When Anthony Johnson was benched during the NBA Finals last season, it wasn’t easy on the 11-year veteran. Johnson, ordinarily a pretty cordial guy in the locker room who jokingly went by “Dad” and “No-neck” to his teammates, would quietly get dressed after games and say few words to anyone.
Johnson was taking the classy route after seeing his minutes disappear in favor of the injured Jameer Nelson. Johnson knew that speaking out wouldn’t help himself and, more importantly, wouldn’t help the team. He knew the Magic wanted Nelson to make a dubious return from a shoulder injury that had sidelined him for four months. He knew the team could rally around Jameer. So he kept to himself.
Now, with a new season on the horizon and training camp underway, Johnson is trying to forgive and forget.
“It’s been quite difficult to move on,” Johnson said. “But now it’s time for a new season. It’s time to put that out of your mind and focus on a new year. It’s time to focus on training camp and get ready for a long season, hopefully.”
The Magic traded away point guard Rafer Alston, but they signed Jason Williams out of retirement in August to challenge Johnson for the backup point guard spot. Johnson, while not always beloved by everyone as the number-two point guard, did a respectable job last season. He always worked on defense and didn’t kill the team offensively.
You can’t blame Otis Smith for brining in Williams because the potential upside involved — Williams was, at one time, a borderline all-star. Even though that version of Williams likely isn’t around anymore, it’s worth the risk knowing Johnson is around.
Here’s a brief look at how Johnson and Williams stack up statistically:
Magic backup point guards, most recent seasons, per 36 minutes
2008-09 Anthony Johnson: 10.2 points, 5.3 assists, 41.3 FG%, 9.6 FGA,
2007-08 Jason Williams: 13.1 points, 7.2 assists, 39.6 FG%, 12.2 FGA
Magic backup point guards, most recent seasons, advanced stats
2008-09 Anthony Johnson: 11.2 PER, .487 TS%, 24.1 AST%, 16.0 TOV%
2007-08 Jason Williams: 14.4 PER, .503 TS%, 32.5 AST%, 16.7 TOV%
Of course, the backup point guard battle is something that will entice plenty of attention throughout training camp and the preseason. But Johnson — a guy who’s been underappreciated by fans since the beginning of last season — is trying to worry about the things he can control, and not worry about any decisions made by other people.
“I’m not quite sure what to expect, so I’m just going to go out and play Anthony Johnson basketball,” he said. “I’ll just play well and hopefully that will be good enough for me to earn a spot in the rotation.”
Month of Magic Each day leading up to the season, we’ll take a look at the Orlando Magic by featuring a different player, coach, or storyline.