Johnson to Toronto; nothing else imminent


Feb 22

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It looks like that D-League stint will give James Johnson a chance to play.

Just not with the Bulls.

Johnson, the 2009 Bulls’ first round pick at No. 16, was traded Tuesday to the Toronto Raptors for the Miami Heat’s 2011 first round pick the Raptors held from the sign-and-trade deal for Chris Bosh.

The trade gives the Bulls two 2011 first round picks, theirs and Miami’s, and they still hold the potential 2012 or later first round pick from the Charlotte Bobcats for Tyrus Thomas.

Thus, the Bulls are in better position to potentially make a trade before Thursday’s NBA trading deadline for a shooting guard, though nothing is close and the odds seem to remain against a deal from indications at this point.

The big advantage for the Bulls of trading Johnson may be the $1.7 million in salary they save. The Bulls now have almost $3 million under the salary cap they can offer to a player who seeks a buyout from his team, perhaps like Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince.

There is no guarantee Prince, on the final year of his contract, will be offered a buyout or even that he will seek one. But should he, the Bulls would be in ideal position to make up to him the money he gives up to get out of his contract. And it might benefit the Pistons during a sale situation to be able to save millions of dollars on the contract, though Prince is just an example. Among the players most rumored for buyouts are, New Jersey’s Troy Murphy, Indiana’s T.J. Ford, the Clippers’ Rasual Butler and Cleveland’s Anthony Parker.

Players need to seek a buyout by the beginning of March to be eligible for the playoffs with a new team.

Also, the Bulls could be in position with more assets to make a trade for a shooting guard by Thursday as there have been rumors of talks with the usual suspects: Memphis for O.J. Mayo, Houston for Courtney Lee, New Orleans for Marcus Thornton, Minnesota for Wayne Ellington and Portland for Rudy Fernandez.

But thus far—and certainly these things can change as it gets closer to the deadline—league sources say the teams generally have been seeking a rotation player from the Bulls in exchange, which would seem to make little sense. Especially since most of the players the Bulls reportedly have looked at appear to be perhaps incremental upgrades over Keith Bogans.

If the Bulls would have to give up Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver or Ronnie Brewer it hardly would seem to make sense to fill one position and then be short somewhere else.

Johnson appeared in 13 games for the Bulls this season and averaged 3.2 points. Last season in 65 games with 11 starts he averaged 3.9 points. This year, however, he started the season out of the rotation of new coach Tom Thibodeau and it appeared highly unlikely even with an impressive eight-game stay in the D-League that Johnson would get a chance to play the rest of the season as the Bulls went this far with a good record.

The Bulls play Toronto Wednesday, and it’s possible Johnson could be in uniform. I believe it is a good move for the Raptors to give them a young, athletic small forward to combine with the improving DeMar DeRozan. Johnson had lost weight and had worked to improve. But it had grown clear Thibodeau was uncomfortable with Johnson and he never was going to get a chance to play regularly with this Bulls team. Especially with Thibodeau doing so well.

So moving the 6-8 Johnson for a first round pick gives the Bulls the chance to make a more attractive offer later this week, or at the draft when they’ll have multiple draft picks and then expiring contracts to combine with the picks and perhaps land a higher level player.

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