Frank Vogel may not have explicitly said that the Lakers are planning to bring Stanley Johnson back, but he made their intentions pretty clear on Monday, when reading between the lines of his post-practice comments.
Vogel confirmed that Johnson (and fellow hardship signing Darren Collison) both were not at practice, and that their 10-day contracts expired on Monday. And when discussing why the team traded Rajon Rondo to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-way deal including the New York Knicks that opened up a roster spot for the Lakers — a roster spot they could theoretically use to sign Johnson for the rest of the season — Vogel tried to play coy about what the team was planning to do with said opening.
“The ability to have the flexibility of having a roster spot for what we have coming forward, which is still unknown, I think Rob saw value in that,” Vogel said.
The Lakers can’t sign Johnson to another 10-day contract until Wednesday, Jan. 5., the first day teams are allowed to start signing 10-days if they don’t have anyone in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. But, as mentioned above, the team does have an open roster spot now, and so they could just sign Johnson for the rest of the season. They could also create a second roster spot by declining to guarantee the contract of Avery Bradley on Friday, Jan. 7, so it’s not like Johnson would be their only signing if they did keep him.
The point is — as my colleague Christian Rivas wrote about in more detail earlier this morning — the Lakers have a busy week ahead of them, and a lot of options. Vogel claimed they have not made any final decisions on any of it.
“We still don’t know. Rob (Pelinka) and Kurt (Rambis) are going to make those decisions as they see fit, and that will all play out in the next couple of days,” Vogel said.
However, while Vogel did his best to not give away the whole ruse, he slipped up a few times, and heavily implied that the team expects to bring Johnson back.
For example, while discussing how often the Lakers have been forced to experiment with lineups, he said the organization has been trying to learn things about their roster in every single game, practice, or film session, and happened to mention a player who isn’t on the team right now — Johnson — as one of the players they were still looking at.
“We’re evaluating, constantly. We still haven’t seen Kendrick Nunn. Trevor Ariza is still very new to our team. Stanley Johnson has potentially become a factor for us,” Vogel said. “We’re going to continue to look at all these players and where they fit.”
And when pressed after that on if the Lakers are concerned there is a chance Johnson could go somewhere else, Vogel again hinted that the team is pretty confident that he’ll be back in purple and gold, playing for the team he grew up rooting for.
“There is no real detail I can go into on that, other than that we still hope to have him back for some more games,” Vogel said. “All those answers will reveal themselves over the next few days.”
That’s not soon enough for many fans (like my wife), who are wondering why the team hasn’t gotten this done yet, or demanding they sign Johnson now.
But Vogel’s comments leave one with the distinct impression that there is an understanding here between the two sides. And for the Lakers, there are a few possible benefits to waiting this out:
- This is admittedly morbid, but is also a reality: If a Lakers player goes into the health and safety protocols between now and Wednesday, Johnson could immediately sign a 10-day contract that would a) not count against the Lakers’ salary or luxury tax payments and b) not count towards their limit of two 10-day contracts for any one individual player.
- Even if the Lakers wait until Wednesday to sign Johnson, every single day they wait before signing him to a veteran’s minimum contract for the rest of the season means that his prorated minimum contract would have less of a cap hit. So if they sign him to two 10-days before giving him a guaranteed contract for the season, his contract would cost them less in taxes at the end of the year, which we know is a concern for this ownership group.
Not exactly. Stanley Johnson’s 10-Day expired last night. If they sign him today to a rest of season deal he would count as $940k. Rondo makes $1.7M. It’s ~$800k less but they’re saving ~$3M total w/ luxury tax.— Yossi Gozlan (@YossiGozlan) January 3, 2022
They can rinse and repeat this with other veteran minimum guys. https://t.co/QhkOLr7tmt
Every day in the regular season, the veteran minimum gets smaller. So delaying a standard contract saves teams more money.— Yossi Gozlan (@YossiGozlan) January 3, 2022
There is also the reality that this route leaves the Lakers with more flexibility moving forward, roster-wise, as my friend Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report explained well:
This is an often asked misconception. Roster spots are extremely valuable going into the Feb 10 trade deadline. LAL just opened a spot via trade - waiting 2 days to keep Stanley Johnson (assuming) flexible on a pair of 10-days could make necessary room for a trade https://t.co/b2wYek8i9t— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) January 4, 2022
Say they signed Stanley today for the rest of the season, but then in a few weeks need a roster spot, so they have to cut him. Maybe he's claimed off waivers - and they don't get him back. The tax isn't the motivation - the flexibility is— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) January 4, 2022
“But why would Johnson be OK with that? Doesn’t it leave the risk that they could lose him to another team?” I can hear a hypothetical straw man asking.And yes, that is theoretically a possibility, but it ignores a few factors:
- Does anyone really think that Johnson, his agent, and the Lakers haven’t talked about this? The Lakers are surely aware of where Johnson’s camp stands, and if they thought there was a gigantic chance they were going to lose a player that 29 other teams had all year to sign to a guaranteed deal but didn’t, they’d probably have already done a contract with Johnson.
- But sure, Johnson could theoretically sign with another team. Still, were his 10 (admittedly very strong) days with the Lakers enough for any team to offer him more than the 10-day the Lakers seem to currently be extending? Is any team offering him a better opportunity to rehabilitate his career and earn a long-term deal this summer by showing out in a potential starting spot on a contender? Does any other organization have his fellow Mater Dei product and mentor (Miles Simon) on the bench as an assistant coach? The answers to all of these questions are varying degrees of “no.”
Add up all of it, throw in Dave McMenamin of ESPN’s report that Johnson and the Lakers have “mutual interest” in a reunion, and it’s not that surprising that both sides are comfortable waiting a maximum of two days to do another deal.
Because no matter how reticent that Vogel is to completely admit it out loud, it’s pretty obvious that there is a plan in place here for Johnson. Everyone waiting to see what it is exactly will just have to be a little more patient. As Vogel said, “all those answers will reveal themselves over the next few days.”