This summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves cut center Chris Johnson. The move came as a surprise to many, as Johnson’s contract for this year was guaranteed. The Wolves ended up keeping training camp invitees Robbie Hummel and A.J. Price over Johnson. While he has clear flaws in his game, namely his scrawniness, his biggest strength has been one of the Wolves’ biggest weaknesses this year. Johnson is a lengthy shot blocker, and the Timberwolves have the worst rim defense in the league.
Coach Rick Adelman seemed like he had made his decision not to keep Johnson around prior to training camp, as he barely played in the Wolves’ preseason contests. Johnson played about 10 minutes per game for the Wolves last season, averaging nearly a block per game and it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be able to have a similar role this year. It’s probable that Adelman and the Timberwolves wanted to develop rookie Gorgui Dieng, who has a similar skillset, rather than give 28-year-old Johnson, who has likely already reached his ceiling, a roster spot.
The move doesn’t seem to have paid off, though, as Dieng rarely plays, and the Timberwolves have allowed opponents to shoot a league worst 65.2 percent from within five feet of the basket. While Johnson would have never developed into more than a role playing shot blocker, the Wolves could really use a role playing shot blocker.
Hummel has added some valuable distance shooting off the bench, but Price hasn’t played much, and it seems like Johnson would have had more of an impact this season. Keeping Price may have made sense at the time, as the Wolves had just signed backup center Ronny Turiaf, but Turiaf is old and frequently injured, and has predictably missed most of the early season.
If Johnson doesn’t play overseas this year, he will likely wind up on a 10-day contract for some NBA team needing a backup big man. The Wolves too will most likely end up trading for or signing another backup big, if Turiaf isn’t able to make a comeback soon, but it’s clear the Wolves should have kept Johnson in the first place.