No one would have expected Stanley Johnson to become as essential and important to the Lakers as he has in recent weeks. Barely a month removed from playing in the G League with the South Bay Lakers, Johnson has played through a pair of 10-day contracts for the Los Angeles Lakers themselves and looks likely to finish out the season with the purple and gold.
Johnson’s current 10-day contract is set to expire following Saturday’s contest against the Nuggets. Following that, he can only sign one more 10-day deal with the Lakers before the team must either sign him for the rest of the season or let him go without a contract. Through his nearly three weeks with the team, Johnson feels he’s made his impression.
“Hopefully I’ve shown that I can be consistent,” Johnson said after practice on Friday, “a good teammate, that I bring energy to the court, just (that I am) a good professional overall. Obviously, the goal is to get on the team, and honestly, stick long-term. That’s a goal of mine, and if it happens, it happens. I’ll be very, very excited about it. I think the team has been really, really solid and I’ve really enjoyed myself while I’ve been here, honestly. And we’ll kind of go from there... We have a game tomorrow. I’ll deal with the game, and then after the game we’ll deal with that.”
Johnson’s impact has been more than a statistical one for the Lakers. His timely arrival allowed the Lakers to fully embrace their micro-ball strategy in the wake of Anthony Davis’ injury. The lack of young, athletic wings on the Lakers roster allowed Johnson the chance to step in and contribute immediately and he did exactly that.
Add in the feel-good nature of his story and Johnson has become a bit of a fan favorite during his brief time with the franchise. Having grown up a Lakers fan, Johnson already previously expressed his excitement to even put on the jersey, something he reiterated on Friday.
“This has been an amazing opportunity all over the place,” Johnson said. “I’ve learned a lot as an athlete watching Hall of Famers at work every day. And obviously coming from where I come from out here, you want to play for the Lakers at some point in time, and getting the chance to not only do it, but doing it on some of the best days you could possibly do it on like Christmas Day, and being able to start, it’s been a great experience for me. Obviously, I’m greedy, I want to be able to finish the season and finish what I started, but it’s been an amazing experience.”
Johnson’s limited skillset leads to some obvious flaws, notably his 3-pointer shooting, but the positives have outweighed the cons during his time in Los Angeles. And being a Los Angeles native that has been around the league for some time, Johnson feels the franchise s aware of what he can bring to the table.
“I think a lot of people in this organization have known me so long, I think they know exactly who I am and what I can and cannot do,” Johnson said. “Rob Pelinka, he’s been around basketball long enough, I don’t think I’m surprising him here... I don’t think anybody doesn’t know what I can and cannot do here so far.”
Pair it all together and it should lead to a contract for the remainder of the season...eventually. The Lakers can’t be faulted for maximizing their flexibility, especially if Johnson is willing to play ball with them in that regard.
And on the court, Johnson has proven to be a far more valuable player than a number of Lakers currently on the roster. With the team reportedly searching to offload the contracts of DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore, likely among others, While he may not be a part of the Lakers rotation when fully healthy, he’s a playable piece even in the playoffs in the right circumstances, which is more than can be said about too many other players on the roster.
Johnson is a flawed player, but is so in such a way that the Lakers can help cover up those weaknesses. While he may still be hopeful that he’s proven his worth to the Lakers, the debate should long be over whether he should remain on the roster the remainder of this season.