The Sacramento Kings signed 6-foot-5 shooting guard Orlando Johnson to a 10-day contract Wednesday morning, a day after they revealed a Jimmer Fredette buyout was in the works. Last week, the second-year pro out of UC Santa Barbara was waived by the Indiana Pacers to make room for trade acquisitions Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen.
Although Johnson was traded from the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers to the struggling Kings, the 24-year-old guard told reporters following his first practice that he was excited for the opportunity to see more time on the court despite the initial disappointment of being released.
“The opportunity to get minutes is outweighing that (leaving a contender) by far,” said Johnson, who only appeared in 38 games this season with Indiana for 9.0 minutes per contest. It even got to the point where he requested that his coaches send him to the D-League for more playing time (his coaches obliged and sent him to Fort Wayne for a week in early February).
He added, “For me, I wanted the best opportunity to play, and we looked at a lot of different teams, but when it came down to it, I thought Sacramento was gonnna be the perfect fit.”
As a rookie, Johnson converted 38.3 percent from three-point range, but this season, his long-distance stroke has regressed. With Indiana in 2013-14, Johnson shot 34.4 percent from the field and just under 20 percent from deep.
Coach Mike Malone claimed that Johnson’s shooting woes may have been caused by his sparse playing time. After Wednesday’s practice, Malone clarified, however, that Johnson “looked very good on both sides of the basketball” and “showed no rust.”
Malone, a coach who prides himself on teaching defense, spoke enthusiastically about his newest acquisition’s defensive skills.
“In talking to their (the Pacers’) coaches, he’s a guy that is a very good team defender,” said Malone. “He has a high IQ in terms of what they’re trying to do with their defensive philosophy and where he needs to be off the ball at all times. And then one-on-one defensively, I think he’s a more than capable defender, who has an opportunity and the potential to get better.”
Johnson’s former team led the league in defensive efficiency each of the last two seasons.
“I came from a coach who was definitely defensive-minded, has one of the best defensive teams in the league,” said Johnson, “so for me, I knew last year, that’s how I would get on the court, and that’s what I’m gonna do here. I’m gonna play defense, play hard and get after it.
“I just think my experience from Indiana – the coaching staff and the personnel there – they taught me the right way to play the game. And it starts with being a selfless player, playing for each other, and doing it on the defensive end.”
Through 57 games, meanwhile, Sacramento ranks sixth-to-last in defensive efficiency, surrendering 106.1 points per 100 possessions.
Although the Kings’ defense has slowly started to improve in February, where they’re allowing just 101.0 points per 100 possessions (seventh-best), coach Malone hopes that Johnson can pass on the lessons he learned in Indiana to some of the Kings’ youngsters.
According to Malone, “I’m sure that their practices in Indiana are structured around defense, so the fact that he’s been around that defense, as well as just the overall culture and work ethic that goes into being a championship-caliber team, will hopefully spread and be contagious to some of our other guys. So he’s gonna help Ben McLemore become a better player, because he’s gonna go at it every day, he’s gonna push him (and) he’s gonna go at him.”
Johnson added, “I think if we can get the right defensive mindset in here, I think we can start turning things around ‘cuz that’s where it really starts. If you want to take your game to the next level, it starts on the defensive end.”
The move brings the Seaside, Calif., native back to Northern California, a development of which he’s very excited.
“I’m looking forward to embracing this opportunity here and rolling with it ‘cuz you don’t get a chance like this too much to come be back home, and (being) not too far from my family makes it pretty special,” said Johnson, whose brothers will now be able to attend some of his games.
The signing also returns Johnson to the very team that drafted him with its 2012 second-round selection before quickly shipping him away for cash.
“I’m excited about this, this franchise, about being here, about just growing with them ‘cuz it’s a young core,” said the similarly young two-guard. “I really think I could help out.”
Malone noted that Johnson could suit up for his team debut as early as Friday night against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
For now, Johnson has a 10-day deal, but both he and Malone expressed optimism that he would be able to find a more long-term niche with the team. Interestingly enough, Johnson’s 10-day contract will expire in the middle of a grueling seven-game road trip and right before Johnson’s 25th birthday.