After losing Jeff Green in the opening day of free agency, and then quickly scrambling to re-sign Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford, the Clippers turned to addressing their weaknesses on the wing. The first move in that department was to re-sign Wesley Johnson, the Clippers' back-up small forward from last season, for the full mid-level exception. Last season, Johnson played in all but 2 of the Clippers' 82 games, averaging 20.8 minutes a night. He scored 6.9 points and pulled down 3.1 rebounds per game, playing less minutes and taking less shots than he had in his prior two seasons with the lowly Los Angeles Lakers.
Johnson shot below-average from beyond the arc, hitting just 33.3% after posting more respectable rates of 36.9% and 35.1% with the Lakers. He was a career-best 42% from the corners, which is an indication of how poorly he shot from everywhere else. Defensively, Johnson used his length and positioning as a solid help guy, but he struggled to stay in front of high-level wing scorers.
After being a minimum-salary player each of the last three seasons, the Clippers gave Wesley the a three year deal worth the Mid-Level Exception, valued at approximately 17.6 million. His starting salary is $5,628,000, and he has a player option for his third-year salary of $6,134,000.
Let's see the grades:
Lucas Hann: B-. Wes is... fine. And the mid-level wasn't getting you much this year. And I buy the whole continuity movement. But did the Clippers have to give him such a sweet deal so early on in the process? Was someone else busting down Wesley Johnson's door with a better offer? Even accepting Johnson at the full MLE, which is fair value but not spectacular--did the Clippers have to settle for a two-year deal with a player option for year three? I can't give lower than a B to a rotation player for cheap, but this deal leaves me about as impressed as Wesley's all-around-average game.
Thomas Wood: B. Wes isn't my favorite, but the MLE this summer was basically buying you a warm body. Wes is a bit better than that, and I'll even allow myself to foolishly hope that he can even be a bit better still.
Taylor Smith: A-. I like what Wes brings to the table. He gives the Clips some athleticism from the bench and is OK at enough things to deserve 15-20 minutes a night. I think he'd actually be a better fit alongside the starters, but Doc's affection for Luc's plus defense is understandable, too. Johnson has good hands and length, making him a pest in the passing lanes more than a one-on-one defensive stopper. This team needs worker bees like him to do some of the dirty work.
Adithya: B-: Only WeJo's family loves and appreciates him as much as I do. In theory, maybe they might have been able to get a better player than him at the MLE. Expect him to be better this season if he's fully recovered from the plantar fasciitis that troubled him most of last season.
Robert Flom: B. Wes Johnson was a solid 8th-9th man last season at the small forward position. After Jeff departed, the Clippers absolutely needed someone to man that spot, and Wes is a good fit for it. He's in his prime, knows the system and the players, and is capable of playing 25+ minutes if needed. He's not great, but great players weren't being acquired for the MLE this summer.
Jonathan Hu: B. He is a serviceable player, albeit unexciting and limited. The MLE likely doesn't get a better wing (tragically).
Steve Perrin: A. Given the market, retaining Johnson for the MLE is a win. Small forward of course remains the Clippers' biggest weakness by a wide margin, but let's face it, there wasn't a better 3 who signed for the MLE this summer. With both Luc and Wes, the Clippers are now in position to keep them WITHOUT using an exception in the future. That may or may not be an issue going forward, but it has certainly been a problem for the last few seasons.