BRITISH COLUMBIA

Raptors veteran Amir Johnson hopes innovative program leads to healthy season

10/03/2014 10:05 EDT | Updated 12/03/2014 05:59 EST
BURNABY, B.C. - Amir Johnson has injured his ankles so many times, he's become intimate with playing hurt. Feeling good is fleeting.

So the 27-year-old Toronto Raptors workhorse spent several weeks of his off-season in Santa Barbara, Calif., at The Peak Performance Project — or P3 — learning how to reduce the chances of rolling his ankle.

"It was something different for sure and it was very interesting," Johnson said after Friday's practice.

Sport scientists in Santa Barbara attached sensors to Johnson — much like the motion sensors used in building a video game character — and then watched the six-foot-nine player move.

"They can basically break it down where they can see your skeleton on the video screen," Johnson said. "He had me doing a series of moves where I slide, I jump and I run and they can see the way I land or the way I move."

It all came down to how Johnson plants his feet, and minor tweaks, such as turning his foot a certain way, the scientists said, will help keep him from rolling it.

"So I have been working on this all summer pretty much and change the way I move or take different steps," Johnson said.

Canadian star Andrew Wiggins has worked at P3, as along with dozens of other professional athletes of all sports, including fellow NBA players Al Jefferson and Dwight Howard.

"It felt good," Johnson said. "I'm all about doing different stuff and it was different for me so I was excited about it. I put all my effort into it.

"I think it's too early to tell (the results) but so far so good."

The summer spent in California was a relatively quiet one for Johnson, who travelled to Thailand a year earlier, posting pictures of himself riding an elephant on social media.

The Raptors would love to see a healthy Johnson, who has played the better part of his Toronto career with nagging ankle injuries.

Johnson is going into his 10th season in the NBA, and along with all-star DeMar DeRozan — who both arrived in 2009 — is the longest serving Raptor.

Coach Dwane Casey has liked what he's seen of Johnson at training camp.

"Amir's been fine. He knows how to play, he's gone hard in the scrimmages and the drills, he and James (Johnson) were battling today and I thought it was a good battle for Amir," Casey said.

"But Amir's an old vet, he knows when to hold 'em, he knows when to roll 'em."

A vet maybe, but Johnson, who's heading into his 10th NBA season, doesn't see himself as old — even if his ankles tell him otherwise some days.

"It depends on how you take care of your body," he said. "If you do that — eat right and stay in the gym — you pretty much can play as many years as you want. I mean look at Kevin Garnett. He's going into his 20th season which is incredible. He has longevity."

Johnson, who signed a five-year deal worth $27 million in 2009 — a move that had former GM Bryan Colangelo mercilessly mocked by fans and analysts — is heading into another contract season. He insists it won't be on his mind.

"I pretty much never worry about that," Johnson said. "For me my game is pretty much the same. I take steps where I'm getting better and better and each year I'm going up the charts so I never worry about that."