While nearly every free agent signing or acquisition the Lakers made during the offseason underwhelmed — Malik Monk and Austin Reaves notable exclusions — effectively all of their in-season free agent signings panned out, led by Stanley Johnson. At a time the Lakers needed a spark amid a COVID outbreak, Johnson stepped in and excelled back in his hometown.
He became an integral piece of the team’s rotation to close out the year, earning himself a two-year contract in the process. That deal, though, includes a team option for the 2022-23 season. With much of the Lakers upcoming offseason uncertain, Johnson spoke about his future and whether it was with the Lakers during his exit interview on Monday.
“I think that’s a question for Rob and Kurt,” Johnson said. “Until June 30, my job is with the Los Angeles Lakers. And when I go into my summer that will be my mindset until I’m notified differently. At that point in time we can deal with that when we get there. But me getting better as a basketball player, like the role that I had here and the things that I do here are the things that I think I can excel at on any team.
“So it wouldn’t change my work ethic. I think we have some of the best staff in the world. Mike and Phil especially are the guys I worked with the most this year, so it wouldn’t make a difference where I trained or how I prepared, I still want to prepare this way, with these guys, so I think we’re all excited about getting back in the gym (after) taking a couple of weeks off.”
While it wasn’t a career-best year in terms of points per game for Johnson, the Lakers were able to unlock a different aspect of his game. By playing him predominantly as a small ball center or more of a forward around the rim, Johnson’s field goal percentage rose to not just career-best levels, but multiples times over the best of his career.
Previously, Johnson’s best field goal percentage in a season was 38.9% in his season split between Detroit and New Orleans. With the Lakers, his field goal percentage was 46.6%. Per Cleaning the Glass, 38% of Johnson’s attempts came at the rim, the highest number of his career, with an additional 20% classified as short mid-range jumpers as well.
By turning him into more of a center that can stretch the floor, the Lakers were unable to revitalize Johnson’s career this season. Prior to joining the Lakers, Johnson was out of the league, trying to latch back onto a team through the G Leauge. Now, regardless of what the Lakers do with his contract this summer, he will almost certainly land with a team next season.
But given how impactful he was for the Lakers and how much of a fan favorite he became, hopefully, that next season is back in the purple and gold.