The team on the cusp of contention with a full roster is typically a bad omen for some deep-reserve player or another; in their efforts to improve via trade or free agency, teams almost inevitably have to release players as a space-creating endeavor, getting nothing in return but the freedom to go about their transaction business.
Such is the case with the Portland Trail Blazers’ Armon Johnson, who from this moment on will be former Portland Trail Blazer Armon Johnson. In order to consummate the signing of free agent center Joel Przybilla, the Blazers will waive Johnson, who has played only five minutes this season and was only briefly a relevant member of Nate McMillan’s rotation last year.
The roster-clearing decision essentially came down to the release of Johnson or former No. 1 overall pick/walking NBA tragedy Greg Oden. The Blazers opted to keep Oden, but as noted by Jason Quick of The Oregonian, the decision was hardly made on the basis of hope or sentiment. Oden’s contract simply makes for better trade filler, and as the Blazers eye further improvement before the impending trade deadline, his $1.5 million deal could prove helpful in completing a transaction on financial terms. It’s horrifying what a run of bad luck and a seven-foot frame can do to a promising player and an entire franchise, but this is where Odom and the Blazers are at present: contemplating a pragmatic split in order to bolster emergency depth. The hopes for better days and careers resurrected has run its course, and if the possibility of Oden’s release alone doesn’t signal that Portland is ready to move on, I don’t know what possibly could.
As for Johnson, the 23-year-old guard sits in a curious position. According to Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge, a league source intimated that the Blazers shopped Johnson pretty aggressively at the D-League showcase, but received no interest whatsoever in their pursuit of a second-round pick in return. Considering Johnson’s minimal salary and relentless on-ball defense, one would think he would be able to latch on somewhere as a waiver candidate. Yet that reported lack of interest casts Johnson’s immediate NBA future very much into doubt; the league still has little patience for nominal point guards with minimal offensive skills, and Johnson’s inability to either score or create plays with any consistency could push him out of the league entirely for the time being.