Ever since his early childhood, Wesley Johnson became one of those many basketball players aspiring to become a Laker.
The first source of influence traced to his mother, who grew up cheering Magic Johnson. Many other reasons followed suit. Johnson marveled at Kobe Bryant’s game both from afar. Johnson then worked out privately with Bryant after joining the same agent in Rob Pelinka and becoming the fourth pick of the 2010 NBA Draft.
Even though he said he had offers from a lot of different teams,” Johnson considered it a “no brainer” to sign with the Lakers to a one-year deal worth a little under $1 million. He also hardly second guessed and joining a team that’s recently removed from its storied championship history. When it came to Johnson unveiling his No. 11 Lakers jersey, his life suddenly came full circle.
“This is a dream come true,” Johnson said. “I always wanted to be a Laker. I can’t even put into words how excited I am to be here. Knowing the heritage and history of the program and being here is going to bring out a lot of hard work and dedication from me on my behalf. That’s how badly I want to be here. From the team collectively, I know I can contribute in a lot of ways.”
The Lakers envision Johnson in providing outside shooting, perimeter defense and athleticism, three qualities they lacked consistently in last season that ended in a first-round flameout to the San Antonio Spurs. Lakers spokesman John Black even revealed general manager Mitch Kupchak believes Johnson “can develop into a Michael Cooper or Trevor Ariza type player.”
Yet, 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. Regardless, Johnson believes his versatility, defense and athleticism will fit more into Mike D’Antoni’s offense that calls for such qualities.
“This is one of the most important seasons of my life,” Johnson said. “From the Lakers’ standpoint, they want to get back on the right foot, too. It’s definitely going to go hand in hand.”
The Lakers have also acquired an established center (Chris Kaman), a proven scorer (Nick Young) and an athletic point guard (Jordan Farmar) despite having only the mini mid-level exception ($3.2 million) and veteran’s minimum at their disposal. Yet, that can’t camouflage the absence from Dwight Howard’s departure to Houston or waiving Metta World Peace through the amnesty provision. There’s also question marks on when Kobe Bryant will return from a torn left Achilles tendon and how healthy Steve Nash and Pau Gasol can stay with their respective hamstring and knee injuries.
Johnson admitted wondering why the Lakers flamed out last season despite fielding a $100 million payroll. But he expressed confidence the Lakers will restore to their championship luster.
“My ears is open to everybody form the coaching staff and everybody. They’re all winners and all champions,” Johnson said. “They know what it takes. That’s my goal to really contribute to try to bring back another ring. After seeing the trophy and banners when I did come play, it brings excitement to me knowing I’ll be playing something like that. I’m blessed and thankful I’m here. I’m looking forward to lifting up a trophy this coming season.”
First things first.
Johnson’s just beginning living out his dream.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org