Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 7/18/13
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. It's a postage stamp of a room, tucked next to the Lakers' practice court, where Wes Johnson holds up his new Lakers jersey. Theres an illusion of importance imposed by how cramped this is, and Johnson folds his 6'7" frame under a table, and there's some clapping, too. This is a standard-issue press conference, at least until you consider who is speaking and the questions that are flying. That's a Lakers jersey, and that's Wes Johnson, a former No. 4 pick who's yet to make his mark in three seasons in the NBA. That's a Lakers jersey, and were talking about what we hope this guy grows into, and the admiration seems a bit one-sided. These are the Lakers now, though, and through no fault of Johnson's. He should be smiling that big smile and talking in his deep, almost croaking voice about how this is the opportunity of a lifetime. But that's not how these things usually work. Usually, the Lakers sign someone, and the team is as excited as invested as is the player, and both are envisioning rings and celebrity and the like. Sure, there's always a supporting cast, guys like Johnson, but usually there's no chance that members of that cast will have a shot to do more. Theyre afterthoughts, almost. This year, that chance exists. This year, almost everyone is an afterthought or no one is, depending how you see it. If Johnson, a swingman, plays well, or at least passably, he may get minutes. He may get a chance. This year, it's about one-year rentals, about proving critics wrong, about exceeding the woefully low expectations. The Lakers are trotting out quite the ensemble cast, and each is smiling wider than the last. "This is a dream come true, Johnson said at his introductory press conference on Thursday. "Since I was younger, since I was probably 8 or 9 years old, I've wanted to be a Laker. I can't even put it into words how excited I am to be here." Johnson grew up a Lakers fan in Texas because of his mother, who loved Magic Johnson. They had the same name, after all, so the little boy was hooked, and he has been ever since. Johnson remembers the first time he met Kobe Bryant, whom he considers a mentor. It was during his pre-draft workout process in 2010, and he still seems a little bit in awe. It's Kobe Bryant, after all, Kobe freaking Bryant. And Johnson is just a 26-year-old who's struggled, who's never played with a veteran leader, not really, not of that caliber. Then there are Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol, and when Johnson admits that his mother had the jitters the morning before his introduction, you find yourself nodding. Of course she did. These are the Lakers. The elephant in the room if it can even be called that, with all the attention it's getting is that the Lakers are hemmed in. Theyre hiring these fringe players as mercenaries, in a sense, the kind of guys who can push them through to the promised land of cap space. They cant be elated about it, even if the players theyve brought in are on top of the world. For a guy like Johnson, this has to go beyond being a fan. Realistically, he may not win, but he'll get to learn. He has to make something of himself, and soon, and according to Johnson, this is the year. He earned more playing time at the end of last season after Phoenix fired Alvin Gentry, and he's confident. He's going to get his playing time and his mentors. He's going to get his chance, and it's hard not to wonder if it won't be one of his last. Johnson has been in Los Angeles since May, and it seems like this signing has been a long time coming. His agent, Rob Pelinka, represents Bryant and Chris Kaman, and when he approached his client about the Lakers, Johnson was willing to forego more money for a chance to play for them. "It's like a no-brainer and I told him flat-out, yes, I would," Johnson said. Johnson attributed his lack of success thus far to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He doesnt want to say it's been bad luck, but it hasn't been good, and he thinks this might just be the right environment. There are veterans. There's a history of winning. He's had none of that before, not to this extent. Now, he'll just have to fit himself into Mike D'Antoni's system and hope he makes a case to stay longer than just one season either in Los Angeles or elsewhere in the NBA. The Lakers have been trotting out new players for a week: Kaman, Nick Young, Johnson. Jordan Farmar comes Friday. Each is elated, excited, etc., etc., etc. These introductions are a routine, a little bit rote, a tiny bit tired. If it seems like a plan B, well, it is. But that doesn't mean the men of plan B can't make the most of where they've fallen. Near the end of the press conference, Johnson is asked which Laker was the first to welcome him to the team. He pauses. No one has, he says. Maybe it was a snub. But Johnsons still smiling.
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