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February 22, 2011

Mini-TA: Johnson to Toronto

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 9:30 pm

Since the Carmelo Anthony trade is not yet official (and may now include Kosta Koufos and a second-round pick, forcing me to rewrite all 2,000 words … or not), our first finalized deal of deadline season is a minor one. The Chicago Bulls sent forward James Johnson to the Toronto Raptors Tuesday afternoon in exchange for the Miami Heat’s 2011 first-round pick, acquired by the Raptors as part of the sign-and-trade deal that sent Chris Bosh to Miami. Toronto also dipped into the trade exception created by that move to add Johnson without sending out any salary in return.

For one brief moment, Johnson seemed to be getting it in his second NBA season. He had eight points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks on October 30 against Detroit, offering the hope he might work his way into Tom Thibodeau‘s rotation. Instead, other than one other aberrant game (12 points at Phoenix on November 24), Johnson has been invisible ever since. He recently spent time in the D-League and has played less than four minutes since the calendar turned.

It’s too soon to write off Johnson, but there’s not a lot of evidence thus far that he’s an NBA contributor. For a team like the Raptors, Johnson is a worthwhile gamble. Toronto has been giving a bunch of young guys a shot–Alexis Ajinca, Julian Wright–which is basically the idea for a rebuilding team. The question is the cost. It’s tough to say whether there were other suitors for Johnson, but he obviously was providing nothing to the Bulls, who surely coveted the trade exception provided by moving his salary as they seek to deal for a starting shooting guard. Is it possible that by Thursday Chicago would have been desperate enough to move Johnson with nothing in return?

Instead, the Raptors surrendered a first-round pick. It’s possible, as DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony notes, that this reflects pessimism about the 2011 Draft, especially late in the first round–when contracts are still guaranteed no matter how many first-round-caliber talents are out there. But those picks can always be sold to cash-flush teams in need of young talent (see Knicks, New York), so I’m not sure that’s an adequate justification. If the market reflects that 2011 first-round picks are no longer as valuable as usual, I’ll change my tune.

The Bulls now turn their attention to making another trade, and an extra first-round pick could help in that pursuit. Johnson was a failed draft pick, but this is a decent save.

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