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NBA center Amir Johnson former Pistons Raptors Celtics

Former Raptors Big Amir Johnson Gets Paid Again

No one in Toronto blamed Raptors fan favorite Amir Johnson for taking $24 million from the Boston Celtics two years ago and the popular big man has found himself another big pay day this summer. The Philadelphia 76ers have used some of their excess cap space to give Johnson another $11 million for next season.

Johnson saw his minutes decline in Boston last season to average just 20.1 while his production dropped to 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds. However, the 30-year-old is known as a great teammate, community ambassador and willing mentor, so he should fit in well on a very young 76ers team.

76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo had traded for Johnson in 2009 when he ran the show in Toronto. Johnson has played for the Pistons, Raptors and Celtics.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Sullinger Olynyk Amir Johnson

Why Celtics And Raptors Should Be Trade Partners

It would be mutually beneficial if these two division rivals could sit down and complete a couple of trades over the next few days.

The Boston Celtics committed to the Toronto Raptors free agent power forward Amir Johnson and then they traded for the Warriors veteran power forward David Lee dropping last season’s starting power forward Jared Sullinger and one-time starting center Kelly Olynyk to no better than fourth and fifth on the team’s big men depth chart this October.

As pointed out by Basketball Insiders, there’s at least one obvious must do deal here.

If the Celtics can work a sign and trade for Johnson via the Rajon Rondo trade exception, with a non-guaranteed third season, the team would be able to stay over the cap and keep their numerous trade exceptions and Mid-Level Exception.

In order to sign Johnson as a free agent in a couple of days, the Celtics would have to renounce their various exceptions including the very useful traded player exceptions from Rondo ($12.9 million) and Tayshaun Prince ($7.7 million). By using the Rondo trade exception to acquire Johnson from Toronto, Boston gets to hang onto the Prince exception, their other smaller traded player exceptions and their MLE. As the Celtics are starting to look like a playoff threat again this year, those exceptions could prove especially valuable.

The incentive for the Raptors to participate is an $11.75 million traded player exception for Johnson that could be just what they need to acquire another impact player this season. This looks like an easy win-win.

The Celtics big man situation could provide a separate opportunity.

Sullinger has been a thorn in the side of the Raptors averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds over 4 games against Toronto two seasons ago and 12 points and 9 rebounds over 4 games last year. When a young player takes advantage of your team, GMs tend to notice. The only knocks on Sullinger are his injury history and an admitted need to lose weight this summer.

Olynyk is Canadian, a stretch-four/five and just entering his third NBA season. He would be an enticing prospect to develop under the Raptors banner in Toronto.

What the Celtics could expect to get back for a player(s) they’ve bumped to the back of their rotation is to be determined, but it can’t be too much or they’d still be starting. Toronto, on the other hand, could use the depth at the big man spot coming off the bench.

While Boston would probably prefer to not potentially be helping out the Raptors, this is one of those situations where both teams can get what they want. If a call hasn’t been made already, someone is dropping the ball.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Amir Johnson and DeMarre Carroll

The Remake Of The Toronto Raptors Has Begun

By Frank McLean

July 1st, 2015 will be remembered as the day the remake of the Toronto Raptors began. It was a day of addition and subtraction. The addition is forward DeMarre Carroll from the Atlanta Hawks.

Carroll is a surprise addition in that the word on the street was that the Raptors were setting their sights on LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers. But Carroll was someone who definitely fits the criteria of this Raptors rebuild to improve defense.

Thought of as one of the NBA’s best defenders on the perimeter, Carroll is also dangerous from 3-point territory hitting on 39.5 % of his shots behind the arch. He gives the team toughness at the small forward position.

The Carroll signing fits the improve defense theme of draft night too as the clubs first round pick of a both-ends-of-the-court point guard Delon Wright of Utah and second round pick of Norman Powell of UCLA fit the bill.

Carroll was arguably the Atlanta Hawks best performer in this past spring’s playoffs. He had 7-games of 20-or-more points and 5 games of 8-or-more rebounds. Unfortunately he injured his knee in the first game of the Eastern Conference Final versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, which affected his shooting ability and pretty well contributed the Hawks demise.

If the Raptors had him this year, you know they would not have bowed out 4-straight to the Washington Wizards.

Carroll does not come cheap. USA Today confirmed with one of their league sources that the deal is worth 4-year 60-million dollars and that would make the Carroll contract the most expensive free agent contract in Raptors history. (NBA rules state that any free agent signings cannot be made official until midnight on July 9th.)

The subtraction is that of forward Amir Johnson.

Reports Monday afternoon had Johnson inking a 2-year deal for 24-million dollars with the Boston Celtics. That’s not bad for a player who has been playing hurt with bad ankles the last couple of seasons and struggles to stay healthy enough to play 60-games a season.

In his 6-seasons in Toronto he became one of the city’s all time fan favorites in any of the major pro sports teams. A friend of mine who just moved to Toronto this past year and is a big basketball fan asked me what the big deal is with Johnson and why do the fans love him. I told my friend that Toronto fans love the underdog over the superstars, the guy with limited abilities and a big heart.

When it came to hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs no one was bigger than Tie Domi when it came to being a fan favorite. His limited hockey skills were made up with his David versus Goliath attitude and when the few times he actually put the puck in the net you would have thought the Leafs won the Stanley Cup.

Raptors fans knew how much pain Johnson played in with the bad ankles. When he made a big rebound and slam dunk they knew that it didn’t come easy and the roar of the crowd was always a little louder than others. That’s why they loved him.

Johnson was a guy who never turned down an autograph request from a fan. For us in the media he always had time for us even if we had a dumb question.

He loved the fact the Toronto was one of the safer places you could live in compared to most big cities in the United States. With a young family that was most important. He actually told us media hounds one night in a postgame scrum that his all-time favorite store to shop in was Canadian Tire.

“There’s nothing like that in the States” Johnson said.

He became one of us, because when you talk to Raptors fans they are still bitter the way Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady couldn’t leave Toronto fast enough thinking the grass was greener playing with a US based team. That’s why they loved him.

It was tough decision for GM Masai Ujiri to let him go. Not only did the fans love Johnson, but there was not one employee of the Toronto Raptors that has a bad word to say about him.

But Ujiri could not let his heart stand in the way of making this basketball team better. He hinted that days before the draft when he brought up being swept in the first round of the playoffs meant changes were coming. This is why GMs are paid big bucks to make the tough decisions. He needed younger healthier players, cue DeMarre Carroll.

Ujiri is familiar with Carroll and knows what he’s getting. When Ujiri was running the Denver Nuggets he once brought him in as a training camp invitee. Although he had waive him later during the season, GMs have long memories and his body of work in Atlanta makes him a fit for this Raptors team.

Meanwhile in Boston, Celtics GM Danny Ainge and Coach Brad Stevens get a veteran player in Johnson who will be an extra coach to guide a very young club to next level. He will be a mentor to a young team about the ways of life in the NBA, the same way Kevin Garnett was at one time for Doc Rivers when he was the coach. Just don’t expect him to be a bully like Garnett, there will always be a hug with every tough love lecture from Johnson.

He won’t have to start games. All the Celtics should want from him is to come off the bench and give the starters a break. That will help with the wear and tear on a bum ankle.

So the remake has begun in Raptorsland. The team right now has just-under 8 million dollars left in cap space. If they can make a minor trade they just might be able to get it to around 10-million.

The Raptors are a better team now than they were the night the Washington Wizards ended their season. There is still more to be done in this rebuild and it will be fun to watch.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

Amir Johnson closeupAmir Johnson Wants To Re-Sign With The Toronto Raptors

“I would love to come back,” Johnson said. “My daughter was born and raised here so I would love to stay just because my family is here, but we’ll see what happens at the end of the season. Family is always the key to everybody’s moves. You do what is best for your family. Family is everything.”

 

NBA center Amir Johnson former Pistons Raptors Celtics

Raptors Fan Favorite Amir Johnson Joins The Celtics

Amir Johnson will be missed in Toronto. He wasn’t always a star on the court, but he was bigger than life and more generous than expected with the Raptors fans over his six seasons there.

An unrestricted free agent who said he would like to return, but didn’t realistically expect to be back, Johnson agreed to a two-year $24 million deal with the Celtics.

 


Johnson gave his all in Toronto, often playing through injuries and doing it with a smile for the media and the fans alike. Boston has themselves a true character-guy, someone they will be proud to have represent their city.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Amir Johnson warmups Paul Saini Fylmm

Amir Johnson Wants To Re-Sign With The Toronto Raptors

In his sixth season in Toronto, Amir Johnson is about to become an unrestricted free agent for the second time in his NBA career and he has strong personal reasons for wanting to re-sign with the Raptors. Toronto has become home for his family and family is everything to him.

“I would love to come back,” Johnson said. “My daughter was born and raised here so I would love to stay just because my family is here, but we’ll see what happens at the end of the season.

“Family is always the key to everybody’s moves. You do what is best for your family. Family is everything.”

Johnson has embraced his adopted city in ways few professional athletes do. Johnson does the usual charity work and mandated public appearances, but he also attends many unrelated local events and embraces activities in Toronto that set him apart – activities like full on participation in the local Zombie Walk.

Sometimes he just buys every Drake CD he can get has hands on and gives them out to anyone following him close enough on social media to know what he’s up to.

Johnson gets out there in the community with his fans. Where some athletes say they appreciate their fans support, Johnson rewards that support with a tangible show of love to a big group of devoted followers every season. ‘I Roll With Amir’ has become a major event Johnson promotes via social media where lucky fans get a chance to win tickets to a Raptors game followed by dinner (and a show) afterwards.

This year Johnson has invited 50 lucky fans to the Raptors second last home game of the season followed by dinner at Benihana Japanese Steakhouse.

Johnson is more than just a huge goodwill ambassador for the team, he has also been a key part of the Raptors starting lineup at power forward over the past two winning seasons. While he doesn’t have a huge stat line, Johnson has Head coach Dwane Casey’s confidence and has often been the go-to- center in the fourth quarter.

Johnson plays hard, plays through injuries and is reliable. Casey knows what he is getting with his young veteran big man in the game. So the question becomes, why didn’t the Raptors offer Johnson an extension? It’s not like they were going to have to break the bank to keep him.

“(An extension,) that’s really not up to (me), that’s the people in the front office,” Johnson said. “Really never talked about any of that you know because we’ve been so focused on the season and we still are. So whatever the guys in the front office do, we’ll see what happens.”

The time for doing an extension has passed and the focus should be on the here and now, but it is somewhat of a surprise Johnson never really talked about it. DeMar DeRozan and Johnson are the two longest serving players on the Raptors and are like the foundation the team was build on. This tight knit group just wouldn’t be the same if Johnson was no longer around next season.

“I never really worried about free agency,” Johnson said. “I’ve never really worried about it throughout my career. Right now I’m just focused on these games and the playoffs.

“I don’t know (if I’ll be back). We got to wait and see. Just got to wait.”

Johnson has developed into one of those young veteran players coaches want to have around. He works hard, plays hard, has fun at the right time and is an excellent example for younger teammates to follow. He also defies the stereotype that says American players don’t want to sign or re-sign in Toronto and his legions of loyal local fans definitely want him back.

Rolling with Amir has been good for Toronto.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com

 

 

TOR Nogueira and Amir Johnson

Raptors Amir Johnson Says Lucas Nogueira Will Do Damage

The Toronto Raptors rookie center Lucas ‘Bebe’ Nogueira hasn’t seen much time in the NBA, but with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA D-League recently, the 22-year-old from Brazil has been showing off his natural abilities and the results have been impressive.

Over his first three games Nogueira has averaged a double-double 11 points and 13 rebounds in 25.7 minutes plus 2.7 blocks and a steal. He kicked things off with a massive 18 point, 19 rebound and 4 block effort in his first D-League game.

 

 

Nogueira was all over the court in his first game with the Mad Ants, putting up 18 shots and getting to the free throw line 11 times, but the rust of not playing showed through as he shot just 39 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from the charity stripe. His shot attempts came way down in his next two games, but he hit on 50 percent of his next 10 attempts and connected on 5-7 from the stripe. Nogueira also totaled 20 more boards, 3 more steals and 4 more blocks. In all, a very solid performance playing with teammates he hadn’t met before in a system he didn’t know.

Evaluating non-NBA performances is difficult, however, the Raptors starting power forward Amir Johnson has been watching and practicing with Nogueira all season. Johnson sees a lot of potential for Nogueira once the young center figures out the NBA game.

“He has been injured a couple of times and it’s good to get a feel out there in the Development League and get some run,” Johnson explained. “Then when he gets back here, he is definitely going to work hard. He has been working hard with us all season, early in practice, stays after and comes in late at night and he is going to have his chance and he is going to do some damage because he is a unique player. Mentally I think he has to learn the NBA. Learn where to be in his spots, but he is definitely going to be something great.

“He is long. He can run the floor. You can’t beat a seven-footer, a seven-footer is always going to do some damage no matter where he plays.

“He shoots in practice. He just has to keep shooting because you never know when you are going to make it.”

Nogueira showed promise as a big-time shot blocker and rebounder over the past two seasons in Spain although injuries hampered his progress last year as well. The highlight reel NBA D-League performance is indicative of his ability to fly around the court and play above the rim at both ends of the floor. If Nogueira can stay healthy and figure out the NBA game, the Raptors could have someone exciting for next season already buried on their bench.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Amir Lowry and DeRozan

Toronto Raptors New Year’s Hopes And Wishes

When a team has been residing at the top of their Conference for nearly the entire season, there shouldn’t be too many hopes and wishes for the New Year. However, things could always get better if President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri could apply his magic touch to this roster one more time or maybe a little more good luck was to appear in Toronto.

There are hopes and wishes to be fulfilled at nearly every position on the Raptors.

 

Point Guard

Raptors Media DayUjiri has made it perfectly clear and just in case someone wasn’t listening, get busy and vote Kyle Lowry to start for the NBA’s Eastern Conference All-Star team. Lowry has carried this team on his shoulders since DeMar DeRozan was injured and can lay claim to being the best point guard in franchise history. He’s earned the fans’ support and having a player voted to the All-Star team is one of this franchise’s biggest wishes.

 

Tyler Ennis media scrum 3During the NBA Draft process, Ujiri never hid his interest in acquiring Canadian prospect Tyler Ennis, but for some unknown reason, the point guard heavy Suns took him just two spots ahead of Toronto to bury him four players back at the point guard spot on their roster. Ennis has played all of 51 minutes in Phoenix. Maybe Ujiri could dangle rookie center Lucas Nogueira to acquire Ennis as the Raptors third string point guard?

 

Shooting Guard

Raptors Media DayWhen DeMar DeRozan injured his Adductor tendon (groin strain), everyone knew this could take a while, but it’s been over a month and the organization, teammates and fans have been left hoping for his quick return. DeRozan has looked good working out on the sidelines lately, so his indeterminate return date is starting to look closer. The wish in Toronto now is for DeRozan to become the missing piece to an NBA Finals run.

 

Small Forward

Ujiri scored big when he picked up James Johnson as a free agent this summer, but this year’s hopes and wishes are still tied to the development of the enigmatic Terrence Ross.

Raptors Media DayRoss can shoot the long ball, he is high-flyer who can finish spectacularly around the rim and he teases everyone with signs of becoming a dramatic lockdown defender. The wish is for consistency. Ross still disappears during games, forgets to drive into open lanes to take unnecessary long jump shots and often plays like the young inexperienced player that he is at both ends of the court. The hope is he can start putting it all together more frequently in time for the playoffs.

 

Power Forward

Amir JohnsonThe Raptors are hoping Amir Johnson’s ankles hold up in a big way. The team has depth at power forward, but Johnson is the Raptors defensive anchor and primary backup to Jonas Valanciunas at center, they don’t really have a replacement for what he brings to the table.

There are those who are wishing for an upgrade or even just a more reliable replacement for Johnson, but he and DeRozan are the longest tenured players in Toronto and Amir Johnson provides a big part of the glue that makes up the Raptors chemistry. It would be very risky to take the fan and team-favorite Johnson out of the Raptors rotation during the season. Toronto is hoping he stays healthy.

 

Center

Raptors Media DayThe Raptors best rebounder by a wide margin has been Valanciunas and on a team that can only barely hold their own on the boards, this young center has been taking an increasingly pivotal role. The hope is he keeps improving at the same pace witnessed going back to last season. He is the Raptors present and future under the rim.

The wish is for some rebounding help. While Head Coach Dwane Casey has been doing a good job of managing Johnson’s minutes, Toronto has been playing their starting power forward too many minutes at center and they need to take the pressure off his ankles if they want him fresh for the playoffs.

Chuck Hayes has been great in specialty situations and has even been the difference in several Raptors wins, but at 6’6, they can’t count on him to grab boards over 7-footers. Tyler Hansbrough steps in nearly every night to soak up a few minutes at center and brings his hard hat, but he is 6’9, primarily a below the rim player and better at battling with power forwards.

While this backup center by committee approach has proven to be more than adequate in most games, a veteran athletic big man that can grab boards and block shots is high on Ujiri’s wish list – unfortunately that kind of player is also high on a lot of other teams’ wish lists as well.

 

A GM’s job is never done and the Raptors have hopes and wishes for the New Year. Fortunately, outside of a couple of possible roster tweaks, the Raptors best chance at a dramatic improvement is already in their own locker room. It isn’t often a team can hold onto first place in the conference while their only All-Star is out of action for over a month. This team’s best hope for taking another step comes when DeRozan returns, but their biggest wish while they wait is for their fans to vote Lowry onto the All-Star team.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

TOR DeRozan Lowry ValanciunasRaptors No. 1 In Attendance But Not In All-Star Voting

After 30 games, 17 of them at home, the Toronto Raptors lead the NBA in attendance at 334,624, but their fans just aren’t getting the job done in the All-Star voting. In the early All-Star ballot returns, Toronto doesn’t have any players even close to being voted into the big game.

 

 

Landry Fields - croppedThe Toronto Raptors Landry Fields Showcase

Fields has the highest salary of any player on the Raptors who isn’t part of the regular rotation and that big expiring contract could make him a key piece in any trade President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri might make in an attempt to upgrade the team’s roster for the postseason and beyond.

 

 

 

DeMar DeRozan sitting at warmups by Paul Saini FYLMM

Raptors Ready To Be Road Tested Against The NBA’s Best

The first place 22-6 Toronto Raptors cut through a depleted visiting New York Knicks team 118-108 with minimal effort on Sunday for their sixth win in a row and ninth win in the month of December and with the streak they have guaranteed themselves another winning month – their seventh winning month in a row going back to last season. Now they feel ready to be tested on their longest road trip of the season against the toughest string of competitors that they will face this year during the regular season.

First up are the 17-9 Bulls in Chicago on Monday night, then after four days off for Christmas, the Raptors head out on a five game Western Conference road trip against the best the West can throw at them.

“Tomorrow will be a game that lets us know where we are in the league,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “We have to show where we fit in that sphere. It was a good day today, but now we have to go and take care of business tomorrow.”

“We definitely owe this (Bulls) team,” Amir Johnson said. “They beat us here at home. We let that one get away from us, so we really want to get this win. Especially (because) we got this little Christmas break (and it would) just make it a lot better.”

“We still got a bad taste in our mouth about the last time,” James Johnson said. “Hopefully we can figure some things out. We are not the same team we were when we played them the first time. I think we’ve improved and our half court offense, we are executing it pretty well right now.”

“We need to approach this game a little pissed off because last time they just played better than we did, so we got to really show a different team tomorrow,” Greivis Vasquez said. “It is important that we play good teams. This is really going to test our character. We haven’t really faced adversity and everything right now is great, but I think we are ready for a really good test.

“Tomorrow is a playoff game for us.”

The Raptors took care of business early against the Knicks on Sunday and never trailed as Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross combined for 40 points as the starting guards and reserve guards Vasquez and Lou Williams combined for 43 more points. Carmelo Anthony scored 28 points on 26 shots as he led the Knicks offense until Head Coach Derek Fisher threw in the towel down 18 points with about six minutes left and subbed Anthony out for good.

With the early lead and the Knicks unable to sustain any kind of run to threaten it, Casey was able to keep his starters minutes down with the upcoming back-to-back game against the Bulls.

The Bulls defeated Toronto at the Air Canada Center in mid-November 100-93 on the strength of a dominate third quarter in which they held the Raptors to just 14 points – the second fewest points scored by Toronto in a quarter this season. Overall, the Bulls held Toronto to their worst field goal percentage of the season (39.3) and second lowest points total despite the Raptors outscoring the Bulls by 14 points combined over the first, second and fourth quarters.

The fourth place Bulls are 5-1 over their past six games – Monday’s game will be a big test for both teams.

After the dust settles on Monday’s contest, the Raptors get a true break in the schedule and don’t play again until December 27th in Los Angeles against the Clippers (19-8). Then it’s off to mile-high Denver on the back-to-back to face the 12-15 Nuggets. The toughest tests are likely to be against the second place Trail Blazers (22-6) on December 30 and the first place overall Warriors (22-3) on January 2nd. The road trip ends in Phoenix on January 4th against the 15-14 run-and-gun Suns.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Vasquez said. “We are looking forward to this challenge. Anytime you go to the West, it’s not easy, but we are good enough to come out with a couple of wins and do our job.”

“I’m ready for it,” Casey said. “I’ve been preaching it and we should be ready for it. Everyone is all excited, but again, reality is real and we have to be ready for adversity whenever it hits. You go in with positive vibes and are ready to kick some behind, but when adversity hits that’s when you find out how close we are and how we have to stick together.”

Toronto faces teams with a combined record of 107-55 on this six game road trip including four playoff bound teams. A road trip isn’t often going to be tougher than this in any year – if ever.

The Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan hasn’t played since the end of November due to a groin strain, however, he looked really good during pregame warm-ups on Sunday and ran down the tunnel to the locker room like he was 100 percent. There is still no word on a possible return date for DeRozan and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the team took advantage of the upcoming break to give him a few more days to rest before re-evaluating the situation. However, he did look really good on Sunday.

“One thing about (DeRozan) is he’s a great pro, he’s a great friend, he’s a great teammate, he is happy for us,” Vasquez said. “We let him know how much we need him. We are nothing without him. We want him back. We enjoy (sitting) on the bench watching him play, it’s a privilege especially for a guy like me, I don’t have that athleticism. We need our whole team back because we are playing for something bigger.”

As the new guys on the top of the heap in the NBA East, the Raptors feel the need to keep proving themselves and this road trip provides them with that opportunity.  Although they are 7-2 against the West so far, they haven’t taken down a top tier team from the other (better) conference on the road yet this season.  This is their chance to muzzle their doubters or discover their shortfalls.

After this grueling road trip, the Raptors return home for six in a row at the Air Canada Centre starting on January 8th against the Hornets. Then it’s Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 photo credit: Paul Saini Fylmm.com

 

James Johnson stretching by Paul Saini FYLMMToronto Raptors Winning With Defense Again

“We got to stop playing to our competition and play Raptors basketball,” James Johnson told Pro Bball Report. “We the North and we got to start acting like it.”

 

 

 

TOR Amir Johnson head shot web

Can the Raptors Become An Unstoppable Force?

The Toronto Raptors are off to the best start in franchise history and but for some minor slippage, they could be undefeated at this point – not that anyone had reasonable expectations of being undefeated at this point in the season before it began. 15 missed free throws in Miami and one bad quarter against the Bulls is all that has prevented Toronto from perfection.

The Raptors have won big and won ugly and their bench has saved more than one game already this season. Third string center Chuck Hayes saved Toronto from the seemingly unstoppable Jared Sullinger in Boston. Lou Williams has already put up some key second half numbers in short minutes. But, it has been the Raptors backup forwards Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough and James Johnson that have been coming through on a routine basis for Toronto at this point.

 

 

 

“We have a great bench that come in and bring another level of energy,” Amir Johnson told Pro Bball Report after a recent game. “They won the game for us, Pat (Patterson), Tyler (Hansbrough), James Johnson finished the fourth quarter out and had a hell of a game. That is what makes us so effective.”

Confidence is high in Toronto after last season as the team pulled out game after game in a franchise record setting season. The current feeling of being (almost) unstoppable comes from a continuing string of very strong fourth quarters this year. There has been some rough starts and suspect effort in parts of most of the team’s games, but the players believe they are never out of it.

“Once we all get on the same page, I think we’ll be unstoppable,” Johnson said. “Right now we got guys that are lifting other guys and that is definitely helping us out. There are going to be days where our second unit comes in gives us a lift and finishes the game for us.”

That feeling of being unstoppable wasn’t anywhere to be found in Toronto until very recently. The Raptors were considered soft and easy pickings on most nights until after the effects of the Rudy Gay trade had sunk in around the Association. That trade brought effective depth to the Raptors lineup and Johnson is already having trouble remembering the bad old days before the four players from Sacramento arrived when poor starts usually ended in a loss.

“It would, it would (end in a win),” Johnson insisted. “Last year we usually ended up in close games with a (win). There are going to be some games where our first group doesn’t have it and some games where our second unit has it and we put it altogether, we’ll be unstoppable.”

Who can blame Johnson for a short memory? No one in Toronto really wants to remember their five year stint in the lottery. It’s a lot more pleasant to think this team could be unstoppable once everyone gets on the same page and compared to their not so distant past, they are.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Amir getting ready to work

The Raptors Amir Johnson Loves Being A Dad

“For me, pretty much everything I do is for her now,” Johnson said. “I can’t look for myself now. I have a kid now and I just have to be the father-type and set examples. Every day my perspective just changes once you have a kid and I got that as soon as she was born.”

 

 

TOR Caboclo and Amir JohnsonRaptors Amir Johnson Has Bruno Caboclo’s Back

“Ten years in, I should be (a veteran),” Johnson said. “I definitely have a lot of say-so, especially for the younger guys – a lot of experience to tell them right from wrong. Definitely, I feel like a vet, at the same time I still feel young and energized.”

 

 

Jonas Valanciunas 2 by Paul Saini  (Fylmm.com)Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Happy And Comfortable With Role

“We had a lot of changes in this room. I am happy right now,” Valanciunas said. “I am happy with where we are. Everybody is doing a good job. It is a different locker room, different faces, but I am happy with where we are now and I hope we are going to keep doing the same thing.”

 

 

 

Amir Johnson - closeup

Bulls At Raptors: Top Two Teams In the East, Amir Johnson

The first place 7-1 Toronto Raptors are about to take on the second place 6-2 Chicago Bulls at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and the significance of the game is not lost on the players.

“It’s the top two teams in the East right now,” said Amir Johnson.  “It’s a pretty big game for us.  It is a home court game and we definitely want to come out and win this.”

 

 

Toronto is 5-0 at home to start the season and the visiting Bulls are 4-0 on the road, so something will have to give. This should be one of the best games of the very young 2014-2015 NBA season.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Amir Johnson - closeup

The Raptors Amir Johnson Loves Being A Dad

The Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson has a new number one love in his life and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that his one-year-old daughter Milli holds his heart. Being a Dad makes Johnson’s day no matter what else is going on in his life.

 

 

“For me, pretty much everything I do is for her now,” Johnson said. “I can’t look for myself now. I have a kid now and I just have to be the father-type and set examples. Every day my perspective just changes once you have a kid and I got that as soon as she was born. I have to be responsible – even though I was responsible. I have a mouth to feed and responsibilities and as a father, I definitely have to do that and I learned from my father. Basically you just grow up a little faster once you have somebody.”

As many parents know, the first thing you lose is sleep and the next thing you realize is what your own parents went through. As a young Dad, Johnson is sleeping lighter and doing everything he can for Daddy’s little girl.

“Less sleep,” said Johnson laughing. Less sleep and got to make sure you put your daughter to bed, give her a bath. If she’s up or sick, you have to be up for that. You are more alert now. You sleep a little lighter. That’s how it is when you have a kid, you just have to make sure. Especially, being so young, you just have to make sure everything is okay.

“It puts everything in perspective when I do stuff or when I go out. If I am seeing other young people, I feel like I have a say-so because I have a kid of my own and that’s when you know you are not a kid yourself. (What) your parents were teaching you, you get it now once you have your own.

“When my daughter was born, I called my Mom and apologized, I’m sorry. I know how it feels to be so overprotective and have someone to look out for with a kid at home. A new life is a beautiful thing.”

It’s not all sleepless nights and worry, Johnson knows the fun side of watching your own child discover the world for the first time.

“It is (fun),” Johnson said. “Just to hear their voice and see what they do. See how they do stuff for the first time or react to stuff for the first time. It is always fun. It is always hilarious. It is a beautiful thing. They know nothing. They (don’t) know anything about life, so it is just amazing to see them do stuff or react to stuff or feel stuff for the first time. This is priceless stuff.”

 

Johnson isn’t the only young father on the Raptors and having this many Dads in the locker room has to help with the chemistry and maturity the team is showing. At the end of the day, the Raptors locker room isn’t that much different from any other workplace and having things in common and a respectful and mature atmosphere makes everyone more productive.

“We have a lot in common,” Johnson said. “It’s easy to converse. It’s easy to be family oriented since we have kids around the same age. As you see in the hallway, we get a lot of gifts for our kids which is great. They treat us like family and we treat each other with respect, the kids with respect and everybody like family, so it’s good.”

Amir Johnson loves being a Dad.

 
 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

TOR Caboclo and Amir Johnson

Raptors Amir Johnson Has Bruno Caboclo’s Back

There are not many players being drafted as 18-year-olds any more, but the Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson remembers his experience of nine years ago when he played his entire rookie season that young and he’ll have Bruno Caboclo’s back as the Raptors newest very young rookie finds his way in the NBA.

Just turned 27-years-old himself, Johnson has only recently begun to accept that heading into his 10th NBA season he is a veteran with a lot of knowledge and experience to pass along.

 

 

“Ten years in, I should be (a veteran),” Johnson said. “I definitely have a lot of say-so, especially for the younger guys – a lot of experience to tell them right from wrong. Definitely, I feel like a vet, at the same time I still feel young and energized.”

The young guy in the most need of veteran help this season is Caboclo and Johnson didn’t need much prodding to start talking about a kid who should remind Johnson of himself as a rookie.

“(We have) a very athletic and good young guy which is Bruno (Caboclo),” Johnson said. “The kid works hard. (He has) a 7’7 wingspan which is unbelievable. I think he’ll be a good fit for us and we can teach him a lot of stuff. The first thing we can teach him is English.”

The Pistons were loaded with veteran players when Johnson was on the team (2005-09) and they were a big influence his early development. If Johnson can pass on what he learned then, Caboclo really is in very good hands.

“It was huge,” Johnson said. “They pretty much carried the first three years of my career, but for me it was a great experience and I can lead (Caboclo) in the same direction and tell him what I went through in my experiences when I was 18 in the NBA so he is in good hands.

“I had guys on the team that were in their 30s – older guys – but they were still agile, athletic and you are wondering how you guys stay so in shape and they showed me the ropes of what I needed to do, what to eat or what to train and it was a great experience. I feel that I can show Bruno the same stuff I did. If he wants to get bigger or leaner or whatever, then I can tell him the right stuff to do.”

The Raptors developed a family-type atmosphere last season and that is something they want to maintain heading into this season. As Caboclo just turned 19-years-old and is playing away from the comfort and support of his family in Brazil for the first time, he’ll need the Raptors to become his family away from home. As Johnson said, ‘he’s in good hands.’
 

 
Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Casey Media Day looking downRaptors Are A Team That Is Still Developing Core Players

“I think we are still a young team. We still have growing to do as a team,” Casey said. “Our goal is to win the division no matter what it takes.”

 
 
Caboclo follows thruRaptors Bruno Caboclo Is Not 2 Years Away From 2 Years Away

When a team drafts a virtual unknown 18-year-old from Brazil, comments like Bruno Caboclo is two years away from being two years away shouldn’t come as a surprise. That’s when the tall lanky forward would be a 22-year-old graduating from college and about the age an NBA prospect would generally be expected to have started figuring things out.

 
 
Caboclo getting ready to shootFirst Impressions Of Bruno Caboclo With Akil Augustine

The Raptors surprise first round draft pick Bruno Caboclo was at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Saturday and Pro Ball Report caught up with NBA TV Canada’s ‘The Hangout’ Host Akil Augustine to get his first impressions of the Raptors newest rookie after watching Caboclo workout and answer questions from the media.

 

 

Amir Johnson & staff 3

Raptors Amir Johnson Visits Ronald McDonald House Hamilton

The Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson took the construction obstructed Gardiner Expressway, Queen Elizabeth Highway and the 403 to Hamilton on Wednesday afternoon to visit Ronald McDonald House Hamilton (RMHH) in support of the Meals That Heal program.

Amir Johnson talked about why he visited RMHH and how much he enjoys making other people happy.

 

“One of my best fans hit me up over twitter and told me about it, so I said why not,” Johnson said. “I had never been to Hamilton before, so it was just something I wanted to do. Toronto is so big and there are some places I have never seen before.”

Johnson had a blast interacting with the residents of RMHH, the staff and the volunteers. Check out the photo gallery of his visit.

RMHH CEO Chantell Tunney described how their facility got started and the services they provide to the community and beyond. She also talked about how difficult it is to get big name athletes like Johnson to come to Hamilton in support of RMHH.

 

“It is very difficult for us,” Tunney said. “A lot of the sports teams will go and fulfill their commitments to the (RMH) Houses nationally through the Toronto House because it is convenient, but our Hamilton families follow Toronto hockey, they follow Toronto baseball, they follow Toronto basketball and it is really tough for us to get athletic figures out here to the House to visit them, so tonight is really special.

“It gets the awareness out there that we are here and gives us an opportunity to tell our story on the types of services that we provide and that Hamilton is a thriving health care centre. We serve 700 to 1,000 families every year and we save about $2.5 million in out-of-pocket expenses for these families. There is not another facility in the community in Hamilton or Toronto or any other City that Ronald McDonald Houses exist in that provide what we do.”

Check out the Ronald McDonald House Hamilton website for more information and how you can help them.

Photo Gallery

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Raptors Logo photo

Unedited Raptors Players Season-Ending Comments (Audio)

The Toronto Raptors players had a lot to say during the season-ending media availability. Catch up on the full unedited comments from each of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez.

Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry - web

“I want to be happy, I want to win,” Lowry said. “But, it’s something me and my agent have to talk about, but I know I want to win and that’s important to me.

“I love this place. I love this situation. It is as simple as that. The best 14 other guys I have had in a locker room in my career.”

 

 Terrence Ross

TOR Ross preseason 2013

“I’ve built a relationship with (Coach) Casey,” Ross said. “He’s been a great coach. He has taught me a lot, especially when it comes to defense. I give him a lot of credit for how I play on the court.”

 

DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan by Paul Saini 2 (Fylmm.com)

“I didn’t say that,” DeRozan responded. “I didn’t say (Kyle Lowry) was (re-signing). I didn’t say he wasn’t. I just said I wasn’t worried about it.”

 

Amir Johnson

TOR Amir Johnson head shot web

“I just feel like we have been in it together,” said Johnson. “We definitely grinded it out to get to where we are now, it’s just been an amazing journey. We can keep working, keep continuing to get better. We have been sticking together to get better and better every year. Of course we’ve been through the ups and downs, but it’s just great to see how we have improved.”

 

 Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas practice shot by Paul Saini (Fylmm.com)

“This group of guys, it wasn’t just a team, it was like a family,” Jonas Valanciunas said. “It is really important to keep the same attitude, keep the same in the locker room.”

 

 Patrick Patterson

SAC_Patterson_Patrick

“This was my first time being on a team where everybody accepted their roles, where everybody was per se happy,” Patterson said. “This was my first time being in a positive environment where everybody was supporting one another.”
 

Greivis Vasquez

Greivis Vasquez shooting by Paul Saini 2 (Fylmm.com)

“I remember one time I came into the office and we had a talk,” Vasquez said. “(Coach Casey’s) talk with me was very inspirational because he was talking about when he won a championship with Dallas. He even showed me his ring, the championship ring. This guy did so much and really got us right. As a leader, you got to give him a lot of credit. He did a great job. I think he got better throughout the season, we gradually got better and the coaching staff was great.”

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

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Raptors Day podium by MoVernie
The City Of Toronto Shows It’s Love For The Raptors
The City of Toronto led by Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly declared Monday as ‘Raptors Day’ to thank the NBA club for its incredible season as described by Vernon Chang (MoVernie) from the scene. “As I walked over to the Nathan Phillips Square, I saw the main stage was set up near the entrance of City Hall,” Chang said. “A flag bearer came out with the Canadian Flag followed by Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, some City councillors, Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey, Greivis Vasquez and Raptors famous mascot.”
 

TOR Amir Johnson head shot web

Amir Johnson: Raptors Are Proud Of This Season

Amir Johnson beams with pride when asked about the Toronto Raptors record breaking year. No one saw this coming. An Atlantic Division Championship banner and a team record for wins in a season, this is a memory to be cherished long after everyone on this team has moved on from professional basketball.

“It’s a hell of an accomplishment,” Johnson said. “It is something we get to show our kids when we get old and we come back here. We can point up and say our team won that.”

The Raptors had to work hard to get to where they are today. A team that started out the season with just 6 wins and 12 loses had to be the best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference since then to win their Division and stay in the battle for third place with the Chicago Bulls.

“Especially for the guys that play and work all year, we get to sit back and say – okay – we actually did something this season,” Johnson said. “Starting from training camp, to everything happening, to trades, to now this, it is a great honor.

“It’s a great accomplishment. I think we broke a lot of records this season, but we just got to keep a straight mind. There is a bigger goal we want to get to and we are just going to keep on working and keep on winning.”

It’s an accomplishment worthy of mentioning the Air Canada Centre’s other more prestigious resident franchise.

“We are slowly catching them (the Toronto Maple Leafs),” Johnson said. “We got to get more up there, but it’s a great accomplishment.”

Johnson, however, has never only been focused on his success or the success of his team. The long suffering Toronto Raptors fans are always first and foremost in his thoughts.

“It is something to be happy about,” Johnson said. “I know the fans are too. They have been waiting for something like this, so not only us, but everybody in the city and the Country. There is definitely pride for what we have accomplished.

“Of course, the way we are feeling, we want more. We got it done, now let’s see how far we can go.”

 

Stephen_Brotherston_inside Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

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This Is The Best Raptors Team In Franchise History
Long before the Toronto Raptors set a franchise record with their 48th win against the Milwaukee Bucks in their final home game of the regular season, this special group of players had been doing things no previous Toronto team had been able to. With no disrespect to Vince Carter, who is still the best player in franchise history, the 2013-2014 Raptors are the best team Toronto fans have seen since this franchise started playing in 1995.

Amir Johnson in scrum

Amir Johnson Gives Back To Raptors Fans Big Time Again

No one on the Raptors does more for and with the fans off the court than Amir Johnson. The big man Toronto acquired from the Pistons in 2009 has embraced his adopted home and just keeps adding to his long list of things he does to give back to his team’s supporters.

In what has become an annual event, Johnson recently took a large group of lucky fans on a two day extra special journey. It was idea he got when a football player tweeted an offer to buy dinner for everyone at a restaurant.

“The “I Roll With Amir” was an idea I got seeing Chad Ochocinco when he was playing football,” Johnson said. “I think he was playing a team out of town and he went to a restaurant and I guess he tweeted out ‘whoever comes to the restaurant, he’ll buy their food,’ so I just had an idea, why not give the fans a meal when they come to a game and that is where the idea came from.”

 


 

Johnson organized a series of events and contests and the winners were taken out for dinner before heading to a Raptors game followed by a trip to Medieval Times with himself as King the very next night.

“It’s big just letting the fans know they are part of the team,” Johnson said. “They are just as big as players – they are pretty much what makes this team. They have been supporting us since day one, so it is just a token of my appreciation to the fans.”

However, Johnson is more than just a one event kind of guy. The 26-year-old likes to get involved in all kinds of activities with the fans over the course of the entire year and he is up for almost anything that looks like it could be fun.

“A lot of giveaways, a lot of trivia questions and a lot of videos,” Johnson explained. “I do pranks in the street. I join the activities in the city that are going on. The zombie walk, the art shows, the movie festivals, the MTVs, anything that is going on I kind of add myself to it.”

 

 

“Just going around the city embracing it, (seeing) how humble and diverse the city is,” Johnson said. “It is a great city.”

 

 

Johnson is a huge fan of social media and promotes his contests, giveaways and appearances on twitter and facebook. He is looking for his chance to interact with the community and he is embraced because of it.

“That is how the world moves now,” Johnson said. “Everybody has facebook, twitter and social networking. Its 2014, you pretty much have to get on it because that is the way the world is moving right now. You can’t really do anything without somebody taking a picture or letting it go viral. It could be something small like tripping over a garbage can, people can just love it, so it’s huge.”

It’s fun too. Johnson is still just a big kid at heart. He wants to do stuff, get involved, give back and make other people happy. It’s a big part of why he has become so popular in Toronto.

“I’m a regular (guy) just like everybody else,” Johnson said. “I am not high above anybody else. (Social media) gives you access to anybody you want to talk to and everyone to see. I have a lot of fun. Just to think if I were a kid and I get to see my favorite NBA player and hang out with him that would have been the world to me. I have fun with it. I enjoy myself. I just like seeing the smiles on people’s faces.”

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

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Toronto Raptors Love Being Atlantic Division Champs
“We won the Division, it’s a great thing,” Salmons said. “Us four guys coming over from Sacramento from where we started, from where the Raptors started at the beginning of the season to where we are now, it’s a great thing.”

Amir Johnson in scrum

Don’t Worry About The Raptors Amir Johnson

The Raptors young veteran Amir Johnson is hugely popular in Toronto and he has earned it.  No one has done more for and with his fans locally than the 26-year-old big man.  The downside of being this popular is, locally at least, everyone notices everything he does or doesn’t do on the court every night.

“It seems like I can’t have a couple bad games, but I’m fine, I’m fine,” Johnson said recently.  “I try to give 100 percent every time I go out there – every night.  There may be little nicks or little injuries on me, but I still go out there and try to give it my all, but I feel like I’m fine.”

A couple of weeks ago in Boston, Johnson feel something unusual, but trainer extraordinaire Alex McKecknie did his magic and for the most part keeps Johnson going through the numerous bumps, bruises and worse.

“It was weird cause it was nothing in that Boston game, the injury I had a couple years back just started feeling like the same,” Johnson said.  “Alex McKecknie did his magic on me and I came back out and it was fine.  I was a weird feeling though.”

Since then, Johnson has had good games, bad games and a couple of great games, but a big part of the reason he is so popular is because his fans know Johnson is always giving everything he’s got.

“From me to the fans, I am giving my all,” Johnson said.  “It is a long season.  I may have good games and I may have bad games, but I am going to give it 100 percent every time I go out.”

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

Also check out:

How The Raptors Can Beat The Kings

“We have to treat like another game,” Patrick Patterson said.  “Treat it like it’s another game on the schedule and don’t try to blow it up too big.  Even though we are going back there, even though we do know the circumstances and yeah, they did trade us.  (I have) great relationships with the guys on that team and so forth.  We can’t overlook that opponent, we just have to treat it like it is anybody else and go into that game strong-minded and focused.”

Raptors New Offensive Threat: Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson 1The Toronto Raptors have a new offensive threat this season in Amir Johnson. A starter since opening night, Johnson is scoring in double-digits and has 10 or more points in 6 of his 8 games thus far. Obscured by Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan and the up-and-coming Jonas Valanciunas, Johnson is fourth in team scoring and first in field goal percentage on the Raptors.

“I feel pretty good. I feel my stamina has definitely picked up,” Johnson said. “I think I have made some improvements. I feel that I have played the same way every year – (but) added some improvements. There are some games where you have your ups and downs, but when I go out there, I try to give my all. My motive is to always go out there and play hard.”

No one has ever questioned Johnson’s work ethic or effort in Toronto. Even when the howls from the media came down about the 5-year $30 million contract the Raptors bestowed upon him in 2010, it was his talent level that was being questioned and not the effort Johnson put out on the court. Over the course of that contract, however, Johnson has laid to rest any questions about his ability to up his game.

Johnson was the last 18-year-old player drafted into the NBA and he was a skinny 205 lb undersized power forward when he arrived in Detroit as the 56th overall pick in 2005. He was still on the light side when the Pistons traded him to Milwaukee who flipped him to Toronto in the summer of 2009. However, Johnson has worked on body continuously since he arrived and he isn’t skinny and he doesn’t play undersized any longer.

“Just being in the league for so long, I am able to hold my ground and get a couple of stops,” Johnson said. “You are not going to stop (elite players) or anybody in this league all the time, but I am able to hold my ground. I have put on some pounds and that comes with years of working and putting on weight. I am not skinny anymore.”

One of the things Johnson has been working on is expanding the range on his jump shot. Three years ago, the three-point shot was not part of Johnson’s arsenal at all. Two years ago he hit 2-5 on the season, last year it was 5-13 and so far this year it’s 5-14 in 8 games. There have been some complaints about Johnson’s willingness to put up 1 or 2 uncontested three-pointers a game, but he works on them in practice and is proving he can knock them down in games. So far, the number of threes he’s attempted hasn’t negatively impacted his field goal percentage and Johnson is confident in his ability to make those shots.

“Just having a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “I’d say 80-85 percent is confidence because you know you have been playing the game for so long, you have the confidence knowing you can shoot those shots, knowing you can make those shots. Knowing when to go in and take the layup and knowing when to do the right stuff.”

It is experience that gives Johnson the confidence to expand his game. Even though Johnson is only 26 years old, this is his ninth NBA season.

“(Experience) is where the confidence definitely builds (from),” Johnson said. “Just doing things over and over again. Doing it in the game and going over the film and seeing yourself doing it, that’s where your confidence builds up (from).”

Johnson is averaging 10.6 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 assists to start the current season and these stats are all on pace to become career highs. His personal foul rate continues the long slow decline from the days when it was unlikely Johnson could stay on the floor long enough without fouling to be starter to the point where his personal fouls are not a major concern. He is still most effective rolling to the rim for layups and dunks or cleaning up other players misses, but his expanded shooting range gives him another dimension as a scorer and as a floor spreader for his teammates.

The energy guy the Raptors acquired in 2009 has evolved into an all-around player and legitimate scoring threat and at just 26-years-old, it’s likely we haven’t seen the best from Johnson yet.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Raptors Starter: Johnson vs Hansbrough?

Hansbrough - basket - webWithout any big deals on the horizon, the best three big men the Raptors will be able to throw out there at the start of games will be Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough. Valanciunas has the starting center job locked up, so it’s between the 26-year-old Johnson and the 27-year-old Hansbrough to start at power forward.

The Raptors couldn’t have two more similarly talented players vying for the same starting job next season whose NBA paths have been so divergent. Johnson was the last high school aged player drafted before the NBA instituted the new age requirements. Hansbrough was a four-year college senior at North Carolina who won an NCAA Championship in his final season.

Johnson was drafted 56th by the Pistons in 2005 and four years later, Hansbrough was taken 13th overall by the Pacers. So where Johnson learned on the job in limited minutes with Detroit, Hansbrough was putting up huge numbers for the Tar Heels. It’s been four years since 2009 and both players find themselves competing for their spot in the Raptors rotation and each player can make a strong argument for why they should be the starter. Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri kicked off the competition with this quote.

“(Hansbrough) has become a mature player and that’s what you want with a power forward of that caliber,” Ujiri said. “I think he is a strong rotation player for sure.”

Toughness

In this iteration of the Raptors, Head Coach Dwane Casey is getting his way and toughness is the new mantra in Toronto. Both Hansbrough and Johnson can lay claim to being tough gritty players.

Johnson was 2nd overall in the NBA in personal fouls per game last season and 18th in personal fouls per minute. Never shy about getting involved in the play, Johnson has slowly gotten better at avoiding unnecessary fouls, but he isn’t about to let a little contact deter him from doing what is necessary.

Hansbrough arrived in the NBA with the college nickname “Physco T” and while he’s outgrown that stage of his life, he is still respected for his willingness to mix things up in the paint or anywhere else on the floor. Hansbrough didn’t play enough minutes to crack the top 100 for personal fouls per game and his per minute foul rate was way back at 28th in the NBA – 10 spots behind Johnson, but where Johnson only rarely picks up technical fouls, Hansbrough tied for 52nd with 5 last year.

“(Hansbrough) is going to knock you down, Ujiri said. “I think we need a little bit of that.”

It will not be an easy call to decide which player is more willing to do the dirty work, but Physco T should feel right at home with his new teammates’ technical foul record. Kyle Lowry had 8, DeMar DeRozan 7, Rudy Gay 6 and it would be almost funny if it wasn’t true, but Quincy Acy had 5.

Defense

Toughness without defense would be a hollow quality and both Hansbrough and Johnson have been effective defenders.

Johnson held opposing players to below 40 percent shooting from every range outside of the restricted area last year and has done a very respectable job of patrolling the mid-range and extended three point line. However, where Johnson held opponents to 52 percent in the paint and 36.9 percent from deep, Hansbrough was 3 points better at these distances last season giving up 49 percent in the paint and 33.3 percent from three-point range.

Both players have averaged a steal per 36 minutes in their NBA careers, but where Hansbrough rarely blocks shots, Johnson has a per 36 minute career average of 2 per game. Still have to give Hansbrough the edge at disrupting opponents shooting, but overall, the Raptors should be a lot better at defending big men next season.

Rebounding

Both players have gotten better at rebounding since they came into the NBA and last season both were in the top 50 for rebounding per minute. Johnson collected a career best 7.5 rebounds per game and was 43rd in rebounds per minute. Hansbrough grabbed 4.6 rebounds in 16.9 minutes for the 38th best rebounding rate. Both players are almost as adept at grabbing boards in the offensive end as under their own basket and rebounding between them is almost a draw. If Valanciunas can build on his 9 boards per 36 minutes last season, this team might actually be able to compete on the glass.

Scoring

Neither of these players has ever averaged 30 or more minutes in the NBA, but both of them could argue why they should. On a per 36 minute basis, Hansbrough has a career average of 16.3 points per game and Johnson is at 11.8 points. Hansbrough is just a far more aggressive offensive player than Johnson.

Hansbrough shoots a poor percentage from anywhere outside of the restricted area, but that is where he takes over half of his shots. He makes up for his poor shooting with the 5th best number of free throw attempts per 36 minutes in the NBA. This bumped his true shooting percentage to 52.7 percent last season. Anyone who watches Hansbrough play will notice his extreme aggressiveness under the rim and the NBA rewards aggression with trips to the free throw line. Not much of a shooter, Hansbrough has found a way to be an effective scorer.

“He keeps putting pressure on you and attacking the boards and attacking the rim,” Ujiri said.

Johnson doesn’t get to the line anywhere near often enough, but over the past 8 seasons, he has learned how to make a jump shot. Johnson is better at finishing than Hansbrough at any range including the paint and he has shot between 35 and 42 percent from mid-range since he has been in Toronto, but it’s his outside shooting that is intriguing. Over the past two seasons Johnson has been hoisting the occasional three-pointer and last year he was 5 of 12. A career true shooting percentage of over 60, Johnson is on the right track to become a better jump shooter. Hansbrough just hasn’t looked like he has that skill over the past couple of years.

Who Should Start?

“That question is for the coaches,” Ujiri said.

It’s hard to argue with Ujiri. It just isn’t obvious which one of these two young veterans should start or come off the bench. It is very obvious, however, that if the Raptors don’t add another quality big man to the mix this summer, both of these young veterans will be expected to soak up big minutes in next season’s rotation.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.