The Los Angeles Lakers have had a lot of different players don the purple and gold in recent years. Rob Pelinka and the front office have constantly been forced to shuffle through players with there being a lot of bad fits that have come to LA but some great fits as well.
The Lakers' fanbase, which is without a doubt the most dedicated in the entire sport, has taken a liking to certain players even if they are not the best ones out there on the court. Austin Reaves might have the best universal approval rating among Lakers fans right now and he is not the best player on the team.
One role player that fans really flocked to when he was in LA was Stanley Johnson. Johnson, a former lottery pick, finally started to show some of his potential when the Lake Show brought him in. He was one of the better defenders on a really bad defensive Lakers team and started knocking down shots at a consistent rate.
Johnson was a throw-in to the Talen Horton-Tucker trade that brought in Patrick Beverley and throughout the entire 2022-23 season, fans wondered what could have been if he just stayed in LA. While it was not possible during the season because of the league's re-acquire rule, the Lakers could have brought Johnston back in during the 2023 summer.
Pelinka opted not to do that and Johnson remains a free agent to this day. That likely won't last long, though, as contending teams look to improve roster holes that previously did not seem as pressing. That is why Johnson has been predicted to sign with a potential NBA Finals opponent for the Lakers, the Milwaukee Bucks. Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report breaks down his logic for projecting Johnson to head to Milwaukee:
"Where he's struggled is as a shooter, at just 30.5 percent from deep, but he was much improved with the Spurs in a limited sample size (45 percent). But whatever he brings on offense is a bonus. He's a physical player who could help the Bucks while Jae Crowder is sidelined after surgery on an adductor and abdominal tear.
Milwaukee is a taxpayer with 15 players guaranteed, and it might prefer to open a spot via trade. Perhaps rookie AJ Green or Robin Lopez could be expendable (though Brook Lopez may not take too kindly to his twin brother being cut)."
Lakers fans would hate to see Stanley Johnson in the NBA Finals on the Bucks
Of course, the Lakers have to make it to the NBA Finals first before this even becomes a conversation and there is still a lot of basketball that needs to be played. As great as this roster is, the Lakers cannot put the cart before the horse when we are still in November.
That being said, Johnson is exactly the kind of role player that the Lakers should hope stays away from a title contender, whether it be the Bucks or a team in the Western Conference. Heck, even a team like the Warriors or Suns would be scarier with Johnson on the roster.
It might sound absurd but the Lakers' run to the Western Conference Finals last season proved the impact that quality role players can have. Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves both won separate games for the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. After being out of the rotation to end the regular season, Lonnie Walker IV scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to a victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Johnson is absolutely the kind of player that could have a big moment like that in a big spot in a playoff series. Johnson can swing a playoff game, which as a result, can swing an entire series and potentially derail a team's (like the Lakers) title push.
Johnson can defend at a serviceable level on the perimeter and has shown the ability to be red-hot as an off-ball shooter from beyond the arc. With the Lakers' biggest weakness being behind the arc, this is the kind of role player they don't want to see on another team's closing five.
Heck, with the injuries that the Lakers have suffered, maybe they should bring Johnson in before anyone else can.