Blakely: Celtics should start Johnson

Blakely: Celtics should start Johnson
January 29, 2014, 12:45 am
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Chris Johnson earned the praise of his coach and teammates and will sign with the C's for the rest of the season.

(AP Photo)

These are dark times for the Boston Celtics (15-32) with the losses and the frustration levels continuing to rise.

They're a bad team.

We've known this in our heart of hearts, all along.

There's no crime against that. After all, NBA teams will all bottom out to some degree, at some point.

But there is a bright light for Boston that lately seems to shine game after game, even in defeat.

We know him as Chris Johnson who despite being on a second, 10-day contract with Boston, has done enough to warrant his first career start.

If this season for Boston is truly about evaluating different players in different roles, throwing Johnson in with the first group only makes sense.

In just a short period of time, Johnson has out-played just about every single Celtics player when given a chance to get on the floor.

He runs the floor harder than any of them, Jeff Green included.

Johnson is the only healthy player on this team who can raise up for a 3-point shot and doesn't get a collective cringe from Celtics Nation on the release.

He's not Avery Bradley 2.0 defensively, but he fights throw picks as good or better than any of his brethren with guaranteed deals, and for the most part he has done a decent job of keeping guys in front of him.

Of course, there are legitimate concerns about getting too excited about a player who comes on the scene out of nowhere the way Johnson has.

Because he's on a second, 10-day deal, the sample size of his work is relatively small.

But at this point, that doesn't matter.

This is a team that's rebuilding which means opportunities are plentiful for anyone who is hungry enough to take advantage of them.

And that hunger is what Johnson's coaches and his Celtics teammates respect the most about him.

"He's been unbelievable," Boston's Captain Rajon Rondo told reporters after Tuesday's loss to New York. "He's doing everything coach (Brad Stevens) asks of him. I'm rooting for him."

So is Brandon Bass who admits he has become a fan of Johnson's game.

"I wish him the best," Bass said to reporters. "Each night he plays with us, practices with us, he shows a lot of heart. Hopefully we sign him for the whole year."

In a year where the Celtics are counting every penny spent to avoid being a repeat luxury tax offender, whether Johnson stays beyond his second, 10-day contract remains to be seen.

But for that kind of commitment, the Celtics need to see him thrive in as many different situations on the floor as possible - including as a starter.

Now don't me wrong.

By no means is Johnson a basketball savior or anything like that.

He has been good, but not THAT good.

And that's why starting him would be a logical next step in the evaluation process to see what his role would be now, and going forward.

As much as he has proven himself worthy of at least being on an NBA roster, you have to wonder if there's another level or two to his game that hasn't been reached yet because he hasn't been given that opportunity.

Putting him with the first group would indeed be a "sink-or-swim" situation for him, the kind of situation that he has seemingly been at his best thus far.

Remember, his first game for the Celtics was against the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Jan. 21. He scored 11 points, five coming in the fourth quarter as the Celtics kept it close before ultimately losing 93-86.

Maybe even more significant was that he played all but 18 seconds in the fourth quarter, more than any other Celtics player.

He was effective both as a scorer and a defender that night which is why Stevens opted to stick with him.

The easiest transition to making Johnson a starter would be to have him replace Gerald Wallace at shooting guard, although a few - OK, quite a few of you - would probably prefer seeing him on the floor in place of Jeff Green who continues to struggle shooting the ball.

Regardless of who's place he takes, Johnson is the only player on this team right now not named Rajon Rondo that is improving tangibly before our eyes.

"He's playing like one of our best players right now," Stevens told reporters after Boston's 114-88 loss to New York. "I gotta figure out a way to find more time for him."

The easiest way to do that, is put him in the starting lineup coach.