What James Johnson brings to this year’s incarnation of the Sacramento Kings is anyone’s guess.
“I’m just a hard worker,” said the Kings’ newest forward, describing his game for Cowbell Kingdom on media day. “Grind – both ends of the floor. Not (just) a defensive player, not (just) an offensive player. I rebound, I block. I play the game of basketball the way it should be…”
Johnson is affable and seems like a likeable addition to the Sacramento Kings’ 2012-13 locker room. Besides Tyreke Evans, whom he shared agents with coming into the 2009 NBA Draft, he knew no other Kings prior to his arrival in Sacramento. But if his personality is any indication, he seems like he’ll fit in off and on-the-court.
“Right now there’s no telling,” Johnson replied when asked how he might fit into this young core of players.
“Me knowing myself and how hard I work and how hard I play – I know that the Kings brought me here for a reason,” he added. “And I’m just going to keep playing my game and doing everything that I can to help improve myself and the team.”
Acquired in July from the Toronto Raptors, Johnson was never formally introduced in a press conference by the Kings. Media day was the local press’ first meeting with the new Kings forward. In fact, Johnson just began playing and working out in Sacramento earlier last month. But, he suggested he’s learned plenty from his initial pick-up sessions with his new teammates.
“I see who has heart, who likes to play hard,” said Johnson of his preliminary workouts in the capital city. “And there’s a lot of us who just want to win – they don’t care about scoring. They don’t care about anything else except grinding and getting a (win).”
The self-described slasher played just an abbreviated season and a half for his last team. He doesn’t begrudge his experience in Toronto, where he started 40 of the Raptors’ 66 games last year. But, Johnson says he feels less restricted in Sacramento and credits that to the personable approach of head coach Keith Smart.
“I think he’s going to let me play my game and let me mess up playing my game,” Johnson said of Smart. “Let me make my mistakes and learn from my mistakes, (rather) than penalizing me for them.”
Since the departure of Ron Artest in 2008, the Kings have struggled to find an heir to the small forward position. Inconsistent play from the incumbents have plagued the Kings from finding a formidable replacement.
Johnson would like the job, but the 6-foot-9 forward out of Wake Forest suggests he’s willing to contribute in any role.
“I’m not the coach,” he said. “But I know my heart. It’s their heart versus mine. At the end of the day, we’re still a team and if (someone else gets) the starting job and I’m coming off the bench, then I’m getting my pom poms and cheering until I get in.”
Entering his fourth NBA season, the Kings will be Johnson’s third team. Last week on the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast, Kings director of player personnel Jerry Reynolds likened Johnson‘s career-trajectory to that of Doug Christie‘s. In contrast, it took eight seasons and three teams before the former King found a home in Sacramento.
“Sure (but) I compare myself to me a lot,” Johnson responded when asked if he agreed with the Christie comparison. “Like I said, I got heart and I’m gonna take the challenge of playing defense against your best player. But at the same time, I’m not no slouch and I will go back at you on the offensive end if given the opportunity, and I feel like I’m going to get the opportunity.”
For their sake, the Kings are hoping he can fulfill on that promise.