The first half of the Phoenix Suns season, fans didn’t see much of forward Wes Johnson, who came over to the team this year after being traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves as a first-round draft pick back in 2010. Since coach Lindsey Hunter took over though, the 25-year-old Scottsdale resident has moved into a pivotal starting position where he’s known just as much for his smile as he is his stellar 3-point shot. No matter what the score is, Johnson always seems to be having fun on the court, motivating his teammates with his energy and making big shots — including a buzzer shot in San Antonio in February that forced overtime that resulted in a Suns win. While he’s definitely a hustler while he’s playing, fans may be surprised to find out Johnson has a weakness for Krispy Kreme doughnuts and fashion by Alexander McQueen. Get to know Johnson better here, and keep reading to hear five reasons why he’s happy to call the Valley his home.
What brought you to Arizona?
I got traded here. I was very ecstatic I was coming. I knew it was beautiful weather and a great opportunity for me to come here and play. It’s been fun since I’ve been here.
What were your expectations back in 2010 when you were drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round?
As far as my expectations, I couldn’t even put it in words. It was just all a dream. Since I was little, I just wanted to be here in the NBA. I can say it’s been a bumpy road from my rookie year to now, but it’s all been a learning experience, so I wouldn’t change it for the world.
How would you characterize the Suns team now, and what is your outlook for the rest of the season?
I think we’re all still trying to find our chemistry. As far as this season, we’re just going to have to go out there and compete and hope that carries over to the next season. If everybody buys into what the organization is trying to preach, to play hard defensive-wise, that will carry over into the practice, and into the games, and into the next season. We just have to stay focused on what they’re trying to have us do, and we’ll end the season on the right foot.
Why haven’t you found that chemistry yet?
All the line-up switches, the coaching change, and how the season’s been going. It’s been tough — just with the line-up changes, a lot of guys haven’t played with each other. We hang out with each other, but it’s different going out and playing with an individual. I think we just learn it in practice and break down all the X’s and O’s and get what the players’ tendencies are to help us during the games.
What did you think of the coaching change, when Lindsey Hunter took over for Alvin Gentry in January?
I really didn’t know what to expect when it happened. I was happy for Lindsey that he got a chance to be coach, but now that I’m able to play, he’s really expected a lot out of me. Whoever got it, I was just happy for them to be in that situation.
How do you think your play has changed since you’ve become a Phoenix Sun?
I don’t think it’s changed as much as it’s getting back into my own. Since my rookie year and last year, this is me getting comfortable out there playing and getting my confidence back, more than anything. The first half of the season was real tough.
When you aren’t playing as much, how do you keep your confidence and spirits up?
Just staying in the gym. I think you have to have good support. I have people back home (in my home state of Texas,) my significant other, my family. I have everybody in my corner telling me to stay positive, on those long road trips where you’re not playing, and you come back and want to help the team as much as you can, but you’re just sitting over there. Staying in the gym and listening to positive people, I think that helps out a whole lot.
You had twin boys last year. How do you balance being a dad and being an NBA player?
It was tough when they were first born, trying to balance all of it. It’s gotten a little bit easier, but I can say, when I’m at work, I’m at work. When I leave, I’m in dad mode again. There’s a fine line between the two, but when I’m at home, I’m at home, and when I leave, I have to put on my game face and be professional. When I leave, and when I’m at home, it’s all family time.
What’s your typical off-day like?
I run errands, I see if I need to pick up baby wipes for the boys or food. I get home, I eat, watch TV, put them to sleep. I just chill and relax as much as possible, and then you wake up and play all day, change diapers, do whatever I have to do, but mainly, I’m home chilling.
You’re going to be a free agent after this season. What are your expectations of that process?
I’m really just waiting to see. I know they like me here, so it’s really just see what happens in July. It’s out of my control. The only thing I can worry about is working on my game and just control what I can control. Other than that, just wait and see.
Is there anything you’re hoping for?
I’m hoping for a new deal, for hopefully someone to pick me up. Hopefully, I’ll be here — I want to be here — but any interest any other teams have in me, I’ll jump on it. Other than that, hopefully I’m here.
Why would you like to stay here?
The whole scenery. You can’t beat the sun, you can’t beat the weather. The whole atmosphere, the fans, the style of play here. I love it here. My family loves it, for my boys to be out in the sun all day, sitting at the pool, and just the great relationship we built while we were here.
Is there anything that you’re worried about?
No, I don’t have any worries, no worries at all.
Is more playing time a factor in where you want to be, like Phoenix?
Always. I think for anybody who plays basketball or is competitive, they always want more playing time. But for me, I want to be here because of the overall feeling.
One thing that stands out about you is your smile and positive attitude while you’re on the court. How do you keep that when you’re down?
I think that triggers to everyone if you have a positive mindset — that’s a good aura to have. You don’t want to be negative or down all the time because it feeds off to everyone else. People see that, and it jumps onto them, whether you think that or not. If you have a positive mindset and are always in a good mood, it makes everyone else feel good.
What is the locker room atmosphere like, including after a loss?
After a loss, everybody’s down, but on a typical day, everybody’s having fun and cracking jokes with each other and laughing. It’s always been like that since we first came back from training camp, so I think the good thing about us is that we already have good friendships on the team. Nobody is in bad spirits.
How much does your chemistry off the court affect it on the court?
A lot. If you have a good relationship off the court, I think that carries onto the court. I think that trust factor builds when you’re off the court, and when you have that relationship with a friend off the court, you know on the court you have each other’s backs. You don’t want to go into battle with anybody you’re not friends with, and we all have each other’s backs on the team.
What do you think the team needs to win a championship next year?
Confidence and getting everybody back on the same page. If you’re on the same page, and everyone gives their 110, 120%, I think we’ll be fine. We can play with anybody, we just have to have that focus and that mindset that we can. If we can eliminate the mental lapses, I think we’ll be good.
So you attribute the losing season to individuals’ mental lapses?
Yes. It’s been a rocky season. I think if we have a really solid rest of the season and good training camp, it will trickle over into the games into next season.
“Rebuilding” and “transition” have been two big words surrounding the Suns this season. When will that rebuilding process be over?
When wins start rolling in, I think the rebuilding will be thrown out the window. As we continue to rebuild and have that off-season, and when the wins start coming in, and playoffs, I think that rebuilding stage is over.
What are you going to be working on in the off season?
My all-around game. I can’t pinpoint anything, and I try not to be too one-dimensional on the court. I just want to be an impact player.
You’ve made some stand-out plays this season. Do you thrive under pressure?
My family says I do thrive under pressure. I think that’s when I really come out, when the game is on the line or really tight, I do better in those situations. When I have an open shot, I might miss it more than when someone’s in my face or it’s a tough shot.
Your 3-point shot has also stood out this season. What’s the key to being a great 3-point shooter?
Repetition and practice is the key. It’s really being confident in the shot.
What’s your favorite music to work out to?
Anything that’s upbeat or has a motivational message behind it. My favorite artist is probably Jay-Z.
What’s your diet like?
I try to eat healthy as far as eating fish and protein and pastas and all that good stuff, but I do eat junk food sometimes, too.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure food-wise?
Krispy Kreme. I’m plotting on going there later today. There’s one down the street from me.
What’s your typical practice like?
We come in, do a warm-up, then get into 3-on-2 fast break drills and big’s and small’s for 1-on-1 sessions. We go over ball screens, defending pick-and-roll’s, and then 5-on-5’s. It’s really competitive.
How would you characterize the Phoenix Suns fans?
Excellent. When they get behind us, it really pushes us over the edge in some of those games. I know sometimes it’s rough for them to try and come out to cheer for us when we’re not playing as well, but when they do cheer, when they do stand behind us, it brings out a lot more energy and motivates us to come out and try to win the games for them.
Why should people support the Suns right now?
We’re an exciting team, and the energy we bring to practices makes its way to the games. I think when they come out, they’ll see that.
What are the keys to building chemistry on the court besides practice?
Just getting comfortable with that player. When you play with that person a lot, you’re going to feel how you react and respond to different situations, so that will carry over.
What are your goals?
All-Star, Hall of Fame, so that my name will be heard after I retire, one that people will talk about.
How has having more playing time the second half of the season affected you?
A lot. I think the first half was very frustrating, because I wanted to play. I started my first 2 years in the league, so going from that to not playing was tough. It just made the whole situation that much more beautiful, that I can end the season on the right foot and go out there and be competitive and give it my all when I’m out there.
Do you scope out other teams at all?
No, not at all. I watch, but really I’m focused on who we’re playing next and trying to get a win.
Who’s your favorite team to play against?
The L.A. Lakers. I was a Lakers fan growing up.
Who’s the most challenging team to play?
Probably OKC (Thunder.) I know most of the guys over there, and playing against them is the most challenging. Kevin (Durant) and Russ (Westbook), just playing with them.
Which player in the NBA would you like to play with one day?
LeBron (James.) He’s one of the best players, so having him on your team makes everybody around him better. Being able to play with him would be fun.
How would you describe your playing style?
Really energetic, as far as getting the team going and getting the shots. I bring a lot of energy.
Do you ever trash talk?
A lot. All the time.
What’s your best trash talk line?
It’s not PG, but I do trash talk a lot. Once you cross over the lines, you don’t have any friends, but once you get back, you’re all joking with each other. Everybody knows how to keep it within the means of basketball.
What’s the worst thing about being so tall?
Clothes. You can’t really find jeans. I can find shoes, because I’m probably at the borderline, but it’s hard to find shirts and pants.
Do you have a tailor?
I do. He’s in L.A., so he’s not that far.
Would you say you’re fashionable?
I love clothes. I always critique people on the team about what they’re wearing, and they always ask me where I got my stuff. I love fashion.
Who are your favorite designers?