Two Eastern Conference playoff teams made a trade last night. The Hawks sent streaky scorer Lou Williams and Brazilian big man Lucas Nogueira to the Raptors for John Salmons. It’s a classic NBA trade, really. It’s essentially a ‘contributor for cap space’ deal. The Raptors acquire another piece that they think will help them reach the next step in the Eastern Conference, and the Hawks receive John Salmons, whose contract has a team option that the Hawks will promptly decline. The deal will give the Hawks around $4.5 million extra cap space this summer, since waiving Salmons’ contract has a $1 million buyout. Lou Williams had his worst season in over five years, coming off his ACL tear from the previous season. He didn’t ever make an impact in Atlanta, like he had in Philadelphia, where he finished second in the 6th man of the year award voting in 2012. He was second only to James Harden, one of the best players in the league. The bigger loss, in the Hawks’ eyes, is last year’s first round pick Lucas Nogueira, a 21 year old project big man from Brazil. With REALLY COOL HAIR.
What the Hawks are doing
The Hawks made this move in the name of flexibility. They hope that they’ll be able to attract some big-name free agents–probably not LeBron or Carmelo–to add to the Teague-Korver-Milsap-Horford nucleus. They gave the Pacers more trouble than anyone ever would have guessed last year in the first round of the playoffs, taking the series to seven games. And that was without arguably their best player, Horford, playing. Is it worth giving up essentially a first round pick in Nogueira, and a good contributor off the bench in Lou Williams, just for the chance at signing a second-tier free agent? This could give them the money to make a run at several restricted free agents like Gordon Hayward, Eric Bledsoe, or Lance Stepehenson, but those players’ teams would most likely match any offer made to them. And some of the unrestricted free agents like Marcin Gortat and Luol Deng might not be worth that type of money, nor would they bring the Hawks to the next level. They’d most likely merely leave the Hawks in second round no man’s land in the East. Atlanta might not be that bad of a destination for a player looking to win now, but the Hawks don’t exactly have a sterling history of attracting big-name free agents.
What the Raptors are doing
Trading basically nothing for Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira is a huge win for Toronto. They get ANOTHER Brazilian project, and who knows, Nogueira could be good in a couple of years. More importantly though, they get a legitimate scorer on the wing off the bench in Williams. The Raptors’ top offseason priority is re-signing point guard Kyle Lowry, and improving the quality of their roster will only help accomplish that. Williams strengthens Toronto’s bench that could lose key contributing point guard Greivis Vasquez this summer. Williams is by no means even close to the level of Demar Derozan, but acquiring Williams could make Derozan expendable. Now would be the time to sell high on the first-time All-Star Derozan, who averaged 24 points in the playoffs, off just 39% shooting. Moving Derozan is extremely unlikely. What’s most important is the Raptors seizing on an Atlanta team desperate to make a splash this summer. Toronto has a chance to sneakily jump ahead of Indiana in the East, especially if the Pacers lose Lance Stephenson in free agency. This is a great move for the Raptors, both in the short-term and in the long-term.