The Raptors have agreed to sign free agent forward James Johnson to a two-year contract worth $5 million, according to Yahoo! Sports. Due to the parameters of the deal and Toronto's other salary cap commitments, Johnson will likely take up a portion of the team's mid-level exception.
Johnson, 27, averaged 7.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 blocks in just 18.4 minutes per game with the Grizzlies last season. This was Johnson at his best – flying around on both ends of the floor, leveraging his weird skills as a passer and shot-blocker to best effect. Unfortunately, Johnson wasn't quite dependable enough for Dave Joerger to trust him with regular minutes down the stretch of the regular season or playoffs. He still made his appearances – a 15-point game here, a three-block performance there – but Johnson sat behind Courtney Lee, Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen and Mike Miller on the Grizzlies' depth chart. He'll be a rung higher in Toronto, filling in for the since-traded John Salmons in an unequivocal upgrade.
Not only should the Raptors benefit from Johnson's wild dynamism, but with this signing they add needed size and defensive ability on the wing. The other regulars at shooting guard and small forward (DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Lou Williams) are rather slight, a problem when it comes to defending bigger, stronger opponents. That limitation was put on full display as Brooklyn's Joe Johnson worked the post against Toronto's wings in the playoffs – the lingering image of which undoubtedly reinforced the need for specific address. The Raptors find that in Johnson, a more physical combo forward athletic enough to guard across multiple positions.
Johnson, who played for the Raptors from 2010-2012, is positioned best when his team can benefit from his surges in production without strictly relying on them. Toronto is just such a fit; much of the heavy lifting on this team will be done by DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson, and in time Ross and Jonas Valanciunas as well. Williams and Greivis Vasquez (whom the Raptors will re-sign to a two-year, $13 million deal) will come off the bench to handle the ball and create shots, allowing Johnson to explode from the margins.
Grade: B. A fair, short-term deal for a talented role player. Johnson's game might not be quite as stable as his coaches would undoubtedly prefer, but few players available at this price point can influence the game is so many distinct ways.