In news so unremarkable we didn’t even notice it until almost 24 hours later, Raptors forward Stanley Johnson has indeed exercised his $3.8 million player option to return to Toronto for the 2020-21 season.
The source for this information appears to be the Athletic’s Blake Murphy, but it was also a foregone conclusion that Johnson would be back in Toronto for this coming year — however it ultimately played out.
Stanley Johnson has exercised his player option for 2020-21. Least surprising move of the offseason.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 16, 2020
Now as a 23-year-old forward, listed at 6’6” and 242 pounds, Johnson has long had the physical tools to be an effective player in the modern NBA. That was likely the initial thinking behind his selection in the eighth slot of the 2015 NBA Draft by the Pistons. Here’s a player with strength and speed, they thought, along with a nascent ball-handling ability to pair with obvious defensive chops. Viewed through that lens, Johnson’s appearance in the NBA makes sense.
Unfortunately, through five seasons (and three teams) in the league, it has not gone that way for Johnson. As part of the 2019-20 defending champion Raptors, Johnson appeared in just 25 games, averaging 6.0 minutes a night, while posting averages of 2.4 points, 0.8 assists (against 0.6 turnovers), and 1.5 rebounds. During that time, he also spent a bit of time with the Raptors 905 in the G League in an attempt to tune his game into something useable for Toronto. Setting aside the last two games of the very long 2019-20 season — featuring Johnson’s game-winning bucket against Philadelphia and a team-leading 23-point, 6-assist, 4-rebound explosion against Denver — it was not at all a memorable year for young Stanley.
All of which makes his eventual contract workout all the more logical. As you’ll recall, both he and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were signed by the Raptors in the wake of Kawhi Leonard’s departure. And while neither of them could ever fill those shoes, both were still young — albeit flawed — players with something to prove. Ironically, Hollis-Jefferson was nabbed on a one-year deal and then spent much of 2020 playing his way into a better contract situation for the coming season. Johnson, sadly, went the other way, so much so that his $3.8 million option year was clearly the best deal he was going to get from any other team in the NBA.
So, Johnson remains with the Raptors — for now. Will that lump of salary become contract ballast for some future deal? It’s possible. Or maybe the Raptors will manage to shape Johnson just enough to form a usable player. Say what you will about his on-court ability, he seems like a good guy all-around and a dedicated worker. That’s not nothing. But it also leads me to conclude that what seems most likely right now is also the most boring and unremarkable outcome: Johnson spends the year in Toronto, underachieves, and then disappears from the team. Those are the breaks sometimes.