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NBA Free Agency Rumour: Interest in Amir Johnson?

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Here’s a fun little news item involving nostalgia, the Toronto Raptors, and one of your favourite players.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Amir Johnson, who once signed a five-year contract with the Toronto Raptors that appeared to make him grossly overpaid, is a free agent once again. The Boston Celtics, for whom Johnson plied his skills the past two seasons, will likely let the 30-year-old forward go. And would you believe it: the Raptors could be interested.

That’s what the Sporting News is reporting anyway. Sean Deveney, citing “multiple league sources,” writes that there is “mutual interest in getting Johnson back onto the Raptors’ roster this summer.” While I’m not one to dispute (multiple!) league sources, I remain somewhat unconvinced.

For the past two seasons, Johnson’s role in Boston has gradually shrunk. He averaged 20.1 minutes per game last season in which he put up 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds while gamely attempting almost one three per game (0.8). All of Amir’s numbers are declining along with his minutes load, and he’s now been in the league a whopping 12 seasons (he was one of the last players to make it to the NBA straight out of high school). Johnson’s best days are clearly behind him, is my point.

But then again, there’s something sentimental to consider here. Off the top I mentioned that large five year, $30 million contract because at the time it really did feel like then-Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo had just saddled Toronto with another aspirant player — not a guy who was actually good, but one we all hoped would be eventually, one day. This happened a lot back in those heady days of 2010 or so.

Except, somewhere during the run of that contract, Amir became just that: actually good. He toiled on bad teams, always providing what the Raptors needed — stout interior defense, a presence on the perimeter, an ungainly but effective touch around the basket, and even some outside shooting. The last year or so of Amir’s run with the Raptors was marred by injury, but he laboured away regardless. There weren’t a ton of bright spots in the Raptors-Wizards sweep of 2015, but Johnson putting up 18 and 12 in Game 1 on one good leg is a hard thing to forget.

The Raptors have to answer a ton of questions about their own existing stock of free agents before addressing others out there. Masai Ujiri has to figure out what to do with Kyle Lowry, then Serge Ibaka, and then P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson. Some of these decisions are obvious, others are not. He’s also got a trio of young forward-centre types (Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam) who could presumably fill (or grow into) the role Johnson once claimed as his own. The need at power forward and centre is not as obvious in Toronto as it once was.

Still, while it feels unlikely Amir will re-sign with the Raptors — nostalgia does not overpower cold business sense — it is also unlikely he’ll command the $12 million salary he did these past two years. Maybe, with changes to the roster coming, and a potential need for a veteran at the right price, Toronto can bring back one of the most popular Raptors of all time.

What do you guys think of a possible Amir Johnson return?