2020 NBA Trade Deadline Regrets For Every Team Still Playing
The 22 teams entering the Orlando-based bubble for the restart of the 2019-20 NBA season have a chance to turn this campaign into something special.
Before shifting our attention forward, though, we're looking back to the trade deadline when everyone had an opportunity to increase their odds. While some fared better than others, all have at least one regret from that period.
Some sat still when they should've acted. Others mishandled outgoing assets. Roster flaws went uncorrected. Rebuilds were unnecessarily delayed.
For one reason or another, all 22 clubs have a deadline decision (or indecision) that appears unsightly in their rearview.
Boston Celtics: Not Bulking Up
When Al Horford bolted for the City of Brotherly Love last summer, the Shamrocks went into survival mode at the center spot. Rather than pursuing a splash replacement, they entrusted the position to Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams III.
Credit the trio for forming a serviceable rotation this season, but the mix remains uninspiring in a potentially problematic way. There's a big difference between treading water in the regular season and holding up across a playoff journey that could pit the C's against the likes of Joel Embiid, Marc Gasol, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Interior vulnerability could be this club's undoing, which would be a painful gut punch when the rest of the roster seems ready to contend. With top-five efficiency ranks on offense and defense, this looks like a world-beater, but unanswered questions in the middle could bring the whole thing tumbling down.
Brooklyn Nets: Not Adding Long-Term Depth
Admittedly, this looks like we're plucking low-hanging fruit with the benefit of hindsight. But depth was a concern even before Brooklyn's roster was picked clean ahead of the season's restart.
The Nets were unlikely to ever be ultra-aggressive this season, given Kevin Durant's season-long absence and the shoulder injury that pestered Kyrie Irving before dropping the curtains on his campaign. Saying that, a rotational role player with more than this season left on his contract would've made a ton of sense.
Brooklyn already looks a little top-heavy (19th in bench scoring), and it could grow even more imbalanced by packaging its young talent together for a third star. The Nets need reliability from their support staff, mostly to help Durant and Irving chase future titles, but any extra contributors would've clearly been welcomed in the Magic Kingdom, too.
Dallas Mavericks: Doing Nothing
The Mavs approached the deadline in the unique buying position of employing an MVP candidate who only costs rookie-scale money (Luka Doncic). They also had several tools to facilitate a major purchase, from Courtney Lee's $12.8 million expiring salary to an eight-figure trade exception in the February 2019 Harrison Barnes deal to the Golden State Warriors' 2020 second-round pick.
Conditions were perfect for an active swap season. When Callie Caplan compiled a list of possible Mavs targets for the Dallas Morning News, it featured a horde of potential impact additions, like Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari and DeMar DeRozan.
The possibilities for improvement ran rampant. A third scorer could've settled in alongside Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis and made this already historic attack even better. A perimeter stopper or interior anchor could've scratched an itch for two-way balance (first on offense, 17th on defense). An experienced veteran could've helped guide the many playoff novices.
But outside of the late January move for Willie Cauley-Stein, the trade period brought only crickets in Dallas. Maybe the Mavs thought patience was their best path forward given the ages of Doncic (21) and Porzingis (24), but given their proximity to the NBA's elite (sixth in net efficiency), this seemed a missed opportunity to make a run at the crown.
Denver Nuggets: Not Snagging a Co-Star
Nikola Jokic has already ascended to superstar heights, but his slimmed-down version could prove even harder to handle in the postseason.
"Momentum can shift so rapidly during a series in normal conditions, so with all the uncertainties in the bubble, every small thing matters even more," a league executive told B/R Mag's Leo Sepkowitz. "Jokic in top shape means not only that he moves better ... but also that he's super engaged and focused, and that's a huge plus in the uncharted land of the playoffs bubble."
A potentially upgraded Jokic would be incredible—he's already the NBA's only player averaging 20 points, 10 boards and six dimes—but he can still only carry this club so far without a legitimate co-star. The Nuggets have tried plugging Jamal Murray into that role, but he's too erratic and not efficient enough to consistently serve in that role.
Denver seemingly recognized this weakness and reportedly made a push for Jrue Holiday at the deadline, per The Athletic's Shams Charania, but nothing got off the ground. Instead, the Nuggets' primary pull from the transaction period was a 2020 first-round pick—a decent get in terms of value, but nothing that helps the upcoming playoff run. Without dramatic internal improvement around him, Jokic could be putting on a one-man show at Disney.
Houston Rockets: Deflating Clint Capela's Value
In 2017, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey alerted the basketball world that center Clint Capela was "on the way" to becoming a "near-elite two-way" player. The big man made good on that promise and averaged 15.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks while shooting 65.0 percent between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
Naturally, Houston decreased Capela's role this season and then traded him—with a first-round pick—for three-and-D swingman Robert Covington.
Look, we're not going to chastise Houston for leaning fully into small ball, even if we're dubious about the outlook (the Rockets are 11th in net efficiency since the deadline). But the handling of Capela could not have been worse. He seemed a legitimate asset, even as the Association was moving away from interior bigs, yet Houston torpedoed his value by diminishing his role and showing a desperation to deal him.
Covington is a fine player, but if you traveled back to November with a time machine and told Rockets fans he'd be the primary return for both Capela and a first-rounder, you'd get laughed out of Space City.
Indiana Pacers: Keeping the Frontcourt Congestion
The Pacers have trotted out 15 different two-man combinations over 800-plus minutes this season. The supersized Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis has the second-worst offensive efficiency of that group (105.7, which betters only the Golden State Warriors' season-long mark).
These puzzle pieces don't fit—not in the modern NBA, at least. That's an enormous issue, especially when both players will collect at least $17.2 million each of the next three seasons.
There must be a better fit available on the trade market, as clubs reportedly have been calling about Turner since at least the 2019 draft. Whether he stays and Sabonis goes or vice versa, Indiana needs to acquire a more modern, versatile forward to add spacing on offense and switch-ability on defense. Not making that change at the deadline only grows harder to stomach with Indy's heaviest hitter, Victor Oladipo, sitting out the restart.
Los Angeles Clippers: Not Fixing Few Flaws
The Clippers played 64 games before the season's suspension. Ivica Zubac was the only starter to play in more than 51 of them.
That put this team in a strange position at the deadline, since the reshuffled roster hadn't had much time to jell. However, it was clear even then this club lacked a true playmaker—no one averages even six assists—and didn't have a great defensive answer for good centers.
"Harrell is a disaster if they have to play the Nuggets in the playoffs," a former executive told B/R's Eric Pincus in January. "Their best bet is Ivica Zubac, but he can't get out to Nikola Jokic on the perimeter. Is Montrezl big enough to play against the Lakers and the Jazz?"
L.A. instead made Marcus Morris Sr. its deadline splurge, which upped the team's versatility but didn't shore up the aforementioned issues. Adding Reggie Jackson after the deadline perked up the playmaking a bit, but he's more of a scorer than table-setter. Leaving the center group untouched could prove costly if the Clippers can't get a grasp on the Lakers' bigs in a fight for the Western Conference.
Los Angeles Lakers: Not Finding Reinforcements
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis in tow, the Lakers might be the best team in basketball. But they can't rely on might being enough when the 35-year-old is playing through the back nine of his career.
They needed another playmaker and could've looked the direction of Derrick Rose or Bogdan Bogdanovic. They needed another versatile stopper to keep James from being overworked, and there were options on the market like Andre Iguodala, Marcus Morris Sr. and Robert Covington. And while they weren't overflowing with trade chips, they could have used Kyle Kuzma to anchor most transactions, since his skill set isn't the greatest complement for James and Davis.
But the deadline came and went without a deal, and while they've worked the scrap heap to land the likes of Markieff Morris, Dion Waiters and JR Smith, their pre-deadline needs remain their post-deadline needs.
Again, there's a chance none of this matters. The James-Davis pair is a historically talented twosome, and the team betters its fourth-placed ranking on offense with a third-placed standing on defense. But there's also a chance the Lakers find they don't have enough complementary shot-creators or versatile stoppers to win it all, which might leave them regretting not doing enough to help the King on what could be one of his final championship quests.
Memphis Grizzlies: Not Getting More for Andre Iguodala
There are two ways to spin Memphis' deadline dealing.
On one hand, the Grizzlies flipped a 36-year-old who wasn't playing for them (Andre Iguodala) for a now-24-year-old who was the 10th player drafted in 2015 (Justise Winslow). They coughed up some cap space in the exchange, but the 2020 free-agent class is uninspiring, and Memphis probably isn't in position to buy just yet.
On the other hand, Iguodala was among the most intriguing players on the market, and Memphis moved him, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill for a non-shooting perimeter player who has suited up once since early December. Winslow has some interesting attributes—namely playmaking and defensive versatility—but he hasn't reached 70 games since his rookie year and owns a 10.4 career player efficiency rating.
It's possible Winslow never becomes part of the Grizzlies' long-term core, and the team's subtractions make life more difficult in the present. Considering how many contenders seemingly wanted a crack at Iguodala, it's hard to imagine this was the best offer on the table.
Miami Heat: Not Getting Gallinari
When word leaked about the Heat expanding their deadline activity to include the acquisition of Danilo Gallinari, they suddenly had a path out of the Eastern Conference. They wouldn't have been favorites, of course, but with Gallo's offensive punch as a 6'10" spacer and shot-creator complementing a defense built around Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Andre Iguodala, they had the two-way outline of a contender.
But Miami couldn't reach an extension agreement with Gallinari due to a reluctance to sacrifice 2021 cap space. So, the scoring forward stayed in the Sooner State, and the Heat trudged forward without the secondary scorer this roster still lacks.
"I like Gallo," Heat president Pat Riley said, per Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald. "And I think he would have fit in here really well, but it didn't work out. And somewhere you have to sort of draw a line in the sand for your team."
If the Heat use that space to snag a whale (like Giannis Antetokounmpo), they'll forget ever having this regret. But if they don't land a difference-maker, they'll wonder why they didn't push in their chips when they had a chance. With Butler approaching his 31st birthday, Miami's championship window might not be as wide as it thinks.
Milwaukee Bucks: Not Going All-In
The Bucks have been the East's best team by a healthy margin, and none of their closest competitors dramatically improved at the deadline. Normally, Milwaukee would have every reason to be content.
But these aren't normal times (as 2020 keeps reminding us), as the Bucks might be evaluated on the most extreme championship-or-bust scale we've seen. If Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can enter free agency in 2021, views this as a championship-or-bolt kind of playoffs, then Milwaukee needs the best roster it can build.
Is Eric Bledsoe suddenly reliable after back-to-back playoff flops? Will Brook Lopez ever snap out of his shooting funk? Do the Bucks have enough complementary creators in the half-court? Is there enough shooting to punish opponents for packing the paint against Antetokounmpo?
That's a lot of questions for a club that could be in dire need of major postseason success.
New Orleans Pelicans: Not Chasing Instant Gratification
New Orleans isn't the typical team fighting for a back-end playoff spot. The Pels have been a problem ever since Zion Williamson debuted in late January. They have a plus-4.0 net efficiency rating since, the seventh-best mark over that stretch. With their preferred starting five on the floor—Williamson, Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors—they're bulldozing opponents by 26.3 points per 100 possessions.
They could have justified making a future sacrifice for a present gain (say, more depth on the interior or a defensive-minded forward). That would've helped calculate the club's long-term trajectory, which is invaluable intel when it comes to handling the futures of Favors (free agent this offseason), JJ Redick (2021) and Holiday (2022).
Plus, if any club could afford to give up a draft pick, it's probably one with this much high-level young talent. All cores could be improved, but New Orleans still appears in great hands with Williamson, Ball and Ingram potentially leading this franchise for the next decade.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Not Adding Assets
The surprisingly successful Thunder have been among basketball's best feel-good stories. Discarded by many once Paul George and Russell Westbrook forced their way out, OKC has instead fared even better than last season.
But that doesn't change the state of this franchise. The Thunder are still staring down the barrel of a years-long rebuild, so they should've searched for even more assets to throw on the pile.
Danilo Gallinari will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder will get there next summer. Flipping any (or all) of the three for valuable assets would've been worth exploring, and the same is true of shedding the remainder of Chris Paul's contract ($41.4 million salary next season, $44.2 million player option for 2021-22).
Orlando Magic: Failing to Find Any Scoring
Want to know what offensive desperation looks like? It's kicking the tires on inside-the-arc specialist DeMar DeRozan, as Orlando did in November, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, knowing that he's overpaid and an awkward fit for the modern game.
But maybe the Magic felt they had no other choice. They enter the bubble with the least efficient attack of the lot (107.5 offensive rating, 24th overall), and they have no obvious paths for internal improvement. They're squeezing everything they can from Nikola Vucevic (19.5 points per game) and Evan Fournier (18.8), and they know growing pains are unavoidable with the likes of Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz.
There are macro questions about Orlando's handling of its veteran core—splurging on Vooch, Fournier and Terrence Ross were all head-scratchers—and the pieces don't all seem to come from the same puzzle. But the interest in DeRozan shows a clear desire to compete soon, and that just isn't possible with the dearth of scoring options on this roster.
Philadelphia 76ers: Playing It Safe
The Sixers looked disjointed to start the season, and they never really course-corrected. In addition to the annual injury concerns, they also failed to mesh after another round of major roster adjustments—this time, Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick going out, while Al Horford and Josh Richardson arrived.
Philly's puzzle didn't paint a promising picture. The offensive spacing was squeezed. The need for another playmaker was obvious. The fit with Horford in particular was clunky to the point he was eventually demoted to the second team. Conditions were perfect for a sizable change, but Philly stopped at acquiring Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III and dealing James Ennis III for a draft pick.
It wasn't enough.
"Their glaring fit questions remain unresolved," the Washington Post's Ben Golliver wrote. "... This was a team that should have been considering a more radical shake-up at the deadline to improve its positioning before the playoffs. Instead, it feels like the shaky 76ers are just hanging on for dear life."
The Sixers have just enough talent to stumble into a solution on the fly and embark on a lengthy playoff run, but there are more reasons—like the season's first five months, for instance—to think the whole will never measure up to the sum of the parts.
Phoenix Suns: Not Upgrading at Forward
The Suns are almost ready to rise, but if their playoff drought reaches a full decade, they might have only themselves to blame.
They've been aggressive about upgrading the talent around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, but the 4 spot remains in need of a facelift. Dario Saric isn't the answer, and neither is a jumbo frontcourt with Ayton alongside Aron Baynes.
With one more addition, the Suns might've been plucky, but as it stands, they'll have trouble cracking the playoff field.
Portland Trail Blazers: Waving the White Flag
Even with Portland sitting outside the current playoff picture at 29-37, something about this squad seems dangerous. It's probably the presence of Damian Lillard, who deserves some MVP votes even without any team success. It's also the fact that this was a 53-win, Western Conference finalist just last season.
Maybe the Blazers had too many hurdles to get back on track, but their forecast was brighter than that record suggests. Between the returns of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, this club could at least talk itself into becoming a tricky playoff matchup for any opponent.
But it had some flaws on the roster, and rather than addressing them, the Blazers focused on fixing the budget. Finances drove the decisions to acquire Trevor Ariza and dump Skal Labissiere in separate deals. Nothing was done to flip Hassan Whiteside's massive salary for on-court help or even move CJ McCollum for a more complementary backcourt partner for Lillard.
The Blazers just seemed to accept their 2019-20 fate, which feels bizarre given their recent success and the fact that Lillard, who turns 30 on Wednesday, isn't getting any younger.
Sacramento Kings: Moving Only on the Margins
This could have been a direction-setting deadline for the Kings, but they opted for a round of wheel-spinning instead. They neither flipped players for rebuilding tools nor chased instant upgrades. Instead, they turned failed free-agency signings of Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon into Kent Bazemore, Alex Len and Jabari Parker.
On a scale of one-to-meh, it was a lengthy yawn and a shoulder shrug.
The Kings came out of the deadline no different than they entered it, leaving them as one of the more confusing teams in basketball. They have some young(ish) rebuilding qualities, but they also chased win-now additions last year (Ariza, Dedmon, Harrison Barnes) and are seemingly ready to throw major coin at 27-year-old restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic this offseason.
Are they playing the long game with De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III? If they are, why didn't they move any of their veterans for picks or prospects? Are they hoping to push into this playoff field? If so, why didn't they address their roster needs in a more meaningful way?
San Antonio Spurs: Keeping the Vets
This is a sentence no franchise—or fanbase—should ever want to hear.
"They are 100 percent obsessed with getting that eighth seed." That's how an executive described the Spurs ahead of the deadline to CNBC's Jabari Young, which might explain why it was such a sleepy swap season in the Alamo City.
The Spurs could've been among the deadline's biggest sellers. While DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge wouldn't headline most markets, this was their chance. Without their involvement, the biggest names to swap jerseys were instead Andre Drummond, Andre Iguodala, Clint Capela and Robert Covington. A deal involving DeRozan or Aldridge would've demanded first-page coverage.
But that assumes San Antonio would be willing to take one step backward now for perhaps several forward steps down the road. All indications are that isn't the case, just as it wasn't when the Spurs tabbed DeRozan to anchor their return package for Kawhi Leonard.
Toronto Raptors: Not Finding This Year's Gasol
The Raptors could have opted for a quiet 2019 trade deadline, since they had already rolled the dice on Kawhi Leonard and were winning more than twice as many games as they lost. But they opted against complacency and instead brokered a big deal for Marc Gasol, who became a critical two-way component in their championship run.
Toronto approached this deadline in a similar spot, only without the previous blockbuster deal. The Leonard-less Raptors again ranked among the East's elite, and this time they used that success—coupled with a desire to keep the books clean ahead of 2021—as rationale for standing pat.
It carries an air of disappointment, especially since this group likely needs even more postseason help without Leonard. The Raptors' egalitarian approach requires as many contributors as possible, since no solo star occupies the spotlight every night. They have decent depth, but another two-way veteran could've gone a long way toward positioning this group for a deep run.
Utah Jazz: Not Fortifying the Frontcourt
The Jazz did their trade shopping early by getting quick-strike scorer Jordan Clarkson to perk up the second unit in December. But they should've circled back to the market for frontcourt help, targeting either a stretch 4 or a backup for Rudy Gobert.
Ed Davis was supposed to soak up the reserve 5 duties, but the typically trusty veteran has been virtually unplayable this season. A career 56.8 percent shooter, he managed a meager 41.2 percent connection rate across 25 appearances before losing his rotation spot.
The stretch 4 vacancy has been a years-long itch, and Utah has had some success shifting other players into the position. But opponents with size and athleticism at the 4 can still give the Jazz fits, and floor-spacing will be harder to come by without Bojan Bogdanovic.
Barring something major, the Jazz weren't bringing in a household name, but even a small lift from a veteran like Jakob Poeltl, Marvin Williams or Jae Crowder could've felt critical if it helped complete this roster.
Washington Wizards: Not Thinking Bigger
The Wizards effectively took a rain check on this season. With John Wall on the shelf and his $37.8 million salary on the books, they couldn't find a path to being competitive or one leading to a full-scale rebuild.
That put Washington in a difficult deadline position. Short-term purchasing would've been painfully short-sighted, since even the most optimistic roads led to a first-round exit from the 2020 playoffs. Future-focused transactions would've been tricky, since the Wizards still have Wall and just gave Bradley Beal a $72 million extension in October.
But not deciding on an organizational direction could have the Wizards treading water for the near-future. If they want to compete with Wall and Beal, they could've packaged assets together for an impact player with more than a year left on his contract. If they want to sweeten their rebuilding road, they could've turned Davis Bertans into legitimate assets—they were seeking two first-rounders for him, per O'Connor.
They did neither, instead turning Jordan McRae and Isaiah Thomas into Shabazz Napier and Jerome Robinson. That changes nothing for the present or the future. Given how many questions we have about both in the District, the Wizards should've prioritized one.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.