How Stanley Johnson ended up guarding LeBron James in the playoffs in his rookie season
Former Detroit Pistons Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy saw Stanley Johnson as a key component in a resurgent Detroit squad.
Detroit improbably made the playoffs in Johnson’s rookie season. Yanked in and out of the rotation by Van Gundy all season long, Johnson was tasked to guard the other team’s best player, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James.
Johnson was up to the task. Detroit’s best player at the time, Reggie Jackson, had some high praise for Johnson leading up to their playoff series against Cleveland.
"“He was a mental monster since he’s been 17,” Jackson said. “He fears no man. He’s very confident in his abilities. He’s still figuring out what he does well, things he has to work on. He admits up to it, but he just wants to be better. He always wants to be better. He wants to be the greatest to ever do this.”"
Johnson was, in fact, a monster. He dared to say Detroit can win the series against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers!
"“We think, we know, we can win the series.”"
As expected, Cleveland swept Detroit in 4 games. Johnson at least dominated the NBA headlines when he got into it with LeBron.
Johnson was not happy with what he perceived as a dirty play.
"“It’s crazy as hell. He was walking away, I walked on a straight line,” Johnson said. “He didn’t bump me, I just didn’t move my direction. I don’t know what ya’ll see from that; I didn’t take anything from it but a cheap-a** shot. Cheap-a** bump.” “I’m definitely in his head, that’s for sure. For sure.”"
Johnson then clarified his comments after the reporter asked a follow-up question.
"“To me, I couldn’t care less if I’m in his head,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to play basketball. It’s up to him how he wants to react to whatever he does. Like I said, I’m just trying to play basketball.”"
I see why James Worthy compared him to Ron Artest. Neither man has a filter! If he wasn’t in LeBron’s head back then, Stanley Johnson is definitely in LeBron’s head now!
But back to a serious note: Johnson and Detroit should have built on that playoff appearance to solidify their status as Eastern Conference Contenders.
That never happened. Detroit regressed significantly the following season. They finished 37-45 and missed the playoffs. Johnson ended up starting one game out of the 77 games he played.
How exactly did Stanley Johnson go from guarding LeBron James to sitting the bench on a perennial lottery team?