C's Johnson may get first career start on Wednesday

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C's Johnson may get first career start on Wednesday

WALTHAM Just a couple weeks ago, Celtics coach Doc Rivers told CSNNE.com that JaJuan Johnson was "just an injury away from starting."

He wasn't kidding, apparently.

Kevin Garnett's hip flexor injury puts his status in question for tonight.

If Garnett is unable to play, the C's may very well call upon Johnson to get the starting nod. The Celtics may also consider Chris Wilcox, but Johnson appears to be a more likely starter if Garnett doesn't play.

Johnson told CSNNE.com that starting for the Celtics, this year, has not been something he has given a lot of thought to.

That makes sense.

Johnson's a four-year guy at Purdue. He's smart enough to figure out that multiple injuries, more than anything else, would thrust him into the starting lineup.

Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that lately, Johnson has played well enough to garner more minutes than his 7.4 minutes per game average. More playing time not only benefits Johnson, but also creates a stronger bond between the rookie and his seasoned teammates.

Against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, Johnson played a career-high 33 minutes and finished with 12 points, also a career high.

Johnson has done well with end-of-the-game, mop-up-duty minutes. But to play the way he did against a Chicago team that has been atop the Eastern Conference standings most of this season, was impressive.

"There's nothing like getting that game-day experience, and he's getting that," said Paul Pierce. "It's good to get him in there for some big games, like Chicago to where he's knocking down shots and playing well. When you do that, it creates confidence in the ball club. It also creates trust for the coaches, also."

That, much like Johnson's game, is very much a work in progress.

Johnson was one of the players that drew the ire of Doc Rivers in Boston's loss at Toronto last week. In the first quarter, Rivers called a time-out. Moments after the players returned to the floor, Rivers had to call another one because at least one player - Johnson was one of them - was not where he was supposed to be on the floor.

Rivers ripped into him and his teammates in a manner seldom seen publicly.

The 6-foot-9 forward seemed unaffected by Rivers' tongue-lashing, chalking it up to Rivers trying to bring out the best in him.

It worked.

In the Bulls game, Johnson saw his role expand due to Brandon Bass being out with a left knee injury.

Johnson had a couple of rough moments in the first half defensively, but seemed to find his way in the second before finishing with a career-high 12 points.

It was a good game, and Johnson was appreciative of the opportunity to play major minutes. But it's in the past now. Johnson understands what he did in the past, won't do much for him on Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons.

"I just have to continue to play my game, help the team in whatever they need, and just be more consistent," Johnson said.

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

There will be some that will absolutely crucify the Bruins for losing Colin Miller in Wednesday night’s expansion draft, and rail against an asset that was lost for nothing. Those people will also miss the absolutely essential point that the whole raison d’etre for an expansion draft is to remove assets from each of the 30 NHL teams, and do it without a cost for the benefit of the new franchise opening up shop in Las Vegas.

It could have been much worse for the Black and Gold as some teams were shipping first round picks to Vegas to shelter their own players from expansion selection, and other teams were losing essential players like James Neal, Marc Methot and David Perron from their respective rosters. The B’s didn’t entertain overpaying simply to avoid losing a useful player, and clearly, they did lose a talented, still undeveloped player in the 24-year-old Miller, who now may be flipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a side deal with Vegas.

But let’s be honest here. A whole lot of people are vastly overestimating a player in Miller that’s long on tools and very short on putting them together, and they’re also vastly underestimating Kevan Miller. The younger Miller can skate like the wind and has a bazooka of a shot when he winds up and fires his clapper at the net.

But despite those clear offensive talents, Colin had the same number of points as stay-at-home defenseman Kevan this season despite the bigger, stronger and older Miller playing three less games this season. Kevan also had more goals (five) and more points (18) than Colin did two years ago in his rookie season for Boston.

This isn’t to say that Colin doesn’t have more discernible offensive skill than Kevan when it comes to moving the puck or creating offense. He does, but all that talent hasn’t manifested into real points, real offense or anything else for the Black and Gold over the last couple of seasons. At a certain point, a prospect like Colin needs to put all the tools together into production on the ice if he wants to become the sum of his hockey parts, and that hasn’t happened in two full seasons in Boston.

Instead, Miller continues to struggle with decision-making with the puck, consistency and finding ways to turn the quality skating and shot package into any kind of playmaking on the ice. Miller had his challenges defensively and he was never going to be the most physical guy on the ice, but those could have been overlooked if he was lighting it up in the offensive zone on a regular basis.

Plain and simple that wasn’t happening, and over the last season 20-year-old Brandon Carlo and 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy passed Miller on the organizational depth chart for right shot defenseman, and either Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller would slot in as the third pairing D-man on the right side. It’s clear at this point that Colin Miller needs more time and patience if he’s ever going to develop as a late-blooming defenseman at the NHL level, and he wasn’t going to get those opportunities to develop in Boston.

So how good can Colin Miller really be if he was about to get buried on a Boston defensive depth chart without much hope of being in the starting six every night unless he was able to magically transform himself into a top-4 guy on the left side?

Clearly, there is risk here as Miller could move on to Toronto, develop into the player that posted 19 goals and 52 points in the AHL a couple of seasons ago and torment the Bruins for the next five-plus years. It would become another arrow in the quiver of those critics looking to hammer GM Don Sweeney and President Cam Neely at every turn, and it would generate massive “Why can’t we get players like that?” homages to the legendary Bob Lobel all across New England.    

But there’s just as good a chance that Kevan Miller will still be throwing hits and soaking up heavy minutes of ice time for the Bruins three years down the road, and that Colin Miller will be out of the league after never harnessing together his considerable talent. Perhaps Sweeney could have been better about securing an asset for Miller ahead of the expansion draft if he knew he was going to lose that player for nothing to Vegas.

The bottom line is that the Bruins were going to lose somebody to Las Vegas in the expansion draft, and the Golden Knights weren’t going to do them any favors by taking on misfit toys like Jimmy Hayes, Malcolm Subban or Matt Beleskey. They did instead lose a player with plenty of raw talent in Colin Miller, but it’s not exactly somebody that’s going to be missed in Boston once Carlo and McAvoy start showing just how bright the B’s future is on the back end starting next season.