TORONTO - In a trade intended to maximize the value of a player, and contract, already on the way out, the Toronto Raptors swapped the partially guaranteed deal of veteran forward John Salmons to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Lou Williams and seven-foot prospect Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira, the team announced Monday evening.
Toronto will also send a 2015 second-round pick to Atlanta in the deal.
Raptors' general manager Masai Ujiri had been shopping Salmons and his cap-friendly contract through last week's draft, hoping to turn him into an asset that can help the team next season. The 34-year-old can be bought out of the $7 million he's owed in 2014-15, the final year of his deal, for just $1 million if he's waived prior to Monday evening. Toronto was planing to cut Salmons prior to that deadline if a suitable trade could not be found. The Hawks are sure to do the same, saving $6 million in the process and adding to the cap space they'll have at their disposal this summer.
Entering the final year of a reasonable contract that will pay him just south of $5.5 million next season, Williams is a low-risk gamble for the Raptors, hoping to add depth and scoring off their bench. One of the NBA's premier reserves when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers, the 27-year-old Williams has struggled to regain his form following surgery to repair a torn ACL in 2013.
Williams averaged a career-best 14.9 points in his seventh and final campaign with the 76ers before signing with the Hawks as a free agent in 2012, sustaining the injury midway through his initial season in Atlanta. The nine-year vet appeared in 60 games last year, recording 10.4 points, his lowest mark since 2006-07.
Another year removed from serious knee surgery, the hope for Toronto is that the 6-foot-2 combo guard can provide instant offence off the bench and bolster the team's depleted second unit. The Raptors ranked 27th in bench scoring a year ago.
Although the acquisition of Williams shouldn't impact the future of soon-to-be free agent Kyle Lowry, as he's not considered to be a true point guard, the versatile scorer gives Toronto another option in the backcourt if Lowry or last year's backup Greivis Vasquez are not retained.
The move jives with Ujiri's repeated philosophy of winning now while continuing to accumulate assets and build for the future. Although the Raptors should flirt with the luxury tax this coming season, assuming they re-sign Lowry, Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, they were not expected to be big players in this offseason's free agent market anyway and with Williams' contract set to expire they'll still have significant cap space to work with in the summer of 2015.
Ujiri had targeted Nogueira, an intriguing Brazilian prospect, in the 2013 draft but was unable to obtain a pick. Nogueira was selected 16th overall by the Boston Celtics and flipped to the Hawks before spending last season in the Spanish ACB League. The 21-year-old has one year left on his contract in Spain and it's unknown whether he'll be permitted to join his countrymen Bruno Caboclo in Toronto this season. Like Caboclo, Nogueira is very raw offensively and needs to get stronger to compete in the NBA but he has strong potential as a shot blocker, addressing one of the Raptors' primary needs.
Salmons was acquired from Sacramento in December's seven-player trade involving Rudy Gay, averaging 5.0 points and 2.0 rebounds in 60 with the Raptors. The 12-year vet was a big part of Toronto's initial post-trade success and became a fixture in Dwane Casey's rotation thanks to his defence and leadership. He struggled with a lingering back ailment and inconsistent shooting late in the season and fell out of favour as the Raptors made their playoff run in April.
Raptors forward Tyler Hansbrough had a similar clause in his contract, permitting Toronto to waive him for $1 million this weekend. However, they opted to pick up their team option and keep him around for the final year of his deal, which will pay him roughly $3.3 million in 2014-15. If waived, the savings on Hansbrough's deal would have been minimal, as they would have used the bulk of it to pay a replacement. The 28-year-old averaged 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in his first year with the Raptors, seeing decreased playing after the arrival of Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. He figures to return as the fourth or fifth big man in Casey's rotation.