"I think Chicago was very honest with Hughes and made him aware that when [Kirk] Hinrich came back, he wasn't going to play," Knicks president Donnie Walsh said. "I'm not saying he was happy or unhappy, I think he was looking to go somewhere because he knew he wasn't going to play once Hinrich got back."
Hughes has been in the Bulls' doghouse for some time and the two sides had agreed to seek a trade weeks ago. With Salmons coming to the Bulls on Wednesday, there was even less need for Hughes.
The trade is a wash financially for both teams. Hughes makes $12.8 million this year; James and Thomas make $12.2 million combined.
This one rids them of the moody Hughes, who was acquired last year from Cleveland at the deadline but has been a non-factor in Chicago's crowded backcourt. He hasn't played since Jan. 12, watching one game from a club restaurant, and is averaging 12 points in 30 games this season.
"Obviously with Larry Hughes' situation, we had been looking to move him," Bulls vice president John Paxson said. "The deal we made today was, basically, I told him and his agent, Jeff Wechsler, I would do everything in my power to move him."
Hughes fills a need for the Knicks. They thought they had their replacement by acquiring Cuttino Mobley from the Los Angeles Clippers in a deal that same day, but he was forced to retire because of a heart condition.
The deal sets up a second stint in Chicago for Thomas, who was dealt there by the Knicks before the 2005 season. He only played three games with them before the Bulls sent him home that December and waived him in March.
However, Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro said he's played with and coached Thomas before and expects him to be a professional.
"I played with Tim a couple years ago [in Milwaukee] and I had him in Phoenix," Del Negro said. "I didn't have problems and enjoyed playing with him. I'll sit down and talk to Tim and tell him what I expect of him and what his role is. I expect him to be a professional and do his job.
"I have a good mindset with him and that's why I think it's a positive move for us."
Paxson said Thomas would be counted on to fill the minutes left behind by Nocioni's departure.
"We had him a couple years ago and that didn't work out," Paxson said. "I talked to him a little while ago, and it was a totally different situation. He's going to come in and he's excited to be here."
James has made almost no impact since Isiah Thomas gave him a $30 million, five-year deal in the summer of 2005. Rarely in shape, he played only two games in 2007-08 and two this season before rupturing his right Achilles' last month.
Thomas and James each are scheduled to make more than $6 million next season, but James could be bought out.
NBA Insider Chad Ford and The Associated Press contributed to this report.