- Nick Friedell, Chicago Bulls beat reporter
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He was shocked.
"I was," he said before Wednesday night's game. "I got a little heads up talking to my agent, but other than that I didn't know anything was going down, or it was even true. [I was] definitely shocked."
After an up-and-down season and a half in Chicago, Johnson is looking forward to getting a chance to prove himself in a new setting. He did not get consistent minutes with the Bulls, and it was clear that he wasn't going to crack Tom Thibodeau's rotation any time soon. Things could change for him in Toronto where he was in the starting lineup in his Raptors debut.
"I'm just trying to develop a little more," he said of the trade which landed the Bulls Miami's first-round draft pick this season. "I know these last two years I was not playing as much and it's hard to develop when you're sitting down. So working on all my skills and stuff like that with [Bulls assistant coach] Adrian [Griffin] really prepared me for this opportunity I've been wanting for a long time."
Despite the lack of playing time, Johnson, the team's first-round pick in the 2009 draft (16th overall), chose to take the high road while talking about the organization.
"I'm not disappointed at all," he said. "It's a business. I understand fully what Gar Forman and John Paxson had for me they came and sat down and talked to me after I went to the D-League and they just want what's best for me. And to have a general manager and a vice president like that who cares about the players and not as much about the organization, about keeping the kid there, even though he's not playing, goes a long way and shows what kind of character they have."
Johnson's teammates and coaches wished him nothing but the best as he started a new phase in his career.
"J.J. is a good player," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "A good young player. Didn't have enough time to play with us because of who we have on our team, just didn't have enough time. I think that he's going to be a good player in this league."
"I hope he gets an opportunity to play," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau added. "He did a good job with us; professional every day, and this is a young team and he'll have an opportunity."
For Johnson, he knows it might be a little strange at first to play against all his old teammates.
"I was just telling Adrian Griffin actually that I don't want to have Derrick say 'outlet' and me pass the ball to him," he said with a laugh. "That's going to be weird. Not trying to swing it to [Luol Deng]. And that's pretty much it, really. Other than that, they know I'm a player, they know I'm a hard worker and it's just going to be going at them just like I do in practice."
Aside from the new teammates, the biggest difference for Johnson may be the fact that he decided to switch jersey numbers from 16 to 0.
"I just wanted a fresh start," he said of his old Bulls' number. "I didn't want 16 anymore. I wanted to start from zero and work my way up."
James Johnson is looking forward to his opportunity in Toronto.