LAS VEGAS -- Amir Johnson said that Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was the first person to phone him at midnight on July 1, followed a short time after by a call from head coach Brad Stevens. That suggests an orchestrated strike by the Celtics to target a player it desired while staying realistic about the team's chances to hook a bigger fish in the early hours of free agency.
Johnson repeatedly stressed that it was Boston's appreciation of his game and that early contact that encouraged him to quickly agree to a two-year, $24 million contract. Johnson, who recently bought a home in Las Vegas, visited with his new team on Saturday evening at Vegas summer league and detailed the process that landed him in green.
"I love the way they approached me during [free agency]," said the 28-year-old Johnson, a veteran of 10 NBA seasons including the last six with the Toronto Raptors. "Nine o’clock, Pacific Time, Boston was the first one to call. Danny Ainge called me first then coach Stevens. They approached me well. They respect the type of player I am. And they gave me a number and it was a no-brainer from there."
What was Boston's pitch?
"They like the way I play and the way I fit into their system, the way the offense is run," said Johnson. "I just love the way they approached me. They knew what kind of player I was. They respect my game. [Signing was] just a no-brainer."
Johnson suggested that he didn't have Boston on his radar entering free agency, but that Boston's full-court press allowed him to make a decision a mere 14 hours after free agency opened. Stevens, who had already traded texts with Johnson, took his new forward to lunch on Saturday in Vegas before the two sat together as Boston's summer squad opened play in Vegas by defeating the Portland Trail Blazers.
"I just wanted to get to know him and introduce myself and we’ll cover all the basketball stuff down the road," said Stevens. "But he’s a really impressive guy, as I knew he would be."
Johnson ought to win fans over quickly in Boston. Asked about what he'll bring to the team, Johnson said: "One thing they know about me is I work hard, I give it my all, I never quit. Just expect hard play from me."
Later he added: "I am a team player, but at the same time, I feel like I still have a lot more room to grow and be the super glue guy that you’re seeing. I just have a lot to bring to the team. Who knows what’s going to happen? I could be one of the go-to scorers. At the same time, I can play any position, guard any position, so we’ll just see what happens."
A handful of notes and quotes from Johnson's first meeting with Boston reporters:
• Welcome to Boston: Johnson said that Boston's history didn't play a huge role in enticing him to the Celtics, but is aware of the banners. What else has he learned about Boston?
"I know their fans are crazy, so I’m looking forward to seeing their fans," he said. "Don’t really know too much. I’ve heard they got good clam chowder in Boston -- New England clam chowder -- so I’m willing to try that. I’m looking forward to seeing the city of Boston."
• The other big offseason addition: While the Celtics are still constructing their roster, the other big offseason acquisition to this point has been agreeing to acquire David Lee from the Golden State Warriors. Despite a growing crowd in the frontcourt, Johnson said he likes the addition of Lee.
"Very versatile big, kind of like me, runs the floor, great pick-and-roll guy," said Johnson. "I definitely think he’ll fit into the system, just like me. I think it’ll be a more fast-paced team."
• Pushing Boston to the next level: Johnson helped a young Toronto team accelerate quickly in the Eastern Conference. He was asked if he thought he might be able to help Boston do the same.
"I definitely think I can help," said Johnson. "I see this team ascending and I know what it takes to get there. I’m going to bring my knowledge and hard play and try to help them get to that next level."
Added Johnson: "I think we’ll be solid. I think Danny definitely has a vision. I love what the Boston team did last year with making the playoffs. I think we’re definitely getting better and we just have a vision and a goal that we’re going to get to and succeed."
• Leaving Toronto: Johnson sent a heartfelt thank you to Toronto fans via social media and admitted it was hard to leave a city that meant so much to him.
"It was tough because, six years there, it was basically like home," said Johnson. "I knew Toronto like the back of my hand. But, at the same time, it is a business. My first born is from Toronto, so that was huge. It was a tough decision. But at the same time, I’ve talked to my [former] teammates, I’ve talked to the staff and everybody, and it’s a business."
• We love the 90s? Like every player that arrives in Boston, Johnson isn't sure which number he'll pick because so many digits have been retired. Johnson wore 25 (Detroit) and 15 (Toronto) earlier in his career, but those digits are retired for K.C. Jones and Tommy Heinsohn, respectively. So which number will he choose?
"I don't know, man, it’s like every number is retired," he said. "I really haven’t decided. It’s like 1 to 33 is retired almost, I don't know. I have to look down the line and see what retired numbers and figure out a number. I’ll figure out something.
"I know the 90s are kinda free, maybe I’ll go down in that area. I gotta figure it out."
Jae Crowder found good luck in Boston after picking No. 99 when he arrived last season.