The 2021 NBA trade deadline has come and gone. It was an extremely busy day that saw some big deals swung early on and then some buzzer-beaters right as time expired at the deadline.
Here’s who won and lost the deadline:
The Nuggets made one of the day’s biggest moves when they acquired Aaron Gordon and Gary Clark from the Orlando Magic for Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton and a protected first-round pick. Denver now has the big forward it needs to contend with the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in the Western Conference playoffs. Gordon won’t shut those guys down, but he’s had success at making them work in the past.
Denver doesn’t lose all that much in this deal in the immediate. Harris has been hurt for most of the season, and Hampton is a project rookie, who wasn’t going to be part of Denver’s rotation. In the long term, Hampton and the pick may be losses, but a Finals run with Gordon and JaVale McGee, who was acquired on the cheap earlier in the day, will more than make up for that.
The Magic were expected to have a busy day, and boy did they! They traded away Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier as was expected, but also Nikola Vucevic in a very unexpected move. The Magic tore things down about as much as they could and will now reset with a cleaner cap sheet, some young talent and a bundle of draft picks. Over the rest of this season, Orlando will give minutes to newly acquired Wendell Carter Jr. and R.J. Hampton. Next season, the Magic will add a couple of 2021 draft picks, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac to those two as the new core.
Fans have begged Orlando to stop chasing mediocrity and the eighth seed for years. The Magic finally went all-in on blowing up their team and rebuilding around youth.
The Bulls made the surprise move of the day when they acquired Nikola Vucevic from Orlando. Chicago went all-in for Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu to put around Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Chicago’s suddenly veteran core. That trade cost the Bulls Wendell Carter Jr. and a couple of lightly protected first-round picks, but is more than worth it.
Chicago also added Daniel Theis and Troy Brown Jr. for depth purposes in a three-team deal with Boston and Washington that cost the Bulls only end-of-the-bench players. The Bulls may snap their playoff drought and today’s moves are a big reason why.
Portland Trail Blazers
For opposite reasons of the Toronto Raptors' moves, Portland is a deadline winner. Norman Powell becomes the best bench player the Blazers have had in a long time. He’s also just big enough that he can play alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in three-guard lineups. If Portland is committed to re-signing him, this is a slam dunk move for the Blazers.
Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets
Both the Lakers and Nets win because this buyout market should be stocked with good players. They’ve both got roster spots and rotation holes to fill. They should be able to load up with decent veterans to aid in a Finals run.
Adding Victor Oladipo and Nemanja Bjelica for Avery Bradley (he’s been injured for most of the season), Moe Harkless (out of the rotation) and Kelly Olynyk is a pretty big upgrade. The Heat will also be in the mix for LaMarcus Aldridge via buyout, as well. If they come away with him, the Heat could be right back in the mix for another NBA Finals run.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Drummond and Otto Porter Jr. will all reportedly take buyouts and become free agents. All will get to pick their next destination, likely with title contenders. That’s not bad for guys who had limited trade markets due to the size of their current contracts.
Winner and Loser
Terrence Ross was a trade deadline winner because he had some amazing tweets. The best of the bunch was this gem:
Ross was also a loser, because he’s left standing in Orlando without any of his teammates around him. But that’s not the end of the world. He’ll get to shoot a lot and likely build his value up for an offseason trade.
This may be a little harsh. Getting Evan Fournier for Jeff Teague and a couple of second-round picks is a good move. Using some of their $28.5 million Gordon Hayward TPE on Fournier is OK. If that was all Boston had done, the Celtics would be in the winners category.
The second Celtics trade is where things went sideways a little bit. Daniel Theis and Javonte Green were sent out for Mo Wagner and Luke Kornet. That’s a downgrade. It was done to help Boston avoid the luxury tax, and because the sense is Theis was probably leaving town as a free agent anyway. It just hurts on the court this season.
It also felt like, as per usual, the opportunity to do something bigger was there for Boston. It wasn’t a complete missed opportunity, but it’s unclear how much better the Celtics are now vs. yesterday.
The Raptors didn’t trade Kyle Lowry, despite Lowry having basically a goodbye news conference the night before the deadline. As the day went along, it looked like Toronto was opening up roster spots for a 3-for-1 or 4-for-1 Lowry deal, as well. In the end, the Raps didn’t get an offer they deemed good enough to move arguably the franchise's best player. That’s not the end of the world, but they missed a chance to get something for a player who may leave this summer.
Toronto also made a somewhat confusing Norman Powell for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood trade. Hood doesn’t really do anything for the Raptors, so this was basically trading pending unrestricted free agent Powell for pending restricted free agent Trent. Trent is a better defender than Powell, but not by enough to offset how much better Powell is at everything else. This only makes sense if Toronto’s endgame was to avoid paying Powell $20 million or more per year in free agency.
The James Harden trade was the start of a bit of a bungled in-season period for Houston. The Rockets swapped Caris LeVert for Victor Oladipo in the hopes of remaining playoff relevant. A 20-game losing streak scuttled that. And then they gave up Oladipo for Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a 2022 pick swap.
That’s not enough of a return for one of the game’s best players. The Rockets are positioned with a ton of salary flexibility now, but they have to get this upcoming offseason right or they could set the franchise back for a while.
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