If I told you that Wesley Johnson and 2013-14 NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant share something statistically in common, would you believe me?
As the free agent moratorium continues, the Nets are a team that has been in the spotlight, for better or worse. Just days before the start of free agency, former head coach Jason Kidd was shown the exit doors after a failed power play to become the President of Basketball Operations and usurp General Manager Billy King in the organizational hierarchy. Once Kidd was officially compensated, the Nets were one of two teams to not have a head coach at the start of free agency, the other being the Los Angeles Lakers. However, King moved swiftly in identifying a few targets, and was able to hire former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins as Brooklyn's main man. Now, King must move swiftly in finding bargain free agents to fill out the Nets roster after the loss of Shaun Livingston to the Golden State Warriors and with the futures of Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett up in the air.
Enter Wesley Johnson. In 2010, the Syracuse University product was selected fourth overall in the NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, ahead of the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward and Paul George. After a few mercurial seasons, the Timberwolves shipped Johnson to the Phoenix Suns, where Johnson struggled to find playing time until Lindsey Hunter became the head coach. However, Johnson was not re-signed by the Suns, and instead signed a one-year, veteran's minimum contract with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer.
Kobe Bryant was injured. Dwight Howard took his talents to Houston. Pau Gasol was disgruntled. And Nick Young grew into the legend commonly known as Swaggy P. Amidst all of this was Johnson, a player who was trying to salvage his NBA career in the City of Angels. And did he ever. During last season with the Lakers, Johnson had himself a career year. He played in 79 games -- starting in 62 -- and averaged career highs across the board in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, free throw percentage and minutes. Johnson didn't necessarily have a breakout year, but he proved that he has a place in this league, something people often questioned during his days in Minnesota.
Johnson, a swingman, was able to carve himself a role with the Lakers. Will that parlay him into finding a lucrative deal? His former teammate, Jodie Meeks, recently agreed to a 3-year deal with the Detroit Pistons worth $19 million. Ben Gordon, after two disappearing seasons, signed a 2-year deal with the Orlando Magic worth $9 million. Avery Bradley, who was in the same draft class as Johnson, re-signed with the Boston Celtics for 4 years and $32 million. Another guard from that same class, Lance Stephenson, might be in position to command an eight-figure annual salary this summer. The most the Nets can offer is the mini mid-level exception, or a starting salary of just over $3 million. The Nets are said to be targeting 2011 draft pick Bojan Bogdanovic with the exception, and even if they do sign Bogdanovic, they should still pursue Johnson.
Johnson is in rare air in NBA statistics. Last season, Johnson was one of four players to be a 1+1+1 player. Who were the other 3 players? Those were 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant, Pistons forward Josh Smith and Rudy Gay. A 1+1+1 player is one who averages one 3-pointer, one steal and one block per game. Johnson is essentially the definition of a "3 & D" player. This past season, he shot 37 percent from 3-point land, right around the league average. On the defensive end, he was the Lakers' primary stopper, regularly taking on players like Durant, LeBron James and the most elite wings in the NBA. His incredible, gifted athleticism and length helps him to become a nuisance on that end of the court, while also allowing him to be a versatile weapon on the offensive end of the court.
Ultimately, Wesley Johnson is not a star. He's not someone who transforms a 25-win team into a 45-win team. However, he's a solid role player and somebody who can come in and contribute. The Nets need youth in the worst way, and Johnson has the possibility to be a late bloomer. He has shown he can come off the bench or start, and with several players and positions in question, having Johnson in Brooklyn would at least give the Nets a capable NBA player on the wing to fall back on. Last season, the Nets took a chance on Shaun Livingston and hit the jackpot. If Billy King takes a chance on Johnson, he just may be able to hit the jackpot again.