There were low, almost conspiratorial whispers floating around. They could just bring James Johnson back, they said. The Raptors still need a power forward of a type, a veteran presence, a live body to fill out the back half of their roster, they figured. Why not, they reasoned. As the off-season has unfolded for Toronto, Johnson's name hasn't quite been on the tip of people's tongue, but now he's signed a deal with the Miami Heat, and that whisper on the wind is gone.
As reported, stumblingly, by ESPN's Marc Stein, Johnson has left Toronto:
James Johnson lands a one-year, $4 million deal deal with , according to league sources— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 10, 2016
In effect, Johnson got a modest raise after his two years in Toronto making $2.5 million each year. It proves Johnson still has some utility -- as an adaptable forward, as a ball handler and playmaker, as an (under-reported) good locker room guy. Still, not bad for a player whose numbers took a dip to 5.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists; also not bad for a dude whose sense of elan seemed to leak out of him as the season wore on. Or, yes, OK, maybe I'm projecting.
As some of you know, I had something of a thing going with James Johnson. Not an actual thing, mind you. He probably would not be able to point me out in a lineup. I only spoke to him a few times in the two years he was on the team. But I did write about him. A lot. And while I'm at something of a loss to explain what exactly I was doing with the James Johnson Watch, I like to think it stands as a singular testament to a unique basketball player and person. I still don't know what makes Johnson tick, but then again: do we really ever know anybody?
Johnson's time on the Raptors never quite ascended to the heights we (and presumably he) hoped for. He was supposed to be a solution to a problem, but Johnson was far to much of a riddle himself for that. When I asked him what he thought of his last season with the Raptors, the Game 6 defeat to Cleveland still hanging in the air, he said: "What I did in the little span I got when somebody went down and I filled in for them, I thought I did OK."
What else can you say? Goodbye, James. And good luck.