The Mavericks were a good team last year and much well-deserved praise has been given to their historic offense. However, they were a young, inexperienced team who tended to struggle at the end of games. Having a team with two young stars is exciting, but it can also be frustrating. You need some guys that have been there before to calm things down. That’s where James Johnson comes in.
The main thing that’s been talked about is his toughness, and there’s no denying it, he’s a badass. But as the man himself said, that’s not all he is. This guy has played 13 years in the NBA. Playing in over 630 regular season games, he’s seen it all. He’s the exact kind of veteran this team needs.
And get it straight, it’s not like he’s a stiff who can’t play. Is he an absolute game changer? No. Is he the kind of guy that can carry a team on his own? No. But on this team he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to be exactly what he is, a savvy vet who does all the little things. He sets screens, fights for rebounds, guards multiple positions and can hit an open three if needed. Bonus — he also may have the best hair on the roster
And back to that toughness. Just because he doesn’t want trouble doesn’t mean you should start it with him. He’s like John Wick. Wait, bad example. Let’s say he’s like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, or Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence. He doesn’t want to fight. But God help you if he changes his mind.
Will he stick around the entire year? Johnson is owed $16 million in this last year of his deal, money that could definitely help match salaries in a deadline trade. (Coincidentally, $16 million/year is very similar to my contract with Mavs Moneyball.)
Best Case Scenario
Technically the best case scenario for any player is that they win MVP, break every NBA record, shoot 100 percent from the field, marry an Instagram model and live happily ever after. All of that’s probably not going to be the case for James Johnson this year, so let’s talk realistic options.
One of the most fun things about following the NBA as opposed to other sports is how impactful one guy can be. The size of the rosters means adding one piece can allow guys to move down a peg in terms of what’s needed from them. Bringing in a guy who can bang with big guys means other players won’t have to do as much of that. Maxi Kleber is a valuable player, but last year he was asked to do too much. Johnson coming in can save some wear-and-tear on Maxi, letting him focus on knocking down threes and being stunningly handsome.
Johnson could come in and fit like a glove, serve as a solid presence on and off the court, mentoring younger players and providing valuable depth and experience. But really, the best realistic scenario is that Rick Carlisle loves him so much that he decides to get a matching throat tattoo. That would make us all happy.
Worst Case Scenario
One of the beauties of this move is that there’s so little downside. It’s possible Johnson just doesn’t have that much left in the tank. He’s played only 55 and 32 games the last two years, respectively, so maybe that trend continues and he’s banged up this year and doesn’t play much. In fact, he’s been sitting out practice due to a knee injury, although he’s expected to be cleared this week. The Mavericks may pay him $16 million this year and get very little on-court production from him.
If this happens...so what? It’s an expiring deal. It comes off the books in the summer. And it’s important to remember, it’s not our money. Although I could afford it if I needed to. Remember, I work at Mavs Moneyball!