Stanley Johnson has made a name for himself as a reliable, gritty, defensive-minded forward in his seven-year NBA career — but also a strong-willed man off the court, as evidenced by his journey that led to penning a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers in January.
After starting 50 games for the Detroit Pistons in his third NBA season, the team traded its No. 8 overall pick from the 2015 NBA Draft to the New Orleans Pelicans in a three-team deal that sent Nikola Mirotic to the Milwaukee Bucks.
His stay in New Orleans didn’t last long. Later that summer, Johnson took his talents to Canada, signing with the Toronto Raptors on a two-year contract in free agency. But he would never enjoy as big a role as he played for Detroit during his 50-start season in 2017-18 — when he averaged career-high 27.4 minutes per game.
During the 2021 offseason, the Raptors decided not to bring the forward back. Moreover, the franchise’s president, Masai Ujiri, offered Johnson some honest assessment of his play as parting words, the forward recalled in an interview with The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears:
“That was a real honest conversation. That’s what I needed to hear,” Johnson said. “In the NBA, honesty is not always the first and foremost thing that people want to give you because it’s not the easiest thing to say to people that are professionals. I’ve been playing basketball all my life. I’m pretty damn good at basketball, so to tell me I’m bad at basketball, it’s a hard conversation to have with a professional athlete.
“It takes a different type of man to tell you that to your face and not in a pessimistic way, in a constructive way. What are you going to do? Are you going to take [it poorly] or are you going to do something about it? I felt like I want to do something about it. I’m 25 years old. I know I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been in the league for a long time because I got in early, but I’m not even anywhere close to my prime, anywhere close to the player that I can be in my life.”
After Johnson’s short run with the Chicago Bulls ended in a fiasco during the 2021 preseason, he signed with the South Bay Lakers. The forward wanted to stay in shape while hoping another opportunity to play NBA basketball would soon appear on the horizon — even if it meant clocking in minutes in the G League.
The 25-year-old’s persistence paid off in December when he signed his first 10-day contract with the Lakers. In L.A., Johnson quickly became an impactful player — working hard to fulfill his potential just as he promised himself he would after the difficult conversation with Ujiri.
Frank Vogel: Johnson showed ‘right away’ he would fit well with Lakers
Head coach Frank Vogel recently described how good an impression Johnson made in his first day after joining the Lakers
“It was noticeable right away that he had a juice, and energy to his game that our team sorely needed,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “The athleticism, the toughness, the speed, and the way we’re using him as sort of a small-ball center continue to open things up in the lane. We saw some things right away that we felt could really help us this year.
“He’s continued to prove himself as an elite defender and someone that plays within himself offensively and has a versatile offensive skill set that we feel like is really going to help us.”
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