NBA Trades That Would Blow Up 2021 Playoff Race

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterMarch 16, 2021

NBA Trades That Would Blow Up 2021 Playoff Race

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    With the 2021 NBA trade deadline on March 25 just over a week away, there should be plenty of contenders looking to beef up their rosters in hopes of a long playoff run.

    While some teams have already established themselves as serious title threats (Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks), others in the middle of the playoff pack will likely have to make a move if they want to get past the first round.

    The following five deals would help turn the tables on who we think may bow out early, giving each franchise a real chance to exceed previous expectations.      

Vucevic Becomes Next Great Spurs Big Man

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    San Antonio Spurs Receive: C Nikola Vucevic

    Orlando Magic Receive: SG Lonnie Walker IV, F/C LaMarcus Aldridge, 2021 and 2023 first-round picks

    While the Spurs haven't orchestrated a midseason trade since 2014, the news that Aldridge won't be returning to the team as the two sides work out a deal means this streak could finally be coming to an end.

    Aldridge's $24 million expiring salary gives the Spurs a chance to go star hunting for high-priced talent, especially with the amount of young talent on the roster to use as a sweetener.

    Vucevic just feels like he should be a Spur.

    While he's largely flown under the radar, the two-time All-Star continues to fill up the box score while flashing one of the best overall skill sets among big men. Vucevic, 30, is averaging a career-high 25.0 points per game on 41.6 percent shooting from three while adding 11.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.0 steals.

    San Antonio is sitting at 19-15 and seventh in the West, and this move would suddenly make the team a threat to grab home-court advantage in the playoffs, especially with a starting lineup of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Vucevic.

    After the Magic lost eight straight games to drop to 13-26, at least a mini-rebuild seems inevitable for a team that just can't stay healthy.

    Not only does this mean Orlando can finally see if backup center Mo Bamba can play but also adding a core piece in Walker (11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 36.1 percent from three at age 22) and a pair of first-round picks helps set up a brighter future.

    The Magic could try to re-route Aldridge to a contender or buy him out to save some cash, and the move overall would open up nearly $20 million in cap space for Orlando this offseason.     

Blazers Add Collins, Rondo from Hawks

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    Brett Davis/Associated Press

    Portland Trail Blazers Receive: F/C John Collins, PG Rajon Rondo

    Atlanta Hawks Receive: SG Gary Trent Jr., F Nassir Little, F/C Zach Collins, 2023 first-round pick (lottery protected)

    The Blazers have long needed a third star to complement Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, with continued injuries preventing Jusuf Nurkic from playing the part on a regular basis.

    If the Hawks have any hesitations about giving John Collins a max or near-max deal, the Blazers should reach out.

    The 23-year-old can play power forward or center and provides both floor-spacing and a pick-and-roll partner for Portland's backcourt. He is putting up 17.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game and shooting 37.4 percent from three. His defense has been better this year after it was a real weakness in each of his first three seasons.

    Adding a playoff-trusted vet in Rondo to run the second unit is important as well. Portland is dead last in assist percentage (49.9 percent) this season, and Rondo was a crucial part to the Lakers' championship last year.

    While the Blazers once again look like a second-tier playoff team, a starting five of Lillard, McCollum, Robert Covington, John Collins and Nurkic should be able to go head-to-head with anyone when healthy.

    For the Hawks to give up Collins, they'll need some good, young talent in return.

    Trent, 22, has thrived as a starter in place of the injured McCollum and has proved he deserves a regular spot in the opening lineup, with 15.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game and 40.4 percent shooting from three.

    Portland likely won't want to pay big money to a reserve, meaning Trent would be a better fit in Atlanta next to Trae Young. The Hawks also get a young, talented combo forward in Little and a 23-year-old big man in Zach Collins who's battled injuries the past few years but still carries plenty of potential.

    Atlanta also collects on a future first-round pick.   

Knicks Acquire Ball, Redick from Pelicans

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    New York Knicks Receive: PG Lonzo Ball, SG JJ Redick

    New Orleans Pelicans Receive: F Kevin Knox II, G Frank Ntilikina, PG Elfrid Payton, 2021 first-round pick (via Dallas Mavericks), 2021 second-round pick (via Detroit Pistons)

    Even after the Knicks' 20-19 start to the season, would any team really fear them in the playoffs?

    New York will probably continue to be a buyer after the deal for Derrick Rose, despite fielding a mostly young roster. If that trend continues, the Pelicans could be an attractive trade partner.

    As Marc Berman of the New York Post wrote, the Knicks have "always kept an eye on" Ball as a potential trade target because of his playmaking ability.

    Ball has been up-and-down this season, but his overall numbers (14.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.3 steals in 31.1 minutes per game) have been solid. He's become a reliable three-point shooter since coming to New Orleans (38.0 percent in 99 games) in 2019, a major weakness earlier in his career.

    The Knicks rank 29th in three-pointers per game (10.5), and Redick could be an immediate difference-maker. He's making 39.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes this season at age 36. This trade moves the Knicks from almost certainly losing in the first round to a sneaky upset candidate in the Eastern Conference.

    For New Orleans, this trade would remove the pressure of working on an extension for Ball after both sides failed to agree on one last offseason. Moving both guards would open up playing time for Kira Lewis Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker as well.

    Both Knox (21) and Ntilikina (22) are lottery picks who could at least become rotation pieces in New Orleans. The selection from Dallas this year projects to fall in the late teens, and the second-rounder via Detroit could be 31st overall.    

Miami Gets Oladipo, Tucker from Houston

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Miami Heat Receive: SG Victor Oladipo, PF P.J. Tucker

    Houston Rockets Receive: G Kendrick Nunn, PF Precious Achiuwa, SF Andre Iguodala, F/C Meyers Leonard (to match salary), 2025 first-round pick (lottery protected)

    Miami could use Oladipo, Tucker or both to make another run to the Finals, or at least make it out of the first round following a 21-18 start to the 2020-21 season. One of the NBA's hottest teams as of late, the Heat shouldn't be satisfied to stand pat at the deadline.

    After Oladipo was traded from the Indiana Pacers to the Rockets, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that the point guard still desires to end up in Miami. And the Heat's 25th-ranked offense proves they could use the veteran guard.

    While his efficiency has plummeted in Houston, Oladipo has still averaged 20.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.3 steals in his 17 games since the trade from Indiana. He has a Heat-esque work ethic and should be a candidate to re-sign in free agency this summer if things go well.

    Tucker can start at power forward next to Bam Adebayo or serve as a valuable defensive big off the bench, one who keeps the floor spread. After Miami's miserable start to the year, getting Oladipo and Tucker would let the rest of the East know that the Heat are officially back in contention for best team in the conference.

    For Houston, Nunn and Achiuwa are two quality rebuilding pieces, while a future first-round pick will add to the franchise's flexibility. There's no reason to believe Oladipo or Tucker will re-sign this offseason, so moving both now is of great importance.

    Iguodala and Leonard are included for salary-matching purposes, with the Rockets holding team options for both next year. If Houston lets the pair go, it would save over $25 million in cap space.        

Kyle Lowry Comes Home to Philly

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Philadelphia 76ers Receive: PG Kyle Lowry

    Toronto Raptors Receive: SG Tyrese Maxey, G/F Danny Green, PF Mike Scott, G/F Terrance Ferguson, 2021 first-round pick

    Lowry could be the biggest name on the market to be moved, though it would be a difficult decision for the Raptors to trade the impending free agent.

    At 17-22, the Raptors no longer have the talent to compete for a title, and keeping Lowry will likely only result in a first-round playoff exit.

    While the 76ers sit atop the East at 27-12, the Brooklyn Nets have been the better team since they traded for James Harden (.741 win percentage compared to .704). With Joel Embiid set to miss a few weeks because of a bone bruise, Philly shouldn't be content with staying put.

    Lowry gives the Sixers a six-time All-Star who's still playing at a high level (18.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 39.7 percent from three). After growing up in Philadelphia, Lowry could be thrilled with the trade and could likely be convinced to re-sign as well.

    Putting him at point guard means more off-ball opportunities for Ben Simmons, gives Philly an NBA champion running the offense and should keep the team above Brooklyn in the standings.

    If the Raptors part with Lowry, the best player in franchise history, they'll understandably need a lot in return.

    Maxey, 20, was the 21st overall pick in the 2020 draft and has shown tremendous potential as a scorer. Green was a big part of the Raptors' championship win two years ago and could help keep them competitive now, while the first-round pick pushes Toronto over the edge to make the deal.