Injured forward Joe Smith will return to action tonight against Denver, but according to a report in the Sacramento Bee the veteran journeyman could soon be headed to the Kings.
The Sacramento Bee is reporting the Thunder has offered Smith’s expiring contract for swingman John Salmons.
Salmons, 29, is in his seventh year out of Miami (Fla.) and is averaging career-highs of 18.7 points and 3.5 assists this year along with 4.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 49 games.
The 6-foot-6, 207-pound Salmons has two years remaining on his contract after this season totaling roughly $11.2 million, making him potentially yet another low-risk, high-reward acquisition by general manager Sam Presti.
Last summer Presti traded a second-round pick to Charlotte for Kyle Weaver, a 2008 second-round pick who is now starting at shooting guard in place of the injured Desmond Mason. In December Presti shored up the team’s frontcourt by signing Nenad Krstic to a three-year deal worth about $16 million. And last month he traded reserve center Johan Petro for veteran point guard Chucky Atkins, who has one year left on his contract following this season but is guaranteed only $760,000 of his $3.48 million for 2009-10.
Salmons is capable of playing either the shooting guard or small forward position and is shooting 41.9 percent from the 3-point line and 47.9 percent from the field this season, both career-highs. While he’s enjoying a career year shooting the ball, he’s known more for his slashing ability. Salmons is also a gritty defender who can guard multiple positions and add to the defensive identity the Thunder seeks to establish.
The Bee, citing league sources, reports the Kings have yet to find a deal they like, which indicates Smith alone won’t be enough to lure Salmons and the Thunder likely would need to sweeten the deal with a draft pick.
Oklahoma City currently has three first-round picks in this year’s draft, it’s own, Denver’s and San Antonio’s. The Nuggets and Spurs picks figure to be in the late 20s and possibly undesirable for Sacramento, while the Thunder’s selection, likely a top five pick, will be untouchable.
The Thunder’s potential interest alone in Salmons clouds the future of Mason. If OKC is seeking to acquire a wing player who’s proven he’s worthy of starter-type minutes, it seems the Thunder is now willing to let Mason walk in free agency this summer. Mason, who turns 32 during next year’s training camp, has an expiring $5.3 million contract and sustained a season-ending knee injury last Wednesday against Memphis. There seemingly wouldn’t be enough minutes for Mason if Salmons enters the picture alongside current swingmen Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Weaver and versatile rookie Russell Westbrook.
Smith has been out since Jan. 10 with a bruised knee. But he has become an attractive player to several teams because of his expiring contract and ability to contribute veteran leadership. He’s averaging 6.7 points and 4.4 rebounds this season in just over 19 minutes per game.
When Smith returns to the Thunder’s lineup tonight, he’s hoping to restore some defensive balance to an Oklahoma City team that has taken a step back in recent days. The Thunder gave up122 points to the Kings on Sunday in an overtime loss and 110 points in a loss at Utah last Friday.
“It’s going to take a couple of games for me to get back in game rhythm,” Smith said. “But I felt good at practice yesterday. I was able to get up and down (the court). The defensive schemes have changed a little bit, but I’ve always been a defensive-minded type player anyway. So hopefully I can bring some type of energy on the defensive end.”