His plans to watch this year’s Summer League team took Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak away from a routine he developed in recent weeks.
He would shake hands with a newly acquired free agent. Kupchak then displayed the players’ freshly minted Lakers jersey before shuttering cameras. And then Kupchak spoke into a horde of microphones gushing about the player’s skillset.
That changed when the Lakers introduced swingman Wesley Johnson Thursday at the team’s facility in El Segundo shortly after signing him to a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum worth a little under $1 million. Lakers spokesman John Black revealed Kupchak’s expectations that he may or may not have wanted divulged.
“He thinks Wesley can develop into a Michael Cooper or Trevor Ariza type player,” Black said. “Mitch will probably be mad at me for sharing that with you guys publicly. But I think all Laker fans would be very happy if something like that were to happen, as would we.”
A tall order indeed.
Cooper cemented himself as one of the NBA’s best defenders and bench players, guiding the Lakers to five NBA championships in the Showtime Era. Although it didn’t secure any long-term future, Ariza’s outside shooting, defense and length helped the Lakers to a 2009 NBA championship.
Meanwhile, Johnson has had three uneventful seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. He averaged 7.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 23.1 minutes, modest numbers for a someone picked fourth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft.
“It just didn’t fit me,” Johnson said of his stints in Minnesota and Phoenix. “It didn’t suit my style of play as far as the offense that I was a part of. It wasn’t going my way. I wouldn’t say it was bad luck, but it wasn’t my time.”
Johnson and the Lakers remain convinced that time is now.
Kupchak and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni have informed Johnson in conversations that they envision him as a dependable player who could provide outside shooting, perimeter defense and athleticism on a team in dire need of such qualities. Johnson, who’s admitted lacking assertiveness in previous seasons, believes his frequent offseason workouts have erased that habit. In those sessions, Johnson said his game has “catapulted” this offseason after developed on all areas, ranging from his shooting, ball handling and conditioning.
“It’ll happen when the season starts as far as showing you how I’ve asserted myself,” Johnson said. “I think being in the gym a whole lot changed my whole mindset and going through what I was going through my first three years. Having been through that, it’s come to an end. I’m going to show you the real Wes. I’ll go back to playing basketball.”
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