2021 NBA Trade Deadline Deals That Would Actually Shock You
NBA trade deadline week has arrived.
Prepare to be shocked.
No, not necessarily by the actual activity itself, though as big fans of frenzied arms races in the hoops world, we're certainly hoping that's the case. Instead, the surprises come in the form of four hypothetical swaps that, should they come together, could rattle the entire Association.
Savor them. Celebrate them. Sprint to the comments section and skewer them to pieces.
First and foremost, though, let them surprise you with the who, where and why behind each exchange.
Clippers Add Oladipo, Rockets Gain More Assets
Los Angeles Clippers receive: Victor Oladipo and Sterling Brown
Houston Rockets receive: Patrick Beverley, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele, 2023 second-round pick, 2023 second-round pick (via POR) and 2024 second-round pick (via DET)
L.A.'s need for extra playmakers has been discussed to the point of almost becoming cliched. And with the Clippers perched up at fifth in offensive efficiency, the front office might disagree with the scope of this issue and the urgency to address it.
To that end, L.A. is asking Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to do the heaviest lifting as scorers and perimeter stoppers. Saddling them both with primary playmaking duties on top of that and running short on secondary shot-creators seems like a recipe for running them out of gas at some point.
Victor Oladipo could offer some needed relief. He might still be searching for his shooting efficiency after a 2019 torn quadriceps tendon, but he remains a clever ball-mover and a pesky point-of-attack defender. Both qualities should endear him to the Clippers' stars, who should welcome the opportunity to lighten their loads in both categories.
Not to mention, Oladipo should be readily available as Houston works its way through the post-James Harden rebuild. Once the Rockets get down to a reasonable price point—they comically asked the Golden State Warriors for James Wiseman or the top-three protected 2021 first-rounder coming from the Minnesota Timberwolves, per Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle—the Clippers should be ready to pounce.
Landing Sterling Brown, a 26-year-old wing who can hold his own defensively and make open threes, would give L.A. another chess piece to help in its championship chase.
For Houston, this would be accepting the reality of trading a fallen star who doesn't have time to repair his value ahead of unrestricted free agency. If the Rockets are being realistic, this might be enough to pull the trigger.
Terance Mann smartly uses his length and athleticism at both ends. Luke Kennard can make shots and create them for others. Mfiondu Kabengele is the kind of no-cost flier a rebuilding team should be taking. Throw in three second-round picks and Patrick Beverley as either a culture-setting veteran or a future trade chip, and Houston would be getting a solid haul for two free-agents-to-be who might not be part of the long-term plans.
Nuggets Add an All-Star, Bulls Get Their Building Block
Denver Nuggets receive: Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen
Chicago Bulls receive: Michael Porter Jr., Gary Harris, Bol Bol and 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
Recently, The Athletic's Sam Vecenie, Seth Partnow and Danny Leroux assembled a 29-player trade deadline big board to rank all of swap season's possible needle-movers. Zach LaVine and Michael Porter Jr. were both left off of the list.
As they should be. At this point, it's hard to even find wisps of trade smoke around either player. And yet, they don't quite feel untouchable. Rather, it seems more a case of teams wouldn't offer what it would take to get either away from his current club.
But what if they went in the same deal? Now that'd be interesting—and shocking for sure.
The Nuggets belong in any contender rankings, but they aren't hovering around the top spot. This deal might get them there. Putting LaVine, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Lauri Markkanen in the same offense is the kind of nightmare scenario keeping rival defensive-minded coaches up at night. Markkanen would be the fourth option as a 7-footer with perimeter touch, post-up prowess and current production rates of 18.3 points and 49.8/40.5/82.1 shooting.
Jokic and LaVine would be the quartet's senior members at 26 years old. In other words, Denver would have a chance to be strong-contender-level good right now and even better in the near future. That's the kind of payoff that would justify giving up your top trade chip to get.
The Bulls, meanwhile, would do what every long-term thinker has hoped to do the past two seasons: use the Nuggets' proximity to championship contention as a path to Porter. The former top prospect is only 86 games into his NBA career and already looks capable of one day being an offensive focal point—or perhaps sharing those duties with Coby White and Patrick Williams in the Windy City.
Porter is a 6'10" three-level scorer and every bit as hard to handle as that label implies. Just ask his 51.6/41.9/79.9 career shooting slash, or the even 20 points he's posted per 36 minutes. He has franchise-centerpiece potential, and that's exactly what Chicago needs as it attempts to raise its ceiling higher than a LaVine-led squad can go.
Gary Harris would double as a money-matcher and a sneaky-smart flier worth taking. Yes, he's spent two-plus seasons searching for his outside shot, but given his dogged defensive play, his potential two-way impact is obvious should he ever find it. Bol Bol remains a mystery, but if the Bulls deal LaVine, they'd have time to see where Bol's story goes from here.
Tack on the first-round pick, and this should be enough for Chicago to turn the page to its next chapter.
Three. Team. Frenzy.
Boston Celtics receive: Kyle Lowry and Aron Baynes
Toronto Raptors receive: Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb, Aaron Holiday and 2021 second-round pick (via BOS)
Indiana Pacers receive: Kemba Walker, Terence Davis, Romeo Langford and 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protected, via BOS)
The Celtics are stumbling, and they need a high-functioning floor general to bring them back together. The Raptors should be preparing for life after free-agent-to-be Kyle Lowry, but their next chapter shouldn't require a hard reset. The Pacers could stand to modernize their frontcourt and find more scoring help to juice their 17th-ranked attack.
Check, check and check.
Lowry is the ideal solution for whatever is ailing Boston, which dropped four of five coming out of the All-Star break. The Celtics are tearing at the seams at both ends, and the six-time All-Star has the toughness, tenacity and two-way talent to get this roster back pointed the right direction.
The sky might feel like it's falling in Boston, but the Shamrocks are only 1.5 games back of the No. 4 seed. Lowry's leadership, playmaking and support scoring could help them cover that gap in no time. Reuniting with Aron Baynes, meanwhile, would add a stretch element to this center rotation and allow the Celtics to shop another big for perimeter help.
If the Raptors are ready to split with the 34-year-old Lowry—they're saying they aren't, per TSN's Josh Lewenberg, but that could be a leverage play—that doesn't mean they're about to tear down their roster. Instead, they'll be looking for players who fit the timelines of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell.
Myles Turner would be the perfect way to round out the starting group. He's basically a turbo-boosted version of Chris Boucher—much more established, much more stable (in terms of both reliability and actual bulk). Plug Turner into the middle, and Toronto's 22nd-ranked defense would rocket up the rankings. Jeremy Lamb and Aaron Holiday would help give depth to this top-heavy roster.
Indiana, meanwhile, might have taken the Turner-Domantas Sabonis tandem as far as it can go. Once T.J. Warren is ready to return, both he and Goga Bitadze could handle the minutes vacated by Turner and give this group a different dimension on offense.
The bigger jolt, of course, would come from the arrival of Kemba Walker, who's not quite himself and still going for 17.8 points and 4.6 assists as Boston's third banana. He is absurdly talented on the offensive end, and if Indy joined him with Sabonis, Warren, Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert, the production could be overpowering.
Walker's contract ($36 million next season, $37.7 million player option for 2022-23) will scare off some, but the Pacers are a non-destination franchise that won't have major flexibility before his contract is up, anyway. It shouldn't be a problem. Plus, Indy would be adding a pair of intriguing wings with Terence Davis and Romeo Langford (an Indiana native who played for the Hoosiers) and an upcoming first-rounder.
Suns Chase Championship, Magic Start Over
Phoenix Suns receive: Nikola Vucevic and 2021 second-round pick
Orlando Magic receive: Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, Jalen Smith and 2024 first-round pick (top-three protected)
It's no given Orlando will hold the Nikola Vucevic sweepstakes, but if it heads that route, it'll seek the sun, moon and stars in return.
"They'd have to get a motherlode for him," a league source told B/R's Jake Fischer.
Phoenix, sensing an opportunity to snap out of its decade-plus playoff drought and into full-fledged title contention, shouldn't shy away from the price tag.
The Suns are in the championship conversation now, but adding an impact talent like Vucevic would exponentially increase their odds. He could blow the top off of their eighth-ranked offense, working two-man magic with Chris Paul or Devin Booker, overpowering opponents from close range (third-most post-up points per game) and splashing like a long-lost member of the Curry clan (2.7 threes per night at a 40.5 percent clip).
While the loss of Jae Crowder would hurt, Phoenix has the forward depth to get by. A quintet of Booker, Paul, Vucevic, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson might have an argument as the Association's best.
As for the Magic, what's the delay in pulling the plug? In past years, they could use their annual push for the eighth seed as an excuse. Now, they're buried so deep in the standings, that even the play-in tournament looks out of reach.
This is their chance to sell Vucevic at top dollar, and the return here might qualify: 2018's top pick (Ayton), 2020's 10th pick (Jalen Smith), a plug-and-play veteran or movable trade chip (Jae Crowder), and a lightly protected future first from a team with a 35-year-old point guard and, if this deal went down, a 30-year-old center. Getting the protection this low would be the Magic's motivation for sending over the second-rounder.
Orlando would have tons of upside and decent flexibility rebuilding around Ayton, Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and hopefully a few of Smith, Mo Bamba and Chuma Okeke. That's an enviable foundation for any future-focused franchise.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.