These NBA Teams Blew It at the Trade Deadline
The dust has settled from the 2020 NBA trade deadline Thursday, with more than a few big names switching teams.
While the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers all made notable additions, it's equally interesting to see which teams needed to execute trades and didn't.
Whether they have upcoming free agents who are likely leaving, poor roster construction that required shaking up or are fringe playoff teams that needed boosts, the following five squads blew it at the trade deadline because of what they didn't do.
The Boston Celtics are one of the NBA's best teams at 35-15, have won five games in a row and are almost a lock to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
So why did they blow the trade deadline?
Two reasons. For one, almost all of the Eastern Conference powerhouses have improved lately. The Indiana Pacers got star guard Victor Oladipo back from a quad injury, the Miami Heat traded for Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder, and the Philadelphia 76ers added Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III to fill out their bench.
While the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors were also quiet, the Bucks are running away with the conference at 44-7 and should be a premier destination for players who are bought out. The Raptors are the hottest team in basketball, winning 12 straight. The Celtics aren't playing on the level of either squad, and failing to make a move before the deadline didn't help.
The second reason is size. While Enes Kanter (6'10"), Daniel Theis (6'8") and others have done a decent patchwork job at center, the C's will have real concerns when the playoffs begin (assuming Boston still doesn't trust 7'5" Tacko Fall with NBA minutes).
Out of the eight Eastern Conference teams in the playoff picture, Boston ranks just sixth in rebounding percentage (50.9), while the Bucks (52.3), Heat (52.1) and Sixers (51.8) are the three best teams in that metric in the NBA. If the season ended today, Boston would face the Sixers and their frontcourt combo of Joel Embiid and Al Horford, forcing either natural small forwards Gordon Hayward or Jayson Tatum to guard one of them.
While it likely would have meant sacrificing Hayward, the Celtics should have pushed harder for a bruising center with playoff experience like Steven Adams. Now they will have to sort through the buyout market or sign a free-agent veteran like Joakim Noah.
With so many talented wings and young talent to offer in a trade, Boston should have pushed harder to find an upgrade at center.
The Detroit Pistons weren't quiet at the deadline, but they should have done far more.
They traded Andre Drummond, already one of the best players in franchise history at age 26, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the expiring contracts of Brandon Knight and John Henson and a 2023 second-round draft pick.
Dealing Drummond, who ranks first in Pistons history in field-goal percentage, offensive rebounds, rebounds per game, defensive rebound percentage and total rebound percentage, signaled a much-anticipated rebuild.
Derrick Rose was also brought up in trade talks, with the hopes that he would net the Pistons a lottery pick, per Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. And Detroit discussed deals for Markieff Morris, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, and Luke Kennard, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
When the clock struck 3 p.m. on the East Coast, Drummond was the lone member of the Pistons to be shipped out, leaving a lot of questions about the Pistons' direction.
By not trading Rose now, the team will lose significant value if it moves him during the summer or next season on an expiring deal. Rose is playing his best basketball since his early 20s and would have likely netted a first-round pick or multiple seconds.
Kennard, 23, is young enough to fit a rebuild, but Morris is 30 and has a $3.4 million player option he'll likely decline for next season. With at least six playoff teams interested in Morris, per O'Connor, it's baffling that the Pistons didn't move him for anything.
Detroit has begun its rebuild by slowly peeling off the Band-Aid instead of trying to get the process done as quickly as possible.
Oklahoma City Thunder
It feels almost criminal to criticize the Oklahoma City Thunder front office, but doing nothing at the deadline was a curious choice.
The team has exceeded expectations with a 31-20 start, but this organization has been hellbent on acquiring draft picks, even if it means parting with veteran talent. Besides the Paul George and Russell Westbrook trades, OKC dealt starting power forward Jerami Grant to the Denver Nuggets for a 2020 first-round pick this past summer.
This strategy seemed likely to continue through the trade deadline, with Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schroder the most likely candidates to be shipped out.
Gallinari's three-year, $64.8 million contract runs out this summer, making the 31-year-old an unrestricted free agent in a weak class.
Plenty of teams should be looking for big men who can shoot, likely making him one of the more sought-after targets available. But how much money do the Thunder want to commit to a veteran power forward with a history of injuries while building around 21-year-old point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?
The Miami Heat wanted Gallinari, and his reps were even working on a contract extension with the Heat, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. This seemed like a prime opportunity to flip Gallinari for an asset or two without worrying about overpaying him or watching him walk for nothing this summer.
The Thunder aren't good enough to win an NBA title and won't be bad enough to miss the playoffs. Keeping Gallinari doesn't change the outcome.
Making the playoffs last season was a big deal for the Orlando Magic. A young core of Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Markelle Fultz and Mo Bamba was supposed to take the next step, especially with All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross signed to new deals.
Now, the Magic will have to finish the season 20-10 just to match last season's 42-40 record.
While plenty of key players have missed time with injuries, the Magic have been one of the worst playoff-bound teams ever seen and are projected to get annihilated by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
It didn't have to be this way.
There's plenty of talent on the roster, which is dominated by bigs and severely lacks wings and shooters from all positions. If there was ever a team in need of a trade, it was the Magic.
Gordon, 24, would have been the logical choice to ship out. Even with Isaac out indefinitely, he has the higher long-term upside as the team's starting power forward. Putting Gordon, Isaac and Vucevic on the floor together just doesn't provide enough spacing and shooting for the 27th-ranked offense to operate smoothly.
Gordon has all the tools to be an All-Star caliber power forward but has regressed in recent years. Trying to reroute him for a quality wing would have helped improve the team's long-term outlook and pumped some life into the squad.
Even if the Magic didn't want to part with Gordon now given Isaac's injury, trading for James Ennis III isn't going to move the needle. A corner-three specialist, Ennis was averaging 5.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 15.8 minutes per game off the 76ers bench.
With talented wings like Malik Beasley, Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III all switching teams, Orlando missed an opportunity to add significant talent on the perimeter or take the necessary steps to reshape its roster.
San Antonio Spurs
If there was ever a time for the Spurs to break tradition and make a big in-season trade, this was it.
San Antonio is in real danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-97 season, when Gregg Popovich took over as head coach 18 games into the year. At 22-29, the Spurs are 10th in the Western Conference and four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed. DeMar DeRozan has a $27.7 million player option for next season, meaning he could leave San Antonio for nothing in return.
This is a new level of chaos for a franchise that's largely remained calm and in control.
When it came to a trade-deadline plan, it appears the Spurs considered everything yet did nothing. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the team shopped both DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, considered "liquidating everybody" and thought about making additions.
Instead, San Antonio made no moves at all and will depend on a veteran-heavy rotation with a 24th-ranked defense to make up lost ground in the West.
While trading off DeRozan and Aldridge for draft picks or young talent and starting a rebuild isn't in the Spurs' DNA, San Antonio could have at least added some complementary talent around its veterans.
Even pursuing a trade for a player like Chris Paul, an All-Star this season who could also mentor the young guards, should have been seriously explored. While Paul's contract is significant, Popovich is 71 years old and could feasibly retire at any time. Giving him the best chance to win now is probably worth taking on some extra money, especially if it helps keep both the Spurs and Popovich's playoff streak alive before he decides to call it a career. While some teams would shy away from Paul to keep cap space open in 2021, Popovich may be long gone by then.
The best franchise in the NBA over the past 25 years is crumbling. Doing nothing to fix the cracks was a shame.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and accurate heading into play Friday, Feb. 7.