The Phoenix Suns already acquired depth at the wing with their agreement to sign Terrence Ross last weekend after he clears waivers. T.J. Warren is also expected to contribute as a scorer on the bench behind Kevin Durant.
However, recently-released San Antonio Spurs forward Stanley Johnson could be an option for the Suns if they choose to further increase their depth at the wing. Johnson has shot 45 percent from 3-point range this season and could improve the Suns even more defensively.
Johnson has not developed into the player most would have hoped for after college. He was rated as the No. 1 shooting guard and No. 3 player nationally by 247Sports in the 2014 class and had an impressive one-year stint at Arizona, where he earned Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year honors nationally. Johnson also improved as a defender and his garnered a reputation as a physical, willing defender in the NBA.
Perhaps Johnson’s most noteworthy stretch in the league came last season, when he signed two 10-day contracts with the Los Angeles Lakers and later earned a two-year deal. He was traded to the Utah Jazz this past summer, later signed with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA G-League and then snagged a deal with the Spurs. He had a productive stretch and will now be expected to impact a contending team.
With the Lakers, Johnson showed a willingness to embrace his role and fight for the contract he eventually earned. Los Angeles fans were encouraged by his strong defense and hustle, which earned him a spot in the starting lineup and seemingly the respect of his teammates. Johnson played for the winningest active high school boy’s basketball coach in the country, Gary McKnight at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei and under now-Xavier coach Sean Miller at Arizona, who was big on defensive principles and leadership. Johnson was mentored that season by multiple Wildcat upperclassmen, including current Indiana Pacers point guard TJ McConnell.
Johnson’s willingness to buy in to his role is certainly something the Suns could embrace. He won’t give an immediate scoring impact but will embrace his defensive assignment and offer a nice ‘three-and-D’ threat. Ross, a 38 percent 3-point shooter this season, will provide experience in the rotation and recently-acquired forward Darius Bazley will provide athleticism and strong defensive potential, but Johnson has proven he can succeed in a role the Suns will need.
Phoenix may not go for Johnson and instead provide point guard insurance. Former Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is considered a strong buyout candidate and could provide a need for the Suns, as they need depth behind starting point guard Chris Paul and maybe even backup guard Cameron Payne, who is out with a foot strain.
New Suns majority owner Mat Ishbia has shown he’s willing to be aggressive in order to improve the team. As it’s been widely reported, he closed the deal on the team’s acquisition of Durant and is bought in to winning, which is one of the four focuses he said he would impart on the team during his introductory press conference last Wednesday.
The Suns are going all-in on a championship run right now and need to maximize their acquisition of Durant. Phoenix has never won an NBA title and this seems to be the best chance it has ever had to do so.