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With health and safety protocols due to COVID-19 altering the landscape of the 2021-22 NBA season, teams have struggled to find ways around it. That’s been true for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Though the Lakers have no more players in the protocol, that wasn’t the case about a week ago. Los Angeles was among the teams missing multiple key rotation players, so the league allowed franchises to sign replacement players to make up for it.

The Lakers took advantage of it and used one of the spots to sign forward Stanley Johnson, a former first-round pick in 2015.

Johnson made his debut on Christmas Day against the Brooklyn Nets, and he immediately introduced a newfound sense of energy and effort that has routinely plagued the Lakers this season.

The 25-year-old forward has now played in four games, including two starts, and is worthy of staying on the roster longer.

After the Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers by 33 points, a game in which Johnson scored 10 on 3-of-4 shooting, LeBron James explained how Johnson, who started the season with the South Bay Lakers, acclimated to L.A. so quickly.

“He’s picked up our system really fast, and part of it is because he was with South Bay, and that gave him a cheatsheet, which we needed. And he brought in some toughness at the wing position and also some defensive toughness as well,” James said.

James hopes Johnson can maintain his form moving forward.

“That’s where we hang our hats at over the last three years: the defensive side of the floor. He’s a guy that’s hungry,” James said. “Obviously, he’s trying to earn a roster spot. You could tell he’s hungry, and it’s been great basketball since the Christmas Day game, the road trip, Houston, Memphis and tonight once again, and hopefully, it continues.”

If the Lakers want to keep Johnson on the main roster, there is an open spot. L.A. traded Rajon Rondo to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Denzel Valentine, but Valentine is expected to be waived.

That would free a slot for Johnson, who has been immense for this squad. It would be a major loss if the Lakers didn’t retain him.

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