Wes Johnson has a 'blank slate' with Phoenix Suns


PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns’ offseason has brought about a theme of second chances. Goran Dragic gets his second go-around with the Suns while Michael Beasley comes to Phoenix in hopes of revamping his image.

And 2010 fourth overall pick Wes Johnson, traded to the Suns from the Minnesota Timberwolves today, gets his second chance after a greatly disappointing run thus far in the NBA.

Johnson’s career got off to a rocky start in his first season. Then a rookie out of Syracuse, Johnson pulled his hamstring in his first Summer League game with the T-Wolves, and ever since, the 6-foot-7 wing that general manager Lance Blanks says has a small forward’s length and a shooting guard’s stroke struggled to impress in Minnesota.

“I think things didn’t get off in that first year, his confidence gets a little shaky,” Blanks said on a conference call Friday. “He’s a guy who can really shoot the ball. If you lose confidence in this league, it’s going to be very difficult on a nightly basis to be successful.”

Suns PBO Lon Babby pointed to current Phoenix players Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat as examples of guys who broke out with their second team and the right opportunity, and he hopes Johnson will get that same chance. Blanks mentioned the high, perhaps unfair expectations placed on Johnson as a top-five pick as a reason for the career so far perceived as disappointing.

“Why do I think it’ll work here? We’re in a position where we need young guys and we need to grow,” Blanks added, “and we’re only going to grow as far and as much as those guys take us. He’s going to be in an environment where the expectations and the bar are much lower than it was in being drafted as the fourth player in the draft. He coming in pretty much with a blank slate.”

Johnson’s numbers waned this past season. He averaged just 6.0 points and 2.7 rebounds per game and only shot 39.8 percent from the field, the same as his career shooting percentage. That production was disappointing after he averaged 9.0 points, 1.9 assists and 3.0 rebounds per outing during his rookie year.

This summer, Johnson showed well at the Summer League. He told Drew Packham of NBA.com that he’s just trying to be assertive. And that’s boded well for his confidence, especially from three-point range where he could earn quality minutes on the new-look Suns, who prior to today’s trade were thin with only Dudley and Shannon Brown as wings.

“We are wildly excited about guys like Wes Johnson because most of the players like Wes are at a point in their career where their careers could go either way,” Blanks said, adding that he hopes that the Suns’ player development program can help “catapult” the careers of players like Johnson. “I think he’s in a situation were he needs a new environment.”

Lopez wanted starter’s minutes

On a broader scale, Phoenix’s trade that netted Johnson and a first-round pick for center Robin Lopez and forward Hakim Warrick fit two goals: get younger and acquire assets.

Babby was pleased to get both, but the trade also helped out the two players being shipped off.

The Suns really did want to keep Lopez, Babby maintains, and the offers they gave him were “in the range” of the sign-and-trade deal netting him $15 million over three years.

But Lopez told the team that starting minutes were important to him, and Babby said that weighed more heavily on Lopez than the contract.

“Not unlike Hak, Robin loved it in Phoenix but made it clear he was really looking for an opportunity to be a starter,” Babby said in the conference call. “At the end of the day, going to New Orleans only provides an opportunity for him.”

Babby said the team has about $7 million in cap space after the trade, and he and Blanks noted that the one hole Phoenix will look to fill will be at the back-up center position left vacant by the loss of Lopez.

As for Warrick, Blanks and Babby both went out of their way to call the forward a “consummate professional” in his handling of playing only spot minutes with Phoenix.

“He acted in the way you would only dream of (for someone in his position),” Blanks said.

Michael Schwartz will have an update later on the complicated breakdown of the first-round draft pick that the Suns acquired.

Suns hire Steve Albert as play-by-play announcer

Steve Albert, little brother of TNT’s Marv Albert, has signed a five-year contract to take over for Tom Leander as the Phoenix Suns’ play-by-play announcer, Paul Coro reports. Formerly Showtime’s boxing announcer for 24 years, Albert has 19 years of NBA broadcasting chops, most of which were spent with the New Jersey Nets.

Leander will still host the pregame, postgame and halftime shows. Eddie Johnson is expected to remain as the Suns’ color commentator.

Tags: Wes Johnson

  • Animan

    Love this. Love all of this. Now we can turn our heads to a back-up center. Fesenko, Haddadi, hell, even Yi Jianlian could work.

  • Jason A.

    The real question is whether we’re going to extend WJ’s contract before the 10/31 deadline. I bet we do. As far as a center, I think we should sign a summer league/d league guy with a compelling story.

  • steve

    Lopez ended up in New Orleans, right? And he thinks he’s going to be a starter? Am I missing something?

  • http://SportsFanhood.com Jon J

    This trade is great for all 3 teams involved. Lopez and Warrick couldn’t offer much to the Suns at this point, but will let Anthony Davis excel as a help-defender in NO. Meanwhile Wes Johnson, like Michael Beasley, has the athleticism and potential to step up his game in the run-and-gun offense. Both guys were stagnant in Minnesota, but have a great opportunity here as the Suns rebuild.
    http://www.sportsfanhood.com/2012/07/suns-acquire-wesley-johnson-in-three.html

  • bk

    Dragic, Beasley, Scola, Gortat, Frye, Morris, Brown, Dudley should play heavy minutes. This Johnson would be luckily if he can get 15 min.

  • Dakota

    Steve, Lopez will start. Anthony Davis is a power forward and Lopez is a center.

  • sun also rises

    “catapult” = bolster their confidence, give them the opportunity to achieve star quality and then watch as they go off to contribute for other teams

    Welcome to the dollhouse Wes!

  • thatdude

    Babby said Johnson can shoot?? Am I missing something or is this kid 39% for his career FG???? Well all we need to do is add another bust to be our back up center .. Say Kwame Brown or Milicic lol .. We might as well ‘resurrect’ their careers as well….

    @Michael
    I enjoy reading Tony’s objective comments but I dont enjoy the kid that uses his name and posts childish rants. Any way you can fix that?? Thx in advance….

  • thatdude

    Wow Blanks said he can shoot??? Wtf .. Id expect that from Babby .. Wow

  • steve

    @Dakota

    If Robin Lopez is going to start on a team with Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, then I’m going to be the next man on the moon.

    I would never in a million years start Robin Lopez if I had those other two. The only possible explanation I can see for regularly starting Lopez would be to “ease” Davis into the NBA grind. Ryan Anderson is a stud, far better than Lopez in every category except blocks (which happens to be Davis’s specialty).

    Again, am I missing something? I see no reason for NO to give Lopez any more minutes than he could earn in PHX.

  • Scott

    @thatdude -

    It sounds like he must be referring to a special circumstance regarding the shooting. I’m not familiar with WJ, but maybe he’s like Grant Hill in recent years where he’s very good at the corner 3 but awful at 3s from other spots.

    Also, I gather WJ has no pull-up jumper, because the complaint from Minnesota fans was that he was shooting the ball 9 out of 10 times, instead of dunking. That complaint would be logical for a player at SG who can’t navigate the full distance to the basket, yet who also can’t shoot the midrange shot.

  • Scott

    @Steve -

    According to the article on ESPN, Davis is expected to play at PF, especially when put up against the larger centers in the game.

    From ESPN:

    “We wanted to fill the center position and we feel like Robin fits in with our timeline — a young player that has experience in the league and will have an opportunity to come in and contribute and help us,” Hornets general manager Dell Demps said. “He brings a defensive presence. We hung our hat on our defense since we’ve been here. His size and his athleticism we think will really anchor our defense.”

    While the Hornets were able to draft 6-foot-11 Kentucky star Anthony Davis first overall in last month’s draft, Davis is expected to play often at power forward because his slender build could leave him at a defensive disadvantage in one-on-one matchups against some of the league’s more powerful centers such as Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum.

    http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/8205954/robin-lopez-heading-new-orleans-hornets-three-team-trade

  • sun also rises

    @thedude: Maybe Michael should just post everybody’s ip addy so we can see who the fakers are. I got five hundy on yours ‘magically’ matching Phony’s since nobody was even bringing that clown up until you decided to randomly name check him.

    That would also explain why your first post comes off exactly like the rain man’s does (Amazing how most of the time, the ‘new users’ who come running in to get Phony’s back have the same 35 cent vocab) and then we get an immediate second post that looks like somebody pretending to be somebody else. I wouldn’t even be surprised if this alleged “fake tony” was just Phony trying to get even more attention and put himself up on the cross. When you already got bipolar disorder you might as well make the most of it. lol.

    • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

      @SAR You were actually right, and I do check IPs/email addresses to know who the fakes are. I actually moderated a few of his previous comments pretending to be Tony before.

      Things get tense enough around here, let’s not imitate other commenters.

  • ron

    He started 65 games last season and only managed 6 ppg and .9 apg.Rather have Warrick.

  • steve

    @scott

    If that’s true, how do the people who make those decisions get PAID to make those decisions? Assuming RoLo gets the starter minutes for being a starter, that’s going to leave somewhere around 25-30 minutes per game to be split between Davis and Anderson (assuming a few minutes of “small ball” here and there). Instead of playing Ryan Anderson, the owner of a 21.2 PER and .219 WS48 last year, and Anthony Freaking Davis (I double checked, that’s actually his middle name), they would start Robin Lopez? What is this world coming to?

    Don’t get me totally wrong, I actually think Robin is pretty good, but when you have one obviously better option and the #1 pick of one of the most anticipated drafts in recent memory, you don’t start Robin Lopez. You just don’t.

    And in case anyone wanted to argue in Lopez’s favor over Anderson (because Anderson is relatively unknown around the league, I could understand that some people would be ignorant of his statistical glory), Ryan Anderson had more win shares last year, in a shortened season, than Robin Lopez has had in his entire career. That’s how big of a difference there is between those two guys.

    @scott – the rest of that post after the first facetious question wasn’t really directed at you any more. It kinda looks like I’m ranting at you, but I’m really just ranting at the intarwebz.

  • http://n/a Keith

    The Hornets paying Ryan Anderson that money just doesn’t make sense period. They need to play Davis. So they’re going to pay all that money to Anderson and bring him off the bench for 25 mins? Makes no sense at all. Idiotic signing that was.

  • Gosuns

    But Steve Anderson and Davis aren’t post players and their front court would suffer with them both starting let Anderson be a sixth man much like harden and ginobli and kill second units, also on a a small sample size Anderson struggles without the presence of a strong post player to help his spacing

  • Ryan

    Sorget the trade news, I am stoked the Tom Leander is to be replaced. I hope Eddie does most of if not all of the color commentary not only do I enjoy his insight and manner, but he’s far better than Scott Williams. Even if the team isn’t as good, the watching experience will improve.

  • Ned

    Who are we looking at as back-up center options?

  • steve

    Harden and ginobili get starter minutes and both play at the most critical times of the game. Playing Lopez over either Anderson or Davis is a mistake.

  • steve

    And as far as Lopez being a “post” from player, Anderson rebounds better and I would bet Davis will rebound and block at higher rates as well. Any way I can look at, Lopez makes no sense as anything more than a backup. That’s what he is. He’s a backup.

  • Animan

    Ned, our options mainly include Fesenko, Haddadi, Jianlian or even some summer leaguers. Fesenko seems the most logical at this point.

  • shazam

    i have been shazamed a few times from people who think they can make me sound worse than i already do…good luck with that

  • Scott

    @steve -

    Perhaps the Hornets suggested Robin would get more play time in order to lure him away from Phoenix. Simple as that.

    I just hope they didn’t use that “sun, moon, and stars” line. ;)

  • Scott

    @Animan -

    Please no Haddadi. He started the season late with the Griz due to visa problems stemming from having been arrested for beating his girlfriend last summer. (Normally visas are not granted to felons, hence the delay, but apparently NBA players can get an exception.)

    As for Yi, if the Suns were to get him, the chances of someone on the team making the All-Star game would go way up due to the China vote. ;)

  • Scott

    An opinion of the Suns – as currently constituted – from Sports Illustrated:

    • Phoenix Suns: After losing Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers, signing Goran Dragic to a four-year contract that pays $8.5 million annually was a good move for a solid two-way point guard. And power forward Luis Scola, even in decline, brings a much-needed dose of one-on-one shot creation for a team whose wing players generally provide none.

    I’m not convinced, however, that the Suns can guard well enough to play .500 ball, which they’ll need to do to make the playoffs. Dragic is a huge upgrade, and Marcin Gortat is a hardworking if unspectacular presence in the middle. But small forward Grant Hill is gone, and defense on the wing and from power forward is going to be a huge problem. That’s especially the case if Beasley has to play major minutes at small forward, with Scola, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris all in line for power-forward minutes.

    Like the Nuggets, the Suns have now committed a lot of future money to midsized deals — except the players on those contracts aren’t quite as good as Denver’s. The Suns remain pretty flexible, though. After dumping Hakim Warrick in the Robin Lopez/Wes Johnson trade with New Orleans and Minnesota, they could create an estimated $12 million in cap room next summer. But even so, they could have as much as $52 million on the books for the summer of 2014, factoring in Gortat’s cap hold. That would put them about $10 million under the projected cap — flexible, but not quite as flexible as you might like from a rebuilding team.

    http://nba-point-forward.si.com/2012/07/27/nba-western-conference/

  • Ty-Sun

    @Steve – I was reading somewhere – possibly on the ESPN site – that Lopez will NOT be starting and Davis will be playing center. NO wanted Lopez to backup Davis because they want Davis to be aggressive on defense and that means he will probably get in foul trouble frequently, especially as a rookie. If/when that happens, they will have Lopez to come in and play quality minutes whenever Davis has to sit.

  • Nick

    Um for all the people that keep saying that Johnson can’t shoot, he was a rookie and put up better numbers shootingwise that Morris. Then he got injured during his first summer league and after that had trouble getting back in the swing of things. Then he got a chance to come out and bang during this years summer league where he had one game of 28 points and averaged 22. It doesn’t matter if it is just summer league he can still shoot the ball. Expect him to be getting a lot of minuets to start the season to prove himself. He will get a lot of wide open shots with certain others on the floor with him. He will be fine.

  • http://jtshoopsblog.blogspot.com JT’s Hoops Blog

    Lets hope that Johnson does not stunk it up in Phoenix the same way he stunk it up in Minnesota

  • Pittsburgh B

    Great to see Tom Leander being replaced by someone with Steve Albert’s caliber. Should make the games more watchable, but I would still much rather go for having the TV on mute and having the radio on 620 for Al McCoy’s play-by-play. GO SUNS!

    -#1 PHX fan in Pittsburgh, PA