NBA trade deadline
New Denver Nugget Aaron Gordon. Photo: Fernando Medina/Getty Images

Well, that was unexpected! Wasn’t this season’s NBA trade deadline supposed to be a subdued affair, with the play-in tournament making teams that would usually be sellers reticent to pull the trigger? This was the trade deadline where the biggest expected move would be a 35 year old former All-Star, moving back to his hometown for one last run at glory.

Instead, we saw a flurry of deals. Whilst no superstars changed address, there were more than enough name players swapping teams to keep us all on the edge of our collective seats, including names that have almost permanently found themselves a part of NBA trade machine twitter as well as players that looked totally entrenched with their respective squads. To top it all off, after all the hype, Kyle Lowry remained a Raptor.

The lesson – as it is every trade deadline – is that nobody really knows what’s going to happen. We just have to sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

Now that the dust has settled, lets take a look around the league and see whose situations have improved, who has missed out, and what scenario’s leave us scratching our heads.

Winners

Denver Nuggets

The obvious winner from this year’s trade deadline are the Nuggets.

Denver started the trade circus by upgrading Isaiah Hartenstein with literally anybody else Cleveland veteran JaVale McGee, at the cost of a pair of 2nd round picks. He’ll give them solid enough minutes when Nikola Jokic needs a breather.

Their headline move was to rob internet nerds all over the globe of the long held pastime of putting Aaron Gordon into fake trades, by making an actual real trade for the Orlando forward. The 25 year old Gordon is a clear upgrade on the fossilised remains of Paul Millsap. He gives coach Michael Malone the big defensive forward that he craves to take on the LeBron James’ and Kawhi Leonard’s of the world – something that they’ve lacked since Jerami Grant chose to bet on himself.

Whilst he’s not exactly a lights out shooter, he can make just enough outside shots to keep a defense honest, but where his true offensive value lies are in his ability to cut and finish. With respect to Nik Vucevic – himself traded, but more on that later – AG has never played with a play maker anything like Jokic. If Gordon is prepared to cut, then he’ll feast off layups and dunks.

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops in Denver, though. The cost of doing business with Orlando was veteran guard Gary Harris. Sure, Harris’s shooting has fallen away dramatically over the past few seasons, but he remains a noted defensive stopper. His ability to slow Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley was largely responsible for Denver’s 1st round playoff comeback in the bubble. Denver doesn’t have anybody that can replicate what he did at that end of the floor.

Toronto Raptors (and the GROAT Kyle Lowry)

Toronto, struggling through a season affected by injury, COVID protocol absences and of course playing their home games some 1200 miles from Toronto, looked a near certainty to start their rebuild by waving a tearful goodbye to the Greatest Raptor of All Time, Kyle Lowry.

The Sixers and Clippers were heavily rumoured destinations with Miami also sniffing around, though most contenders were keen to bring in the 35 year old, should the price be right. As it turns out:

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Raptors. They’re still within touching distance of the top eight and should almost certainly make the play-in game at a minimum. Keeping Lowry also gives both parties the chance to say a proper goodbye at seasons end.

The Raptors didn’t stand still on deadline day, however. They decided to sell high on Norman Powell, sending him to the Blazers for Gary Trent Jr and the ghost of Rodney Hood. In a vacuum, Powell is clearly the better player than Trent. He’s a more accomplished scorer who competes defensively. He’s about to become very, very expensive, though. This move was made with cap space in mind as much as anything. To that end, Masai Ujiri did well to rake in Trent, who is just as good a jump shooter as Powell – though he’s not nearly as versatile offensively – and is a better defensive player. As a two way, undersized shooter who played dogged defense, Trent just oozes Toronto Raptor.

Chicago Bulls

Arturas Karnisovas said early this season that it would be a year of assessment rather than big moves for the Bulls and their new front office. Judgement came quickly for one of the baby Bulls, with Wendell Carter Jr proving expendable. Alongside expensive veteran Otto Porter Jr, the Bulls simultaneously brought in a brilliant offensive centrepiece in Vucevic, whilst also considerably thinning their quota of ‘Juniors’.

Vooch should dovetail wonderfully with Zach LaVine. The two could form a devastating pick-and-pop partnership, whilst LaVine could feast from Vucevic’s outstanding post passing.

The move doesn’t exactly help the team defensively, but it will give their rather one dimensional offense a serious boost.

The Bulls also made a smart play picking up Daniel Theis from Boston, who can slot in as a stretch centre or play alongside Vucevic.

Orlando Magic

After years of 8th seed inertia, isn’t it great to see the Magic do something that is genuinely newsworthy?

The Magic went all Oprah Winfrey on the NBA: YOU HAVE A PLAYER! AND YOU HAVE A PLAYER! AND YOU HAVE A PLAYER! Given that Orlando have been stuck on their own personal hamster wheel, there’s no shame in them cutting ties with their core.

Whilst the overall return for two good players and an All Star looks underwhelming, is it really that bad given the circumstances? Evan Fournier went to Boston for a pair of 2nd round picks, which is on the surface a poor haul. However, he’s on an expiring deal, so whilst Orlando should get more for a player of the Frenchman’s quality, their own asset mismanagement has cost them in this case. Gordon brought back a 1st round draft pick, the highly rated but little used rookie RJ Hampton, and Gary Harris, who will step into Fournier’s old role. Harris is an exemplary pro and fantastic defender. He also doubles as an expiring deal in 2022. Vucevic brings back a pair of lightly protected 1st round picks and the intriguing Carter Jr, who’d development had unfortunately slowed to a crawl in Chicago. Porter’s arrival is a win/win: the small forward steps into a weak wing rotation and has the chance to prove himself to the team. If it doesn’t work out, he’s a free agent; no harm, no foul. All in all, it’s not a bad yield in a market that has been warped by overpays for the likes of Jrue Holiday.

Most importantly for a team that owns all its own picks, the Magic will be genuinely bad at basketball for the next few months, possibly the next few years if Jon Isaac and Markelle Fultz don’t get back to their best once they return from knee injuries.

Orlando have clearly decided to build through the draft and 2021 is as good a draft to start with as you could hope.

Miami Heat

Pat Riley did Pat Riley things at this deadline.

The Heat – starting to look more like themselves on the court – acquired perhaps the biggest name to change address this deadline in former All NBA guard Victor Oladipo from Houston. The cost was minimal: veteran sharpshooter Kelly Olynyk, the perma-crocked Avery Bradley and a potential pick swap.

Of course, Oladipo has been his old self in all too infrequent flashes since his horrible quad injury a few years back. He won’t have to play the same minutes or take on the same sort of responsibility as he did in Houston or Indiana – does that bring out the best in the two time All Star, or is this as good as it gets? If it’s the latter, he’s not as good as Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson and might not displace Kendrick Nunn from the rotation.

That said, with Goran Dragic playing like the 35 year old man that he is, could Oladipo play a similar role to the one the Slovenian played in the 2020 playoffs? Dragic’s aggressive driving game invigorated Miami last season. A rejuvenated Dipo could have a similar effect. If it doesn’t work, given he’s a free agent who is presumably looking to get paid, Miami would gladly walk away.

The team also traded misfit Mo Harkless to Sacramento for shooter Nemanja Bjelica. The veteran Serb will slot straight into the role vacated by Olynyk and the ostracised Meyers Leonard. It remains to be seen if they can pick up former Spur LaMarcus Aldridge on the buyout market.

Dallas Mavericks

In a lowkey deal, the Mavs will hope they have replaced Seth Curry in bringing aboard veteran sniper JJ Redick alongside Nicolo Melli; it only cost them Wes Iwundu and James Johnson and a 2nd round pick. A low risk, high reward transaction.

Losers

Houston Rockets

It’s perhaps a little disingenuous to say that the Rockets are the losers of the trade deadline when, in reality, they lost on the trade market the moment they finalised the James Harden trade. It’s not that trading Harden under the circumstances was a bad decision, nor was the bounty they received from the Nets. Rather, it’s what the Rockets did with that haul.

Instead of keeping Jarrett Allen, they moved him onto Cleveland – given the presence of Christian Wood, that’s a defensible decision. Tellingly, they could have held onto the ascendant Caris LeVert with two more years on his contract, rather than flipping him for the older, declining and – this is crucial – expiring contract of Oladipo.

The plan was obvious: let Dipo cook for a poor team, put up numbers, and either extend him of flip him to a contender for a premium price. Unfortunately, the team cratered and whilst Dipo posted reasonable stats, his inefficiency screamed ‘empty calories’. Combined with his declining an extension offer from Houston, and his market practically evaporated. Given that scenario, the Rockets did well to get anything of value for the former Pacer.

So why are the Rockets losers at the deadline? Because the Harden trade, as it currently stands, is this:

Nets receive: James Harden

Rockets receive: Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Dante Exum – injured (that’s his legal name, now), Rodions Kurucs, a few late 1st round picks, pick swaps.

The Rockets better hope those draft picks work out.

Boston Celtics

From the moment Aaron Gordon advised the Orlando front office that he wished to be traded, it was presumed that Boston would be his new home. He would fill a very definite need for the Celtics, the man himself wanted to end up there, and the C’s were in possession of a chunky trade exception.

Instead, the Nuggets gazumped the Celtics and Aaron Gordon’s name is added to the honour roll of names that Danny Ainge almost acquired.

Ainge’s recovery plan of Evan Fournier for a pair of 2nd round picks isn’t bad per se, but it is somewhat disappointing given what could have been.

The Celtics also traded versatile big man Daniel Theis for young centres Luke Kornet and Mo Wagner, in a puzzling move for an apparent contender.

Los Angeles Lakers

This assessment is made in the knowledge that the Lakers may well pick up Andre Drummond on the buyout market.

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis out for extended periods, the Lakers bear the look of a frankly quite ordinary basketball team. They’re still sitting in 4th place in the western conference, but with their superstar pair expected to be sidelines for at least the next month – likely the next six weeks – there is a distinct possibility that the Lakers could tumble down the standings.

The prevailing thought is that once LeBron and AD are back and firing, the Lakers will be able to take down any team in the league. That concept certainly has merit, but in a conference that is absolutely loaded (Luka Doncic sits in 8th, Steph Curry sits in 10th, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson’s sides can’t penetrate the top eight) can the veteran Lakers afford to make things harder for themselves?

It was rumoured that Los Angeles were shopping off season pick up Montrezl Harrell, given the expected signing of Drummond. The problem was that no other contender could really use an undersized, offense only centre.

The Lakers reportedly did enquire about Lowry but were not prepared to give up the tantalising Talen Horton-Tucker. That’s a mistake. Horton-Tucker has potential: potential and a fiver will buy you a cup of coffee. Lowry could vault the Lakers back to immediate clear favouritism. He’d also likely cost the team less than Dennis Schroder in the long run.

Al Horford

Poor ol’ Big Al.

He saw George Hill move to the Sixers; Rajon Rondo move to the Clippers; Redick go to the Mavericks; Bjelica to the Heat; McGee to the Nuggets, potentially Aldridge to the Heat…..yet Horford remains the only old man of value to remain stuck on a rebuilding team.

A buyout, however, remains a possibility.

Winner? Loser? It could go either way

Portland Trailblazers

As mentioned above, the Blazers traded away Gary Trent Jr and Rodney Hood to Toronto for Norman Powell. It’s a trade that is difficult to get a gauge on from a Portland perspective.

Powell is certainly the best player in the transaction. Like Trent, he’s an outstanding shooter on the catch. Unlike Trent, he’s a threat attacking the close out and is an adequate playmaker. Defensively, Trent it the better player, thought the 6’4” Powell possesses a 6’11” wingspan which allows him to guard some small forwards, affording the blazers a little versatility at that end of the court.

It will be interesting to see how the Blazers use Powell. Given his production fell off a cliff in Toronto when coming off the bench, it would be risky to use him in the same 2nd unit role that Trent held. That said, coach Terry Stotts historically hasn’t used three guard line-ups – at least from the tip.

This is a trade that could go either way for both sides.

To finish, a little trivia: