The defending champion Toronto Raptors inked Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson this offseason hoping they could help fill the void left when Kawhi Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.
But with only a week until the start of the regular season, it appears the former Arizona Wildcats are having a difficult time adjusting north of the border.
When TSN’s Josh Lewenberg asked Nick Nurse if Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson are contributing to the team’s defensive identity, the Raptors head coach had some pretty harsh criticism:
“Nope, nope, nope. Those guys have not understood A) how hard we play, B) our schemes, that defense is a priority for them. We’ve got some work to do with that crew. I tell them there’s a couple spots open come Tuesday night if somebody wants them. And I keep telling [them] show me you’re going to play defense, show me you’re going to play hard, show me you understand our coverages. And then whatever you do on the other end you’re going to get opportunities just because of who you’re on the floor with and they’ll come to you. You don’t have to come down and occupy 95 percent of your mind with how you’re going to break down and get your next shot. It’s not going to get you on the floor right now. So we’ve got work to do. We’ve got to find who’s going to blend in quickly defensively with this crew.”
That is a surprising evaluation considering Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson have both been known for their defensive prowess throughout their NBA careers.
Hollis-Jefferson, 24, has appeared in three preseason games with the Raptors, averaging 12 minutes per contest. His numbers are pretty good, logging 5.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game on 62.5 percent shooting.
Johnson, 23, has struggled mightily in three preseason games, averaging 2.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 12.4 minutes while shooting a paltry 1 for 10 from the field.
However, Johnson signed a two-year, $7.4 million contract with a player option this offseason, so it’s hard to imagine the Raptors cutting him before Oct. 21 when opening-night rosters are finalized.
Hollis-Jefferson could be a different story since he is on a one-year, $2.5 million contract, and releasing him would pose very minor financial ramifications for the Raptors.