Every week up until the sounding bell of the player signing period in July, we'll be polling the SS&R writing staff to see what their thoughts are on the Lakers' upcoming free agents, their potential market value and whether or not they'll be in the purple and gold next season. Our next free agent: Wesley Johnson
What do you feel is a fair free market contract for Wesley Johnson?
Harrison Faigen: Is less than the veteran's minimum an option?
/Checks the Collective Bargaining Agreement/
It would appear the veteran's minimum is the least the team can offer Johnson short of just not offering him a contract.
Tucker Tashjian: In the NBA or in Europe? But seriously, Wesley Johnson is incredibly athletic and he has the prototypical NBA body. At this point in his career I think the league as a collective has realized that Johnson will always have potential, but he is too inconsistent. I think he has a future in the league but in a backup wing spot with a veteran minimum salary.
Ben Rosales: The minimum? If he's getting anything above that, it's safe to assume he has compromising pictures of someone in the relevant front office.
Jameson Miller: The veteran's minimum 1-year deal. Wes is like a sexy movie starlet who can't act: his body will keep him working far longer than his actual talent would merit. If Johnson's top-4 draft slot was him getting Oscar buzz in his feature debut, his role on the Lakers and wherever he ends up next is more like that of a bit character that gets killed off in the first 20 minutes during (or immediately following) a gratuitous sex scene in a straight-to-video horror flick. Wesley's age and athletic prowess will keep seducing teams into taking low-risk flyers on him; and, similar to fans of teams Josh Smith has played on stubbornly preaching, "if we can just get him to stay near the basket...", I can see someone doling out base-level dough for a guy who still looks like he was built in a basketball laboratory.
Sabreena Merchant: Anything above the minimum would be grossly overpaying for Wes at this point.
Trevor Lane: Realistically, the same one he has had for the past two seasons: 1-year, minimum deal. Wes has made comments about wanting a multi-year deal, but frankly he hasn't done anything to prove that he is deserving of one. While 3-and-D wings are in high demand around the league, there aren't likely to be many teams fighting over a low-upside player who doesn't excel in any particular area.
The CDP: A fair contract for Wesley Johnson is whatever China is willing to pay. Despite his otherworldly athleticism and NBA body that made him a lottery pick, he's never been able to stay consistent enough to earn a permanent spot in the league. Four years into his pro career, we know exactly what we're getting from Wes. On defense, he shows flashes of lockdown defense, but lacks the focus that would have made him an elite force on the ball. On offense, he boasts a mediocre career 41% on field goals and too often settles for contested jumpshots. Wesley Johnson should probably be out of the league, but otherwise a year-to-year contract at the veteran's minimum.
Dakota Schmidt: At this point in his career, I'd probably stick with the veteran's minimum. As has been mentioned, he was never really able to combine his outstanding athleticism with any sort of basketball skills.
The Great Mambino: Veteran's minimum. Johnson, who I've heard is a perfectly nice guy, hasn't proven that he's worth more than that.
What do you think are the mitigating factors in the Lakers pursuing him in free agency?
Harrison Faigen: His lack of talent, which the team has seen up close and personal the last two years. Wes did his best, gamely playing far more minutes than he was qualified for, and he does show flashes of being an NBA player occasionally.
However, short of the Lakers either passing on him outright or David Kahn getting another job running an NBA team, it is hard to see any obstacles to the Lakers bringing him back for a third go-round.
Tucker Tashjian: The forecast for Wes Johnson suitors looks pretty dry. If the Lakers want him back for the right price, they shouldn't have any difficulty in signing him.
After the top tier free agents have made their decisions...scratch that...after all the free agents have signed deals, only then should the Lakers make an effort to retain Johnson.
Ben Rosales: The fact that there are a whole lot of better options available. Even past the cream of the crop options (i.e. Butler, Leonard, Harris, Middleton), the Lakers could go with a mid-priced player such as Al-Farouq Aminu, Chase Budinger, or similar to fill the rather spacious hole on the wing that Wes has been occupying for the past two years. Even a D-League option such as Jamaal Franklin or Roscoe Smith, both of whom played on the Lakers' affiliate this past season, would probably be better options, if only because they offer the possibility of upside that Wes' game has more or less lacked since he left Minnesota.
Jameson Miller: The biggest factor in where Wes ends up is, of course, the outcome of the unglamorous, highly public game of musical chairs that takes place every summer. If the Lakers select or sign a wing player or two, it will remove any motivation to bring back a guy that can't possibly be part of any credible long-term rebuilding effort. However, if LA uses its resources on guards and big men, it could leave them with a need for a human being that stands about 6'6"-6'9". In that case, I could see a scenario in which Mitch Kupchak - alone in his office in the wee hours of some September night - takes a long sip of cognac, picks up the phone and punches in a familiar number, muttering to himself, "I wish I knew how to quit you, Wesley Johnson".
Sabreena Merchant: The word "pursue" intrigues me here because I highly doubt teams will be coming after Wes during free agency. Truthfully, there are no mitigating factors. He'll be cheap to sign, won't have many other suitors, and the Lakers don't exactly have any quality small forwards who are blocking Johnson from returning. Even if the team does upgrade the position during the off-season, I could easily see Kupchak re-signing Johnson for a bench role. He is by all accounts a high-character guy who could easily help to fill out next year's roster.
Trevor Lane: Over the past few seasons the Lakers have been looking for cheap players who washed out with other clubs in the hopes that a change of scenery would allow these players to blossom. While the misfit toys approach has yielded some success (Tarik Black, Wayne Ellington, Ed Davis), at some point roster spots have to be made available to chase more talent. Given Johnson's age, it's safe to say that he is what is at this point, and if there is a younger player with more upside available, the Lakers will cut bait.
The CDP: I think the biggest factor for the Lakers is what their other options are at this point. Two years ago, they took a flier on Johnson, and this year he was a stopgap. As the Lakers look to reload for the future, they owe it to themselves to find a more permanent solution, whether by draft, the D-League, or free agency. You could do worse than Wesley Johnson with those minutes, but no one believes that he will be a permanent solution at the three. That's exactly what the Lakers should be looking for, even if there are growing pains in the short term. If the Lakers literally run out of options and need a body who can sop up minutes, the odds are pretty darn good that Wesley will be available.
Dakota Schmidt: His lack of basketball skills and the fact that there are dozens of better options available through the draft, D-League or free agency. Just look at the D-League and you immediately see players like Elliot Williams or Roscoe Smith who stand as more well-rounded players than Wesley Johnson. In addition to that, you have potential draftees like Justise Winslow or Stanley Johnson in addition to the crop of free agent forwards, and you definitely have a lot of factors behind not bringing back Wesley.
The Great Mambino: Truthfully? It's that Johnson isn't a very good NBA player. The Lakers might not re-sign him because he's simply not worth having on the roster in any capacity.
Do you feel that the Lakers should bring Wesley Johnson back next year?
Harrison Faigen: No. The Lakers know what Wes is, and more importantly what he isn't. Johnson's 29.5 minutes per game would be better served going to a younger option with actual upside next season.
Tucker Tashjian: I don't think so. This past season should've been the Wesley Johnson show after most of the roster went down to injuries. Anytime the starting lineup consists of Bobby Sacre, Tarik Black, Jordan Clarkson, Wayne Ellington and Wesley Johnson, Johnson should play like an all-star. Unfortunately, he does not.
There will be a plethora of available wing players who are either volume shooters or solid defenders that can fill in for Johnson's contributions. I trust Mitch and the front office will take the right action and let Johnson search for other opportunities, if you will.
Ben Rosales: My feeling here is mostly ambivalence. Yes, no one should treat Wes as the primary wing in a rotation as the Lakers have attempted to do the past two seasons, but by the same token, he's not offensive as depth either. He managed to develop one serviceable skill last season in his catch-and-shoot game, as he averaged 1.06 PPP on those opportunities (74th percentile) and combined with his athleticism in transition, that's an acceptable level of talent for a backup wing. As previously mentioned, young, upside options such as Franklin or Smith are likely better ways for the Lakers to utilize playing time on the wing next season, but no one should be up in arms if Wes manages to come back for a third year in a Lakers uniform.
Jameson Miller: Again, in a vacuum, absolutely not. There are many, many options that are far superior to signing Wesley Johnson to your basketball team, but as the last few summers have demonstrated, plans A, B, C and D often don't pan out the way we'd like them to. So while I'd obviously prefer the Lakers give an opportunity to a young up and comer, or just outright sign a better player regardless of age, if it comes down to overpaying for a moderate upgrade or just keeping Wes for the minimum and continuing to kick that can down the road, the choice may not be as clear cut as Johnson's play might indicate. I have to believe the Lakers are smart enough to know that there's nothing other than fool's gold to be mined from Johnson's impressive collection of raw materials, but if it's at the minimum, and his playing time isn't hindering the development of a more promising, younger player, Lakers fans can leave their pitchforks and torches at home if Wes is getting 18-20 minutes per game off the bench.
Sabreena Merchant: I was talking with a friend of mine who's also a Lakers fan about Wes Johnson the other day, and she couldn't understand why I was so down on him. Then, I discovered that she thought Wes' rookie year was last season, and he still had the benefit of time to figure things out. Alas, Wes Johnson will already be 28 years old by the start of next year, and is unlikely to ever cash in on the potential that made him the 4th pick in the 2010 draft. He doesn't have any above-average skills that make him worth keeping around, and Los Angeles would be better served giving his minutes to another player with more upside.
Trevor Lane: No, absolutely not. Wes has played the past two seasons as a contract-year player, which means that he has had millions of dollars and his entire career at stake. There isn't much more that can be done to motivate him to realize his potential. If he was ever going to be the athletic, sweet-shooting, lockdown defender that everyone hoped he would be, it would have happened by now. He is who he is, and that just isn't a very good NBA player. Assuming the Lakers keep their pick and the tank is dead, the team will need to win as many games as possible next year and there just hasn't been anything to suggest that Wesley Johnson is a player that will help with that endeavor.
The CDP: Honestly, no. I strongly feel that the Lakers should sign anyone with some kind of upside. They will be drafting another piece to add to the emerging Randle/Clarkson core and should be taking calculated risks to fill out their other needs (basically everything). The Lakers can't ignore the opportunity cost of settling for known quantities when a D-Leaguer could come in to provide quality minutes, similar to what Jabari Brown was able to do this season. Otherwise, there are several second and third tier options that could potentially be lured away in free agency, like Chase Budinger, Jae Crowder, and DeMarre Carroll.
Dakota Schmidt: Nope. No matter if the Lakers want to go through the full rebuild or bring in a crop of top-notch free agents to pursue a playoff spot, Johnson just doesn't fit in. He'll probably receive some kind of deal during the off-season, but I really hope that's not with the Lakers or any other NBA franchise, for the sake of their fans.
The Great Mambino: No. The Lakers have given Wes every chance to succeed and he doesn't look like any more different a player than he did during his time in Minnesota. At this point, we know what Johnson is. It's time to see if any other player can exceed the incredibly mediocre heights that he's hit.