So after a few really slow days of Pitt news ...
#Pitt announces forward Durand Johnson has left the team. He was suspended for all of last season.— Nate Barnes (@NateBarnes_) April 14, 2015
The biggest question, obviously, is the timing. Durand Johnson was suspended in advance of last season (albeit, the announcement literally came on opening night) so he could have taken the year to find a new school and get into a new environment. After all, if the intention was to leave, what sense does it make to sit out with the program while suspended instead of getting settled into a new home?
So, we're left with a few thoughts. First, Chas over at Pitt Blather goes over some possibilities, including his academics potentially not being in order for a transfer.
Another thing I've thought about is if he got in position to be reinstated following the suspension. Don't forget, just because a guy is suspended for a year doesn't mean he's automatically guaranteed to come back from that. Certain stipulations have to be in order for a return, so you wonder if they were.
Yet another possibility is Johnson, like many other players, having a change of heart depending on their role. With the emergence of Jamel Artis this season, unless he played at shooting guard you'd wonder how much room would have been left for him, anyway.
This, of course, is all speculation. Unless Johnson or some authority inside the program comes out with the official reason, we may never know.
What we do know is that Johnson isn't coming back, so we're stuck to look at the potential impact. For starters, if on the team, Johnson would likely have been a significant contributor. While it's true that he didn't play in 18 months, some of that is overblown in my estimation. To play early this past season may have been a challenge coming back from the ACL suffered in the middle of the previous year, but he was basically healthy by the start of the year. And while he sat out this season, he was practicing with the team and you don't just forget to play. It's not as if Johnson were left in Hawaii (hey, remember that?) stranded on some beach using a version of Tom Hanks' Wilson so he could practice the shootyhoops. Stop.
I talked before about how effective could he be having missed so much time, but in the end, he's largely a jump shooter. That skill doesn't leave just because you don't play in a game. His effectiveness, in fact, was always going to be questioned more by the fact of his actual ability than missing time off. While on the team, he was actually near the bottom of efficiency in terms of field goal percentage. So, while there are some who will say he couldn't be effective after missing 18 months, I'd say he may not have been effective just because he's never been a consistent shooter - not so much because of the time off.
So does that mean his impact on next year's team would have been nil? Of course not.
Johnson's biggest asset besides making three-pointers is the threat of knocking them down. Even if he's not the most consistent of shooters, defenders would still be forced to respect his shot. That helps create opportunities for others and you also get the benefit of the shots he does make. in addition, having another upperclassman on the team would have been a benefit. Overall, Johnson certainly could have helped the team.
The flip side is that players taking his spot may not necessarily mean a drop in production. If Pitt lands a big man and/or Nix pans out allowing Mike Young to slide to power forward and Artis at small forward, you'd question how many minutes he would get at small forward, anyway. Johnson may have been forced to play shooting guard, but with Pitt adding four-star talent Damon Wilson and having another potential sharpshooter in Cameron Johnson, the Panthers have a good chance to replace his production.
His departure also gives Pitt another scholarship to play with. It's getting later in the game, but Jamie Dixon can either use it for this season or stockpile it for next year when more options may be available. Of course, they would have had it next year anyway when Johnson would have spent his eligibility, but his leaving early means Dixon can use it this season if he wants. Plus, if it were used on a transfer with only a year left (i.e. someone like Mike Thorne), it opens up again next year.
The long and short of it is that while having Johnson would have been nice, this is hardly a disaster for Pitt.