As the NBA season draws closer, news is beginning to surface involving the San Antonio Spurs' unfilled 15th roster spot. Most recently, Shams Charania of RealGM reported that former first-round pick, James Johnson will work out for the Spurs along with two other squads.
Last season, Johnson was a member of the Sacramento Kings, where he averaged a mere 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds in just over 16 minutes of action per night. Johnson, a classic case of an underachieving college stud, has played for three teams since being drafted in 2009. If the San Antonio front office is smart, they'll become No. 4 on that list, despite Johnson's unimpressive resume to date.
A product of Wake Forest, Johnson entered the league after his sophomore campaign with high expectations. He was drafted 16th overall by the Chicago Bulls, but was traded to the Toronto Raptors after failing to make an impact. A similar set of events brought him to Sacramento, where a final disappointing season sent him struggling to find a new job.
Though his past gives little indication that such a signing would be worthwhile, the Spurs could use depth at either forward position. Johnson, at 6'9'', 248 pounds, could fill the void.
San Antonio's second-round draft selection, DeShaun Thomas, appeared to be the favorite to make the final cut, but he recently accepted an offer to play overseas, leaving the roster spot available.
Johnson is naturally a small forward, but his size allows him to defend power forwards without trouble. At the moment, the Spurs backcourt is overflowing with depth. The same, however, cannot be said about the frontcourt.
Kawhi Leonard is the only true small forward on the roster, as the team is yet to find a replacement for Stephen Jackson, who they waived before the start of last year's playoffs. Currently, the tandem of Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli will accept the backup small forward duties, though neither plays the position naturally.
At power forward, a similar issue presents itself. While the collection of Matt Bonner and Jeff Pendergraph exists in the reserve pool, Pendergraph has yet to prove himself whereas Bonner's lack of athleticism has prevented him from excelling in the post.
Johnson—though a bit undersized—is athletic enough to garner playing time as a stretch 4. He'd provide added depth in case of injury, in addition to athleticism, youth, a 7'1'' wingspan and the ability to handle the ball. He'd also provide assistance at the 3, if Leonard should ever miss time—short term or extended.
In addition to providing depth, Johnson (26) adds another young body to the mix. If Gregg Popovich is able to work his wonders with another hopeless talent, then San Antonio could find themselves with a decent, low-cost addition for the future. While it may not seem likely, Danny Green was once in a similar situation, but after finding his niche in an offense that suited his talents, he was able to thrive.
Johnson, too, has a handful of talents and facets that make him an interesting player to ponder. However, even if he never develops into anything more than injury insurance, signing Johnson for the upcoming campaign would be in the Spurs' best interests.
Their current void is one that needs filling, and Johnson would fill it perfectly. It's a low-risk, high-reward move that would help in more ways than one. If the Spurs leave his workout somewhat impressed, they shouldn't hesitate to give him a call.
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