Amir Johnson was as surprised as everyone else when he parlayed his journeyman status into a five-year, $34-million (all currency U.S.) contract with the Toronto Raptors.
He was in the gym working out when he got a call from his agent, Bill Duffy, telling him the offer the Raptors were prepared to make, and even he was taken aback at the total.
"I was smiling," Johnson said. "I was ready to come to Toronto after that."
He said he was expecting an offer in the range of $25-million to $30-million. "This is great for me, I'm happy."
The 23-year-old power forward is the Raptors' other free-agent big man, the one not signing with the Miami Heat. Johnson is no Chris Bosh, but he's an intriguing role player who should be coming into his own with the prime of his career ahead of him and five NBA seasons behind him.
"The fact that Amir is committing to us and we're committing to Amir speaks to the amount of faith we have in him as a basketball player," Raptors president Bryan Colangelo said Thursday. "We feel like we're getting Amir right as he's about to take off and we're going to see the best basketball of his career."
Colangelo said he felt he needed to make a strong offer to pre-empt any move by another team in an environment where so many teams have considerable cap space. He suggested that while he was in the midst of revamping his roster, he wasn't rebuilding, and with the summer just beginning, he wasn't done.
"A lot of things are under consideration right now," Colangelo said.
At 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Johnson won over Raptors fans last season with his speed running the floor and his effort on the glass, but he acknowledged he didn't expect to earn nearly $7-million annually after averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds a game. To improve, he'll need to curb his tendency to foul - he averaged 6.3 per 36 minutes of floor time - which has limited him to 15.2 minutes a game for his career.
With Bosh going to the Heat, the Raptors are rebuilding. Johnson was the first piece in place and another will likely be former Denver Nuggets forward Linas Kleiza, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound perimeter player who played in Greece last season.
The Raptors signed the restricted free agent to an offer sheet worth $20-million over four seasons. The Nuggets have a week to match Toronto's offer but aren't expected to do so since they are over the salary cap and would have to pay the luxury tax for a player who wasn't on their roster last year.
Kleiza's best season was in 2007-08 when he averaged 11.1 points and 4.2 rebounds a game for Denver. He's a career 34.2-per-cent three-point shooter who led Greek power Olympiakos in scoring. Kleiza was supposed to earn $6.1-million in Europe this season, but wanted to play in the NBA.
"I want to prove myself," said Kleiza, a 25-year-old from Lithuania. "I had a role in Denver, but I want to take my game to the next level."
The two signings would put the Raptors over the NBA salary cap of $58-million.
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