The Chicago Bulls sent James Johnson down to the Iowa Energy(The Bulls D-League affiliate) on January 27th. Mixed reports told us that the move was to give Johnson more playing time, or this being a cap move of some sorts as a precursor to a trade. Either or, his rights still belong to the Bulls and with the trade deadline coming up, lets take a look in on James Johnson’s progress and weigh in on possible scenarios.

Shedding 20lbs over the off-season and looking reasonably more athletic in the preseason, James Johnson looked like he was going to be a promising player after a disappointing rookie year. He was seldom used in his second year as a Bull, disappearing to the final bench seats for games before he subbed back onto the court. Naysayers started to come around, after a few solid displays. Then JJ came into what looked to be a lost cause at Phoenix on November 24th. He was able to come into the game and made plays on 5 straight Sun’s possessions and a tie the game a minute later. This was the first real glimpse of what James Johnson could be for the Bulls, although he has yet to come close to that performance.

Playing in 12 games for the Bulls, James Johnson was posting 3.5pts/2reb/1.2ast/0.8blk and 0.7stl in a hair over 10 minutes per game. Much of which was obtained in garbage time in a few Bulls blow-outs this season.

In Iowa, JJ has had the opportunity to get minutes under Coach Nick Nurse and the Iowa Energy. Through 7 games, JJ is posting 20.3pts/8.1reb/4.1ast/2.4blk/0.9stl in 31.3 minutes per game. 4 of 7 games came against the Vipers(NBADL’s 2nd best team, Iowa is currently ranked #1).

[You can see the box score and a video recap here of JJ’s best performance in Iowa so far. ]

Also, if you check out the D-League website, take note of the Futurecast site, in case you want to watch free D-League live streams. I watched a few Energy games this year for the sole purpose of JJ, and he really could do whatever he wanted on the court on these guys. He looks out of place in the NBADL.

So now that we have a better idea of what we have in James Johnson. I’m going to go on a limb here and say that he isn’t motivated to improve. It’s not about his skills or athleticism, because he has that. It isn’t about his basketball smarts, because he knows where to go and what to do. Scottie Pippen has no problem speaking his mind about anyone in the league, and had a lot of praise for James Johnson and his potential. What’s the catch here?
When you make it to the highest stage of a sport, there needs to be a sense of urgency that drives you to compete and find new levels of your game. James Johnson was playing down to his opponents in D-League, he finished games barely breaking a sweat. Something is not right with this kid’s heart and mind when it comes to the great privilege he has been given. But that’s merely my opinion. What can we do with JJ from here?

Let’s flip to it and see

Scenario 1: The long term investment. We drafted him, he’s ours. We hope something sticks with him and he can bloom into whatever role the team needs. We bring him back up as soon as it makes sense and give him more attention.

Scenario 2: Buy High, Sell Low. Find someone who has their eyes on James Johnson, see if we make something happen. With only a few weeks before the deadlines, it’s likely that JJ will only go as part of some package deal.

Really? Buddy Jesus?

Scenario 3: Sayonara Mr. Karate Champion! Rot in D-League. You’re performing well amongst the NBADL Elite. Stay there and spend your NBA rookie salary wisely.

Scenario 4: Replace Neil Funk with JJ. Why not? Stacey King was every bit as hyped as JJ when he was a Bull, but I know I’m glad he’s commentating on games for us now. Stacey and James calling the game, now that might be a real way to salvage this guy. JJ seems to be a real likable personality, so why not. Just tell Chuck Swirsky to watch out for that roundhouse kick.

James Johnson was taken 16th overall from Wake Forrest in the 2009 draft.

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