an opportunity scorer, just doing the little things,” he said. “Every day, practice hard and try to get our guys to the next level with team defence. I’m just more mature about my game. Im doing the little things, finding my niche nowadays. Getting opportunity to score when I can and if not, don’t worry about the offensive end.”
Although he was in Memphis for last year’s postseason, Johnson still found time to catch Toronto’s first-round series against the Nets. He was impressed with what he saw.
“It’s just a winning environment,” Johnson said. “You could tell, the games I caught in the playoffs, having fans all in the street watching on the big screen when they were in Brooklyn playing. It’s a testament to how much the country stayed behind them and how much these guys on this team want to win.”
Aware that his role with the Raptors will have him guarding the league’s best and brightest each night, Johnson sounds up to the task.
“I’m going to accept the challenge regardless of what the name on the back of the jersey is,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s basketball. We’re at the same level and no one is going to feel sorry for our team and we’re not going to feel sorry for another team.
“If coach puts me on a guy I’m going to take the challenge.”