Stanley Johnson has been one of the few bright spots for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. The former lottery pick signed with a hardship exemption has averaged over 21 minutes across 14 games with the Lakers since joining the team in December, and his defense, ball-handling and surprisingly effective corner 3-pointer have made him a fan favorite. But teams can only sign players to two non-hardship 10-day contracts per season, and Johnson’s final 10-day deal was set to expire on Wednesday.
Fortunately, the Lakers locked Johnson in for much longer. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, they are signing Johnson not only for the rest of this season, but 2022-23 as well through a team option. The deal will pay Johnson, who has started six games in Los Angeles, only the minimum. Assuming he maintains his current level of play, the Anaheim native has set himself up to remain with the Lakers for the long haul. Assuming the Lakers pick up Johnson’s team option for next season, he will have Early Bird rights as a 2023 free agent. Those give the Lakers a chance to give him a sizable raise if his improvement proves sustainable.
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For now, Johnson will fill a major hole at forward for the Lakers. Minimum-signing Trevor Ariza has largely underwhelmed since returning from injury, and with Anthony Davis back in the fold, he was out of the rotation entirely against Brooklyn on Tuesday. Johnson started and played 29 minutes. Assuming the Lakers continue to prioritize defense alongside their three max-salary players, Johnson appears to be a safe bet to remain in the starting lineup. That is especially true considering how well Carmelo Anthony has played off the bench.
Regardless of his role, this deal caps what has been one of the more improbable stories of the season. Johnson flamed out with the Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors and New Orleans Pelicans before this season. He was waived by the Chicago Bulls during training camp and had to sign with the Lakers’ South Bay G League equivalent. He has parlayed that experience into a steady role on not only the preseason Western Conference favorites, but his hometown team. With his deal locked in, Johnson is assured a place on that team for the rest of the season and perhaps beyond.