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To recap Sunday’s trade with the Atlanta Hawks: John Salmons’ expiring contract was successfully dealt, the Toronto Raptors acquired additional scoring firepower in the form of Lou Williams and also snagged a Brazilian shot-blocking prospect nicknamed “Bebe.” Oh, and this trade doesn’t in any way signal the departure of either Kyle Lowry or Greivis Vasquez.
Masaii Ujiri had been trying to get something for Salmons instead of cutting him with no return. There was a rumored trade proposal on draft night where draft picks and the ghost of Tayshaun Prince would be acquired in return for Salmons. Instead, the Raptors were able to pickup Williams and 21 year-old center Lucas Nogueira. While Williams is an accomplished scorer and former 6th man of the year candidate, he’s a combo guard that serves best as a bench gunner. He’s not a true point guard in the mold of Lowry or Vasquez. The departure of Vasquez would leave a void in the backup point guard role, while the departure of Lowry would create a large hole in the center of this team. Williams might provide a little bit of insurance, but he’s in no way a viable alternative to either player. The plan should still be to retain the services of both point guards from last year’s surprise playoff team. All three can co-exist and help the Raptors compete.
Lowry and Vasquez in the backcourt formed a dangerous offensive threat last season. They are both great ball handlers and shooters from the outside. They were able to push the ball and spread the floor, opening up lanes for DeMar DeRozan. Williams is a Jamal Crawford type of player, someone who can come off the bench, create his own shot and get buckets. He can be teamed with Lowry to provide a similar threat as Vasquez. Williams is a career 34.3% shooter from downtown who shot a career high 36.7% from beyond the arc during the 2012-2013 season. He’s a high volume shooter, but he can make the scoreboard light up. During the 2011-2012 season, the year he finished second in sixth man of the year voting behind James Harden , Williams averaged 14.9 points per game in only 26.3 minutes per game. He can generate offense when opposing defenses collapse on either Lowry or DeRozan. Like Vasquez, he’s a fearless weapon. He should help the Raptors generate offense in the half-court and shift some of the creative responsibilities from the Raptors two best players; the offense at times looked Sixers-esque last year when opposing defenses put all their focus on Lowry or DeRozan when they weren’t playing together.
Williams can also be paired with Vasquez. Vasquez is a true point guard and a very skilled and gutsy passer. His skills perfectly compliment Williams’ shoot first, shoot second, never ask questions mentality as part of an improved bench unit, one that ranked 27th last year. He suffered an ACL injury in 2013 and hasn’t played more than 39 games since he was with the Philadelphia 76ers, so this is a bit of a gamble. However, if can return to full form, the Raptors will have themselves an aforementioned 6th man of the year candidate who create fireworks off of the bench.
As for his contract, he’s got one year left that’s worth $5.4 million. This makes it doubtful that the Raptors will be going after someone like P.J. Tucker since they still need a reliable backup center. If they don’t pick up wing depth in free agency, expect more minutes for 1D wonders Steve Novak and Landry Fields. Either way, this move seems to put more of the onus on Terrence Ross to develop; he has the reins to the wing now.
The other piece the Raptors acquired in the deal was the seven foot Brazilian shot blocking prospect Nogueira. The reason why I say the Raptors still need a reliable big man is because Nogueira is still raw. According to reports from people who’ve seen him play in Spain, Nogueira still needs to develop his offensive game and he fouls too often. He’s the Brazilian Tyler Hansborough to Bruno Caboclo’s Brazilian Kevin Durant! It’s also been said that he needs to put on more weight, not to mention he still has a year left in Spain, although he does have a buyout clause worth 600,000 euros that he wishes to be exercised. However, in terms of long-term fit, he’s a great prospect for the Raptors to get. His shot-blocking, height and defensive potential compliment Jonas Valanciunas’ offensive capabilities perfectly. It’s a no risk, high reward prospect for the Raptors since they got him in exchange for a player that they were just going to let go.
The fact that the Raptors were able to get a solid bench player and another valued prospect for a player who has more bricks than, well, The Brick, makes this a solid move by Ujiri. This is a true win-win trade, since the Hawks get what they want in the form of additional cap space and flexibility.
For Ujiri, this trade is symbolic of what he needs to do for this team: maintain the optimism and ascendancy of last season while building for the future. With this move, the drafting of athletic freak Caboclo and news on the eve of free agency that Lowry will most likely remain in the T-dot, Ujiri’s off to a pretty solid start.