By Alex Lambeth, with contributions from Jory Dreher
Image: Getty Images
Wesley Johnson has yet to find a home in the NBA.
Drafted fourth overall out of Syracuse University in the 2010 NBA draft, the Lakers will be Johnson’s third team in just four years.
Johnson, a 6’7″ 215 pound shooting guard, has his sights set on a breakout year with Los Angeles.
Johnson, who prefers “Wesley” to “Wes”, enters his fourth NBA season with career averages of 7.7 points, 1.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game.
In an exclusive interview with LakerNation.com, Johnson expressed his excitement to finally wear the purple and gold.
“It’s really a dream come true for me. I’ve wanted to play here since I was younger. My family really respects the Lakers for all they stand for,” Johnson told Laker Nation. “They always hold the Lakers to the highest standard, on a pedestal, just because they love watching them play.”
“My mom loved Magic [Johnson]. Being able to play for the Lakers and with my mom being able to see me play for them, it’s going to be fun,” Johnson said. “I can’t really give you a whole explanation about how excited I am just to be a part of Laker Nation. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
As one of the many new faces in the Lakers’ locker room this season, Johnson described himself as being “fun and laid back,” but also “a very high energy type of player.”
“It’s going to be fun watching me play this year. I’m excited about playing in Staples Center, in front of Laker Nation fans, and everybody,” Johnson said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Despite an uncertain future, Johnson hopes to make Los Angeles his home for years to come.
“I would love to make this my home. I’m here every summer,” Johnson explained. “When I first held my jersey, I was like, ‘I’m with the Lakers. I’m wearing number 11. I’m in L.A.’
“You just can’t beat this, man. It’s all a great situation and I’m going to play like it.”
That number 11 holds very special meaning to Johnson, who has worn the numbers 4 and 2 in previous years.
“Number 11 is what I wore my whole life when I was in high school, in Little League, everything,” Johnson said. “It basically marks the beginning for me.”
Johnson certainly seeks to jumpstart his career in Los Angeles. Johnson, a former lottery-pick, feels he has a lot to prove this season.
“I think I have a lot to prove every season, but even more so this season,” said Johnson. “Having that Lakers uniform on my back and how my career has transpired up to this point, I definitely have a lot to prove.”
When Johnson first entered the league, he was projected as ‘the guy’. Coming into this year, however, Johnson looks forward to simply finding his niche with the Lakers.
“There’s a lot of guys on this team that already have that role, so there’s not a lot of focus on me. Guys like Nick [Young] and Jordan [Farmar] and myself can all come in and play.”
“We can go out there and take the load off some of those guys,” Johnson continued. “It will definitely be a relief off their shoulders knowing we’re going to compete just as hard as they are.”
As Johnson mentioned, the Lakers also signed former USC-product Nick Young this off-season. Johnson elaborated on his relationship with Young.
“Nick and I talk a lot, actually. We’ve been in the gym and excited to play with one another,” Johnson said. “He’s a high-energy guy like me and he’s definitely fun to play with, with all the stuff that he can do on the court. Playing alongside of him is definitely going to be exciting for us both.”
“We’re really starting to figure out how each of us plays and where we both like the ball,” Johnson explained. “We’re getting that chemistry down between us too, so it will definitely be fun to see.”
Along with Young, Johnson has been developing a great rapport with Jordan Farmar, who returns to the Lakers’ backcourt after a stint overseas.
“Jordan has already told me he wants to pick up 94 feet [defensively],” Johnson said. ”I told him, ‘I got the back. If you’re picking up 94 feet, then I’m picking up right there with you.’”
“So there’s definitely going to be that youth and excitement back on the court again,” Johnson predicted. “Everyone is so eager to play. Nash has that fire within him too so it’s really going to rub off on everyone.”
With all the youth and athleticism the Lakers added this off-season, Laker Nation could be in for a nice surprise this season.
Johnson went on to discuss the impact he looks to have on the defensive end as well.
“I think I can have a really good impact just for my length and my speed, and also just getting in passing lanes and disrupting shots. I’m going to bring a spark that will fuel the entire team,” Johnson said excitedly.
“What’s important for us is just getting everyone to come out as a collective group and giving a good defensive effort,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely going to use my wingspan to make plays happen. As long as everyone is on the same page defensively, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Johnson was also well aware of ESPN.com ranking the Lakers to finish 12th in the Western Conference this season.
“That’s disrespectful,” Johnson said in an annoyed tone. “That’s really for us to go out there and prove everyone wrong. That’s why everyone is so eager and we’ve been in the [practice facility] everyday up to this point.”
“Everyone is in there to build chemistry to show everybody that we’re not 12th. We know that we’re not 12th, but it’s definitely going to be more fuel to the fire.”
So, what exactly will Johnson bring to the Lakers, specifically in coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense?
“I think my game fits well. I was actually talking to [D'Antoni] about it today. It reminds me of when I was back at [Syracuse] with coach Boeheim and how it’s a free flowing offense,” Johnson explained.
“You can make reads off one another and there’s no particular spot on the floor that everyone has to get to. I feel like I’ll flourish in this offense,” said Johnson. “It’s really just high tempo, get up and down, and being able to shoot the ball and finish. So it plays to all my strengths.”
Once Johnson signed with the Lakers this summer, he knew he would need to improve his shot making ability to be as effective as possible in D’Antoni’s offense.
“I’ve pretty much worked on every part of my game,” Johnson said as he discussed his off-season workout regimen. “Of course I’ve been working on my three point shot because that’s what the [Lakers] have been emphasizing to me. Being able to shoot the ball is key for me and I’ve really been working on break down moves to get my shot off.”
“I feel very comfortable shooting the ball from anywhere on the floor right now, but my corner three is coming along great,” Johnson continued. “Other than that, I’ve just been working on my overall game and trying to become a more balanced player.”
In addition to working on his own game this off-season, Johnson has started taking advantage of his veteran teammates.
“I told Kobe [Bryant] that I’m definitely going to be asking him a lot of questions. I told him I’m going to be picking his brain a lot,” Johnson shared. “I’m looking forward to learning anything that he’s learned over the past 17 years he’s been playing. Anything he’s willing to give me that I can work on as a player, I’ll listen.”
“Steve [Nash] has also been in and out so I’ve been bouncing things off him too,” Johnson said. “Just to get his feel on how players he’s played with before have been effective in this offense.”
Johnson continued, “It’s only right that I do pick their brains because they’ve been around for a while and they understand the concept of winning and what it takes. I’m definitely going do my best to learn from them.”
As Johnson continues tapping into the valuable assets around him, he also explains that he has learned a lot from the rather unpredictable start to his career.
“I’ve really just tried to learn as much as I can from every situation I’ve been in,” Johnson said. “You never really know what is going to happen in this league. I just try to look at everything as a learning experience and not as a fault.”
“Sure I’ve moved around a lot,” Johnson said. “But I still look at it as a learning experience and just go from there.”
Johnson also opened up on a more personal level, discussing his close relationship with his mother and father.
“I was blessed to have both of my parents in my life, so they definitely taught me good values,” Johnson shared. “They taught me to be humble by just watching them and how hard they worked all my life. It’s definitely rubbed off on me, so I give them all the credit.”
As Johnson prepares to call yet another NBA city ‘home’ this year, he brings along with him his twin boys.
“These days my free time goes to them and I’m doing the father thing,” Johnson said proudly. “I’m focused on making sure they grow right and play with them, doing everything a father does. When I’m with them we’re at the beach or going to the park.”
“I also play with my nephews on NBA 2k,” Johnson explained about his recreational activities. “I also shop. I try to catch up on my sleep. But other than that, I’m usually with my boys.”
Now that he resides in one of the most eccentric cities in the country, Johnson shared that he is always looking for that good ‘home-cooked meal’.
“I’m always trying to find those hole-in-the-wall places with some good home-cooked meals. That’s what I need,” Johnson said. “The restaurants here are cool, but I’m looking for those homemade tacos, some soul food, all the home-cooked meals.”
Johnson also gave some insight into his pre-game music playlist, which primarily consists of rappers Jay Z and T.I.
As Johnson prepares for arguably the biggest season of his career, there is just one simple thing he looks forward to.
“Just being a Laker,” Johnson explained with a laugh. “You can’t beat playing in Staples Center, in front of the fans. Just coming to Staples Center always gives you that extra energy to put on a show. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
With the start of training camp already on the horizon, Johnson ended our conversation with a heart-felt message for all of Laker Nation:
“You’re going see a lot of hungry players this year, especially from the youth. I would definitely recommend Laker Nation to come out to some games this season. It’s going to be an exciting year, a fun year, filled with a lot of action. Dunks. High-flying plays. Everything you can think of and want will be there.”
“A lot of guys are already working hard everyday just to prove to the Nation, the world, that we’re back and we’re going to start the season on the right foot. So there will definitely be a lot of hard playing out there.”
“We know Laker Nation will be behind us but we just want to let you know to keep at it and we’re going to play our hearts out for you. We’re here for you and we’re going to play for you. Like I’ve been saying, it’s going to be a good year, it’s going to be a fun year. This is one of the seasons I definitely look forward to.”
As Wesley Johnson prepares for his fourth NBA season, look for him to have a break out year this season. Johnson was quick to point out that he has learned a lot in his short NBA career thus far, and will use that experience to find his niche with the Lakers.
The athletic wing will have a great opportunity to back up Kobe Bryant, and may even compete for the starting small forward position this season.
For the first time in his NBA career, Johnson seems comfortable, thanks to his new role with the team he grew up loving. However, there is still something we have yet to see from the former lottery-pick: Johnson realizing his full potential and becoming the best player that he can be.
Under the tutelage of Bryant and Nash, he has the perfect opportunity to do so as a Laker.