NBA lockout: Trey Johnson conflicted about playing overseas
For the last few days, Trey Johnson found himself weighing his future playing options.
He joined the Lakers as a late-season pickup from the D-League just before the playoffs last season and even impressed Phil Jackson enough to earn actual playing time. Even without an NBA contract and any official word from the Lakers on what his future would entail, Johnson still believed he'd retain a roster spot. Still, with the NBA lockout looming for an uncertain period of time, Johnson signed a one-year deal Wednesday with the Teramo Basket of the Italian League.
"I didn't know if I wanted to commit myself that early," Johnson said in a phone interview Thursday. "I definitely feel like I'm an NBA player and that I worked hard to get to where I'm at. I didn't want to feel like I was giving up on that so soon. I don't feel like I'm giving up on it. It's just a situation where I have to make a business decision and do what's best for me and my family at the moment. We don't know how long our season will be or if we really have a season."
Regardless of how negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement turn out, however, Johnson definitely won't play in the NBA at all for at least one year. That's because, as ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin first reported, Johnson's contract doesn't have an opt-out clause even if the lockout ends early enough so that all or at least part of the 2011-2012 season remains intact.
"I definitely wanted an opt-out clause, but they were reluctant to give me one," Johnson said. "A lot of European teams won't give you one unless you're a big NBA guy. We definitely tried for it, but they didn't want to give it to me. I just have to make the most of the situation. Hopefully by next year, I'll be a better player and the opportunity is still there for me in the NBA."
Johnson believes he made the most of his opportunity last season.
His career had taken a circuitous route. He played overseas, with stints in Serbia (2007-08 for KK Hemofarm), France (2009-10 for BCM Gravelines) and Italy (Pallacanestro Biella in 2010). He signed two 10-day contracts with both the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009 and Toronto Raptors in 2011. And he had a secure fixture with the Bakersfield Jam (2008-09, 2010, 2010-2011) of the Development League. But after wowing the Lakers in training camp in 2010 and leading the D-League in scoring by averaging 25.5 points and 4.5 assists per game with the Bakersfield Jam, the Lakers felt he was worthy of a call-up after backup point guard Steve Blake became infected with chicken pox.
Johnson's relentless work ethic, aggressiveness and confidence earned him public respect from Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Johnson scored six points in 13 minutes in the Lakers' regular-season finale in Sacramento, and then played sparingly in the playoffs, averaging 1.0 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists and 4.0 minutes per game in three appearances. The Lakers spent their 41st and 46th NBA draft picks selecting two guards, including University of Michigan's Darius Morris and College of Charleston's Andrew Goudelock, but Johnson said those moves "didn't play into my decision" to play overseas.
"It did a lot for me from a career standpoint," said Johnson, who spent June working out at the Lakers' facilities leading into the league's work stoppage. "It put a stamp on me and showed I belong. Of course I'd like to be there longer and I wish we weren't going through a lockout. Then I could be back and show more what I can do. But it gives me confidence being around guys like Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, definitely made me a better basketball player.
"I'm extremely confident in my abilities," he continued. "I feel like the work I was putting in June was definitely getting noticed. I felt like the uncertainty of not having an NBA contract and not knowing how long the lockout would last, I couldn't pass up on the opportunity."
Photo: Kings guard Beno Udrih dives on a loose ball in front of Lakers guard Trey Johnson in the Lakers' regular-season finale in Sacramento. Credit: Cary Edmondson / US Presswire