Saturday, June 13, 2009

Anthony Johnson Crushed by Benching!

From the NBA Fan House: Article by Tim Povtak

ORLANDO -- Magic journeyman Anthony Johnson has been in the NBA 12 years, a former second-round pick from the obscure College of Charleston. He has scratched and clawed every step of the way, bouncing through 10 different teams with stops in the Development League and free agent summer camps in between.

He has had 10-day contracts and minimum wage contracts, never far from being outside looking in. He has been traded more than once for a cup of coffee and future consideration. Nothing has come easy.

It's why he thought this NBA Finals was going to be the highlight, the crowning moment of his career, coming on the heels of his most consistent, most satisfying season.

Instead, it was turned into the biggest disappointment of his life.

"This is the toughest thing that's ever happened to me,'' Johnson said Saturday afternoon. "I've dealt with a lot of stuff through the years, but to help my team get to the Finals, the biggest stage in basketball, and then get told you're not going to play, that has been very, very difficult.''

The Magic are trailing the Lakers 3-1, on the verge of elimination Sunday in Game 5. It is eating at Johnson because he was rendered helpless by the Magic decision to bring back Jameer Nelson for the Finals – essentially benching Johnson -- after being out for four months with a shoulder injury. It's a decision that is haunting the Magic because their play at point guard has been erratic, but it's haunting Johnson even more."

He (Nelson) looks like a guy who is a little rusty, but that's to be expected. He's doing the best he can after being away. He's a scorer, a shooter and the shoulder is very important,'' Johnson said. "From the sideline, you think on every possession, what you might be doing differently, but the truth of the matter is, I'm not out there. It is what it is.''

Johnson played 80 games during the season, first as a backup to Nelson and then as the backup to Rafer Alston, always providing the stabilizing force of a well-seasoned veteran. He averaged 18.5 minutes, 5.3 points and 2.5 assists. In the first three rounds of the playoffs, behind Alston, he averaged 14.7 points, 4.3 points and 2.1 assists.

He has not played in the Finals.

Johnson, 34, actually has more Finals experience than anyone on the Magic roster. He was a backup to Jason Kidd in New Jersey when the Nets lost in the Finals both in 2002 and 2003, although his role was minimal.

"I was looking forward to having a more prominent role this time, having my play help determine whether we won or lost,'' he said. "I was really looking forward to that. It's why you work so hard in the summers and during the season. This has been tough.''

Although Johnson was probably thinking it, he wouldn't say that he would have made a difference in this series. After all, neither Alston nor Nelson have played particularly well. They have combined to hit just two of 16 3-point shots. They are averaging only 3 and 2.5 assists respectively. Coach Stan Van Gundy seems to have lost confidence in both of them.

Although he saw it coming in the days leading up to the Finals, he wasn't told definitively until the morning of Game 1 that he was losing his role to Nelson. No real explanation was given.

"I guess I would have liked to know more of the reason why,'' he said. "But maybe I'm not owed a reason or explanation. That's just part of the business. It's still tough.''