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.