Chris Johnson Could Be Payroll Casualty Despite Strong Play With Celtics

Chris JohnsonWALTHAM, Mass. — Rajon Rondo hasn’t been back with the Boston Celtics for long, but he’s seen enough of Chris Johnson to not mind if the second-year swingman sticks around a while longer.

“Hopefully, we can sign him for the rest of the year,” Rondo said Tuesday at the Celtics’ practice facility. “He’s shooting the ball extremely well, he’s being very professional, always on time, and he’s producing in games.”

With Johnson’s second 10-day contract set to expire at midnight Thursday, it has become clear that he won’t be let go for basketball reasons. If the Celtics decline to offer him a contract through the end of the season — which is their only option if they wish to keep him — it will be a purely financial decision.

Each member of the Celtics has been unanimous in his support for Johnson, who has forced his way into the rotation in just 17 days with the team.

“We have not talked about it in finality, or with any of the final details,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But I do know it’ll be a decision of, can we afford it from a management, cap management and all that stuff standpoint that I don’t really understand. If we decide not to re-sign him, it won’t be because of anything that would be basketball-related from the standpoint of his performance. I think every one of us would love to have him in the program for all that he’s meant at this point in time. He’s been fantastic.”

Johnson has appeared in seven games with the Celtics, averaging 8.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Those haven’t been empty numbers, either. Johnson has elbowed his way into several crunch time situations, most recently sharing the court with Rondo and Avery Bradley during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s close victory over the Orlando Magic.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge doesn’t have the luxury of making decisions solely based on what happens on the court, though. The Celtics are in salary-shedding mode, which is why Johnson came here in the first place. Trading away more expensive backcourt options like Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford created the need for Boston to add cheap guards, which is how Johnson — and later Vander Blue — came to join the club.

Stevens hasn’t asked to be a part of those conversations with Ainge and his front office team, nor does he sound like he has much interest in delving into that realm. He just wants to see Johnson in a uniform, somewhere, now that Johnson has shown he’s worthy of it.

“That part of it is not my job,” Stevens said. “My job is to give my opinions when asked on it. At the end of the day, the most important thing for our program, long-term, is to let those people make decisions and to trust that those are the right ones, because I do trust them. They’ve done a great job with that in the past, and Danny and his group know exactly what they’re doing.

“I think the hardest thing for Chris is that he’s got to realize he can control what he can control. Hopefully, he’s around here, but if he’s not, I don’t think by any means it’ll be the last time you see him. I think he’s going to have a nice career in the NBA.”

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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