The Dennis Johnson Precedent


August 24, 1983

Like a lot of folks, Dennis Johnson has trouble making sense of the pre-draft deal which sent driftwood Rick Robey to the Suns in exchange for one of the NBA's finest guards. DJ is a 6-4, 28-year-old guard who was the MVP of the 1979 playoffs. He's a four-time All-Star and has been named to the league's All-Defensive Team in each of the last five seasons, a feat matched only by Walt Frazier. In his seven NBA seasons, he's averaged 15 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 77 percent for the line. He missed only 15 of 574 regular-season games since joining Seattle in 1976.

Robey, meanwhile, averaged 14 minutes and 4.2 points per game in 1982-83 and spent the second half of the year in Bill Fitch's doghouse. For reasons still buried in the vast heart of Fitch, Robey ceased to exist after January.

How were the Celtics able to get DJ for Robey?

Most NBA observers still think Phoenix will have the last laugh. Fair or unfair, Johnson has been branded as immature, moody, and a disruptive force. Why else, it is asked, would a player of his talents be traded twice during his prime?

For example, DJ's former coach Lenny Wilkens had plenty of bad things to say about DJ when the Sonics dealt him to Phoenix for Paul Westphal in 1980. Johnson was labeled a pouter. Seattle officials still remember DJ sulking on the sidelines, while his teammates went through a shooting practice a few hours before the Sonics were eliminated from the 1980 playoffs by the Lakers. DJ was traded a month later.

"I talked with Lenny," says Celtics' coach K. C. Jones. "He said he had some difficulties with Dennis out there, but that after the trade Dennis sat down and talked things over in an apologetic tone. As far as I'm concerned DJ comes to play and is a worker. He volunteered to come to this camp."

The Suns claim they've had no trouble selling the trade to their fans. Says Phoenix GM Jerry Colangelo, "we knew we were giving up a very good player in Dennis Johnson, but there were things about his game that didn't necessarily fit in with Phoenix. He has a tendency to pound the ball. He doesn't get the ball up the floor as well as we'd like."

"The trade is past history and there's nothing I can do about it. I have to thank Phoenix for sending me to a championship contender. I know what Boston can do, and with me as an addition, I think I can help take things further.

"I'm ready to go. They're going to get the best of me."

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