Does Signing Stanley Johnson Hint a Trade for the Spurs?

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Stanley Johnson to the Alamo City could hint more moves on the San Antonio Spurs Roster
Stanley Johnson #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on March 7, 2022 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. (Credit: NBA)

Nearly two months into the season, the San Antonio Spurs roster is still seeing changes. On Tuesday, the team announced the release of Alize Johnson and the subsequent signing of former top-10 pick Stanley Johnson. While the transaction makes the news as an update to the roster, does it really impact the team? No. Still, the team testing out yet another forward could signal the team’s intentions.

Throughout the 2022 season, the Spurs have largely relied on an eight-man rotation. Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, and Keldon Johnson are all averaging 30 minutes or more per night in the backcourt. Behind them, the combination of Josh Richardson, Doug McDermott, Romeo Langford, and Malaki Branham average 17-23 minutes. Those usage numbers limit opportunities for anyone else to crack the rotation, especially at small forward. Nonetheless, San Antonio continues to make roster tweaks to their depth in this space, first trying Jordan Hall and then Alize Johnson. Neither lasted more than a month with the team, appearing in fewer than 10 games each. Now, the team is trying out Stanley Johnson. Why all the changes?

It can’t be a coincidence that the Johnson signing came on Tuesday, two days before the NBA trade pool really opened up. Taking a hint from their moves, it would appear that the Spurs are eying an upcoming change to their depth at forward.

What Does Stanley Johnson Bring to the San Antonio Spurs Roster?

At 26 years old, Stanley Johnson joins the Spurs as one of the oldest players on the team. He was taken eighth overall in the 2015 NBA draft out of Arizona by the Detroit Pistons. Throughout his seven previous seasons, Johnson hasn’t been much more than a role player as he has been moved across the league. He had stints with the Pistons, New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors, and Los Angeles Lakers.

Another 6’6” talent, he doesn’t bring a lot to the rebounding department. As a scorer, he averages around six points per game. A career negative in the plus/minus, Johnson’s strength is his defense. For his career, Johnson has contributed to an estimated 10 wins thanks to his defensive effort, but that has fallen off. Still, it’s a contrast from his offensive impact which has resulted in approximately three losses.

Just why Hall and Alize Johnson didn’t work in their stints with San Antonio is anyone’s guess. In nine games with the team in November, Hall hardly saw the floor, recording 21 minutes in his first game but not eclipsing 17 minutes per night after that. His season-highs with San Antonio were seven points and five rebounds. Following Hall’s release, Alize Johnson was called up after dominating in the G League with Austin. He appeared in just four games with San Antonio, averaging seven minutes and less than two points per night from November 30th through December 8th. He saw more than seven minutes of action just once, playing 15 minutes against the Phoenix Suns and scoring five points.

The San Antonio Spurs Roster Moves Project Action on the Trade Market

The Spurs (9-19) currently have the league’s worst defense.  They are allowing 120.4 points per game, and are getting torched from beyond the arc. Offensively, the team has had its ups and downs. That’s partly due to youth and possibly hubris (ahem, Keldon Johnson), and enhanced by injuries. Sure, San Antonio wasn’t projected to be a good team this year. Just how bad they’ve been at times, however, has been alarming for their future aspirations of climbing out of obscurity.

The team’s glaring needs are on the defensive end. They could also use a truly reliable scorer to carry the team when “Big Body” and Vassell go through their lulls. Both areas can be addressed on the trade market by acquiring players and picks.

With the team unlikely to move either Johnson or Vassell, the team’s most valuable veteran assets to move are Jakob Poeltl who has already drawn interest, and McDermott and Josh Richardson, as discussed on a recent episode on The Spurscast. The two  are forwards who could be made expendable by finding depth replacements behind them. This brings it all back to the team’s tryouts of Alize Johnson, Hall, and now Stanley Johnson. Moving the veterans for assets, the Spurs could afford to take on a bad contract. The team has $28.4 million in cap space left after signing Johnson. This approach of moving McDermott or Richardson works provided the return makes sense and Stanley Johnson, or another experiment, pans out.

All stats are from NBA.com unless cited otherwise.

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