If it's October 2nd, it's Anthony Johnson's birthday. The Orlando Magic guard turns 35 today, and will get to celebrate it with a day off from training camp; coach Stan Van Gundy rewarded his players with a day off after their hard work on Thursday, which means they'll reconvene tomorrow.
A.J.'s second go-round in Orlando got off to a rocky start, as his iffy shot and lack of speed didn't endear him to Magic fans, who were perhaps spoiled by the quick-and-trigger-happy backup point guard tandem of Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling the season before. Nevertheless, A.J. gradually grew more popular in Orlando due to his steady play, which he at times punctuated with wicked dunks in traffic. I submit that Johnson is the most explosive dunker in the NBA under 6'03" and over the age of 33. How's that for multiple endpoints?
He also earned sympathy for his fairly unceremonious benching during the NBA Finals, after playing so hard, and so well, during the team's playoff run to that point. Jameer Nelson returned from shoulder surgery and bumped Johnson down a notch on the depth chart. The Magic's inclusion of Rafer Alston in the trade which netted them Vince Carter appeared to restore A.J. to the second-string, but that role became less assured once they signed Jason Williams.
As John Denton wrote in a chat yesterday, Williams is "clearly ahead" of Johnson on the depth chart based on his performance so far in training camp. And, according to Denton, Johnson is "disgruntled" and "obviously wants out of Orlando." At Media Day, Johnson appeared to be in good spirits and said, in response to another reporter's question, that he did not believe he was on the trading block this summer. His assessment doesn't jibe with something Alex Kennedy reported in August, namely that the Magic included him in their final sign-and-trade offer to the Golden State Warriors for C.J. Watson.
But enough about Johnson's apparent unhappiness or his potentially uncertain future with the club; his expiring contract, worth a little more than $2 million, makes him a decent trading chip. For now, let's just wish a happy birthday to the man whose career-best performance in the Magic's first game after Nelson's apparent season-ending injury gave fans reason for optimism.