Williams, the 22-year-old No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft, holds career averages of 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in three seasons, but his numbers have slipped in a reduced role this season. Williams is averaging just 4.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game off the bench for Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman.
Mbah a Moute, 27, holds career averages of 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game over six seasons with the Bucks and Kings. Sacramento acquired Mbah a Moute from Milwaukee in a July trade for a 2016 second-round pick and future considerations.
This amounts to a prototypical "change of scenery" move for Williams, who wasn't able to solidify a major role under Adelman. Minnesota picked up his $6.3 million rookie option for the 2014-15 season, and moving Williams for Mbah a Moute slightly reduces their payroll obligations this season and next. Williams is owed $11.3 million over that two-season term; Mbah a Moute is owed $9 million between now and the end of his deal, which runs through the 2014-15 season.
David Kahn, the GM who drafted Williams, departed over the summer and his replacement, Flip Saunders, shelled out significant money this summer to put the Timberwolves in position to make their first playoff appearance since 2004. Developing Williams simply wasn't an organizational priority this season, and sending him along to a new team does him a favor. Parting with Williams, who was selected before the likes of Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas and Klay Thompson, for little in return stands as one more negative repercussion of Kahn's rough tenure in Minnesota.
Sacramento does fine by buying low on Williams, an athletic combo forward in need of a meaningful opportunity, as the price paid in Mbah a Moute isn't significant. The Kings will need to put Williams in a position to succeed to make this move matter, though, and it's not clear how he fits into Sacramento's crowded frontcourt puzzle in the short term. In truth, Williams remains a bit of an enigma: He was a minus defender last year who hasn't shown NBA three-point range and his strength/speed combination just hasn't translated to the NBA level like his pre-draft advocates anticipated. The burden first falls to Williams to prove that he isn't just another of Kahn's many misses.
The Kings are currently occupying the Pacific Division basement and their playoff chances are remote at best. John Salmons, Jason Thompson, Patrick Patterson and Travis Outlaw have all seen meaningful minutes, and Carl Landry will be too once he returns from a long-term injury. That group will eventually thin out, as Salmons, Patterson and Outlaw are not owed significant long-term money. There should come a time, whether immediately or later in the season, when coach Michael Malone will be able to give Williams a real look to see if he can blossom into a core piece of Sacramento's future.
It's a bit surprising that Minnesota couldn't turn Williams into a more significant and helpful asset than Mbah a Moute but they aren't alone in that regard. Just ask Sacramento and Houston, who both traded 2012 top-five pick Thomas Robinson this year with relatively minor assets (Patrick Patterson and second-round picks) t0 show for it. They can also look back to their own history, as they only parted with minor draft considerations in acquiring 2008 No. 2 pick Michael Beasley from the Heat. The lesson from this deal is an obvious one: use your top draft picks wisely or their value will drop almost immediately if the players don't pan out as expected.