On Friday night, the Raptors took on former teammate James Johnson and the Miami Heat, where they were able to pull off a 96-94 win for their final home game of the season. DeMar DeRozan had another All-Star worthy performance with 38 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal. In his second game back from his injury, Kyle Lowry facilitated his team as he dropped 6 dimes and managed 2 steals. But during the game, and in fact all Heat games throughout this season, fans can’t help but be enamoured with ex-Raptor James Johnson and the numbers he’s been putting up lately. This has some fans asking, was James Johnson the one that got away?
Since departing from the Raptors, JJ averages 27.2 minutes, 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals with the Heat. And yes, though these are not staggering numbers nor are they that impressive but one can't help but ask, where was this during his time with the Raptors?
In his recent seasons with the Raptors (2014-2016), JJ averaged 17.9 minutes, 6.45 points, 2.95 rebounds, 0.85 blocks, and 0.65 steals. When he first arrived in 2014 for his second chance with the organization, JJ made his presence known. He quickly fit into Casey’s system defensively as he was a key role in stopping guys during the regular season and in to the playoffs. However, it did not last long due to the development of young guys and the acquisitions of some big names. In an article written by Black Murphy for the Raptors Republic, he described how JJ was eventually phased out during the 2015-2016 season due to the signing of DeMarre Carroll and development of Noman Powell. His minutes continued to dwindle and even when he found himself on the floor, he was not producing enough to increase his value. During his last season with the Raptors, there was a cry for help from JJ when he used Twitter to express how he was really feeling “#Mood. Under-utilized.” Which he then (kind of) retracted by saying “My bad, just want more than anything to be part of something special for the fans, teammates and coaches. #wethenorth”.
This was tweeted after a game against Cleveland where he played 5 minutes and had 1 rebound… yeah... that was all. In the 2015-2016 season with the Raptors, JJ averaged 16.2 minutes with 5 points, 2.2 rebounds and by the end of all of it, JJ leaving almost seemed inevitable. I was left heartbroken with only the memory of JJ cocking that joint back and banging on Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons to ease my shattered heart.
So to answer the question “was JJ the one that got away?” Simply put, no. With how JJ was during his time with the Raptors, he was an ineffective power-forward who could not fill the gap that the Raptors needed. Additionally, given JJ’s state of mind regarding his role with the Raptors, it’s a mindset that would slowly eat him away. And I get it, there were times that Coach Casey could’ve used him more effectively and so such frustrations were warranted. But with any team, professional or not, players have to understand the reality of the game. Players have to be willing to accept what they are given and do what is best for the team - not for themselves. You can easily see this with our guys like Corey Joseph and Fred VanVleet. Players are more successful when they forget about numbers and are more than ready for when their name is called. Whether it’s playing 38 minutes on court or sitting 38 minutes on the bench, players need to take their role and always bring out the best.
Sources: ESPN, YouTube, Raptors Republic