Johnson, agent 'cautiously optimistic' on C's future

Johnson, agent 'cautiously optimistic' on C's future
August 5, 2014, 1:00 pm
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BOSTON — Even before the analytics movement hit the NBA, this game has been about numbers.

Points, we understand that.

Rebounds, assists, turnovers.

Yeah, they make sense, too.

But when it comes to roster spots, that's truly the number that trumps all others.

The Boston Celtics have 18 roster spots currently filled and will have to trim that to the NBA-maximum of 15 prior to the start of the season.

Which brings us to Chris Johnson, one of few Celtics working with a non-guaranteed contract.

 Johnson's contract status certainly has him on the outside looking-in, there are plenty of reasons the 6-foot-6 swingman's camp is "cautiously optimistic" about his chances of sticking with the Green team.

"So far, everything has been positive," his agent Marc Cornstein, told in a phone interview on Tuesday. "We're well aware of the roster additions. He has a great relationship with the Celtics organization and the coaching staff and as I said, everything we have heard thus far as been positive so we're cautiously optimistic about his future with the Celtics."

When the Celtics signed Johnson to a 10-day contract last season, his hustle, effort and shot-making led to them wanting to get a longer look at him.

It's not unusual for players who arrive via 10-day contracts to parlay that into a deal that brings them back the following season. However, the Celtics inked Johnson to a three-year, $2.22 million contract that showed their desire to take a more long-term view.

But in this rebuilding phase of the franchise, the Celtics aren't trying to lock themselves into too many deals even if its a relatively small-money deal like Johnson's. That's why none of the years in Johnson's deal are guaranteed, which gives Boston the flexibility to cut him loose if they need the roster spot or become dissatisfied with his play.

Neither of those scenarios are in play right now, which is part of why Johnson's future in Boston isn't quite as bleak as it may be for his fellow non-guaranteed contract brethren. While that may be true, there's no way to escape the reality that despite doing for the most part what the Celtics want, that still may not be enough for him to stay.

"It's a little bit of a double-edge sword," said Cornstein. "On the one hand, it is challenging anytime there's uncertainty rather than security. But in Chris' case, he's proven himself already. Frankly, I have no worries about Chris. Things are going to work out well for him; I really believe that."

Part of that "cautiously optimistic" demeanor has to do with the way in which Johnson has performed when given an opportunity to play.

There were a number of games this season where Johnson's impact could be felt either in his shot-making or him making hustle plays.

Shortly after signing for the season in February, Johnson came off the bench to score 14 points in a 102-91 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks. After the loss, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens half-jokingly said, "maybe I should have played Chris Johnson more and earlier."

As one of the worst seasons in Celtics history continued, Johnson's play remained one of the few bright spots. He would finish the season appearing in 40 games while averaging 6.3 points, 2.4 rebounds in 19.7 minutes.

The lefty's shooting is certainly a strength, but he can be a difference-maker in other ways, too. He didn't shoot the ball particularly well (30 percent) from the field or 3-point range (3-for-16) during summer league, but there was no mistaking the hustle he exerted whether it was diving for loose balls or switching out defensively to turn an opponent's open jumper into a contested missed shot. It is the latter that, more than the sweet-looking stroke, will make parting ways with Johnson difficult for the Celtics.

That's why head coach Brad Stevens didn't waste any time in making it clear that the players on the roster with non-guaranteed contracts, should not be discounted so quickly despite deals made by the team that has them fielding a roster with 15 guaranteed contracts - the NBA maximum.

"We don't know exactly what the rest of the summer will hold," Stevens said. "All they can do is control what they can control and that's play as hard and as well as they can and continue to be the people they have been since they came through the door."

Phil Pressey was among the players with a non-guaranteed contract, but the deadline to waive him has passed so he will remain a Celtic this season.

Chris Babb is another player with a non-guaranteed deal, and he did little to improve his standing during the season. He came on strong near the end of summer league play in Orlando, but it's not likely enough to keep him around this season.

Boston will also look to unload Keith Bogans, whose contract - worth more than $5 million - is not guaranteed so whatever team trades for him could immediately waive him and save $5 million.

If the Celtics can't find a trade partner for Bogans, they would then waive him.

That still leaves the Celtics with one too many bodies around if they intend on keeping Johnson in the fold.

Johnson knew going into summer league that his performance would be a factor in what the Celtics decided to do with him heading into this season.

"I'm not worrying about that," Johnson said. "Everything will take care of itself. The NBA is a business. I just go out there, do my thing and everything else will take care of itself."