Winners and Losers from 2021 NBA Trade DeadlineMarch 25, 2021
The NBA trade deadline has expired, so now it's time to name the winners and losers before the dust quite settles.
It's vital to understand that teams have vastly different goals and should be judged accordingly. The Denver Nuggets are pushing to win a title. The Orlando Magic have clearly decided their existing core was a dead end and have begun the rebuilding process in earnest. Both should receive good marks for their differing approaches to the deadline.
Winner: Miami Heat
They got Victor Oladipo for nothing, flat out. They won't miss Avery Bradley or Kelly Olynyk much while gaining a former All-Star in Oladipo, who will be a free agent this summer. Miami will have Oladipo's rights this offseason and the ability to re-sign him.
In a smaller move, the Heat get a replacement for Olynyk in Nemanja Bjelica (The Trade), giving up Maurice Harkless (who rarely played) and a prospect in Chris Silva. Overall, a tremendous deadline for the reigning Eastern Conference champion.
Miami may also make a run at LaMarcus Aldridge, who was bought out by the San Antonio Spurs, per Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Loser: Houston Rockets
If Miami is the big winner, the team on the other side of the Oladipo trade is the loser. Fine, the Rockets had no intention of re-signing the veteran guard, but then why didn't they just take Caris LeVert from the Brooklyn Nets (instead of rerouting him to the Indiana Pacers) in the James Harden trade, and arguably Jarrett Allen, who landed in Cleveland with the Cavaliers as part of that four-way trade?
Winner: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets were the second-best team in the West last season, falling in the conference finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. Jerami Grant left over the offseason (via sign-and-trade), but they managed to get a very strong replacement at the deadline from the Orlando Magic in Aaron Gordon (along with Gary Clark). Denver also added a veteran center with championship experience in JaVale McGee from the Cavaliers (The Trade).
What did it cost? The Nuggets got out of Gary Harris, who was underperforming based on his contract but also sent R.J. Hampton and a protected first-rounder to the Magic. Less noteworthy, Denver also traded Isaiah Hartenstein and a couple of second-round picks to Cleveland.
The upgrades weren't inexpensive, but overall Denver was a big deadline winner.
Winner: Orlando Magic
The Magic are invested in two young, injured players in Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac. Gordon had demanded a trade, and Orlando got a still-young guard in Harris (26) but also Hampton and a first. That's a solid haul for Gordon.
More controversial might be sending All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and veteran Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls, but the Magic took a long, hard look in the mirror and saw they weren't good enough as constructed. They got back two protected first-rounders from Chicago along with another good young prospect in Wendell Carter Jr.
It's unclear if Otto Porter Jr., who is also in the deal from the Bulls, will stick around or be a buyout candidate, but it's unlikely he was a significant factor, as Orlando's move was all about the future.
Orlando also sent Evan Fournier to the Boston Celtics for two second-round picks and Jeff Teague, giving up a veteran on an expiring contract while adding to its growing draft cache (The Trade).
But did they really win? Cleveland Cavaliers
Getting two second-rounders and a decent young center in Hartenstein for JaVale McGee is an easy win. Cleveland gave up Jordan Bell and Alfonzo McKinnie in the offseason to get a 2026 second-rounder from the Lakers. So in a sense, the Cavs traded Bell and McKinnie for Hartenstein and three-second rounders. That’s an easy win.
But, as expected, the Cavaliers weren’t able to trade Andre Drummond, who is headed for a buyout.
Winner: Chicago Bulls
Before the deadline, new executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas had done very little to stamp his name on the roster. He drafted Patrick Williams and signed Garrett Temple but otherwise had the same team that got his predecessor, Gar Forman, fired. In his first big move, Karnisovas added Vucevic from Orlando, giving up Carter, Porter and the two picks to the Magic.
Chicago could have endeavored to just build through the draft, but with the emergence of Zach LaVine as an All-Star, and to support coach Billy Donovan, Karnisovas made the move to add immediate talent. When healthy, Aminu is a capable wing defender.
In smaller moves, the Bulls sent out Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchison to the Washington Wizards for Troy Brown Jr., with Luke Kornet and Washington Wizards center Moritz Wagner re-routed to the Boston Celtics and solid veteran center Daniel Theis headed to Chicago (along with Javonte Green from Boston, The Trade).
Loser: Boston Celtics
Not that Fournier won't help Boston, but was he the answer to the team's struggles this season? The Celtics landed the biggest trade exception in NBA history ($28.5 million!) in dealing Gordon Hayward via sign-and-trade to the Charlotte Hornets in the offseason. Was Fournier the best the Celtics could get?
Fournier wasn't expensive, just two second-round picks and Teague, who wasn't a consistent contributor in Boston's rotation. If the Celtics were willing to offer first-round compensation, could they have landed the better player in Gordon over Fournier?
Theis was a valuable contributor for Boston, but can younger players Kornet and Wagner step into that role consistently?
It wasn't a bad trade deadline for the Celtics, but on paper, they didn't move the needle.
Winner: Washington Wizards
Not a massive play, but the Wizards let go of two players they didn’t value (Brown Jr. and Wagner) and get two interesting prospects from the Bulls in Gafford and Hutchison. Easy win for Washington.
Winner: Dallas Mavericks
Dallas didn’t leapfrog the competition in the West, but it did add a playoff-experienced veteran in JJ Redick. Nicolo Melli has size and may help spread the floor for Luka Doncic.
The price wasn’t significant in James Johnson, Wes Iwundu and a second-rounder.
Incomplete: New Orleans Pelicans
A second-rounder for Redick is reasonable, but Lonzo Ball’s fate will determine if the Pelicans missed an opportunity to get a return for the impending restricted free agent. If he stays beyond this season and helps the team in a big way, then this was a big win by doing nothing.
Subjective: Portland Trail Blazers
Of all the trades on the day, this one may be the toughest to judge. Norman Powell is a more consistent scorer than Gary Trent Jr., but he’s all but a lock to opt out of his contract and will be expensive this offseason.
Trent Jr. was big-time for the Blazers in the playoffs, but he too will be a free agent, albeit restricted. It’s a question of taste: If you like Powell more than Trent Jr., then Portland won the deal. Their respective prices in the offseason will bring more clarity, but teams have significantly more leverage with restricted free agents, and Powell will be unrestricted.
Loser: Toronto Raptors
The Raptors held firm and didn't trade Kyle Lowry for less than what he is worth. That's great in principle, but if he walks in free agency after the season, what did they accomplish?
The Los Angeles Lakers wouldn't send Talen Horton-Tucker. The Miami Heat wouldn't deal Tyler Herro. Both teams were offering other packages, including players like Dennis Schroder and Duncan Robinson. Now, the Raptors have Lowry and, after the offseason, maybe nothing in return.
Toronto went as far as opening roster space to make room for a multi-player Lowry deal, sending Terence Davis to the Sacramento Kings (The Trade) and Matt Thomas to the Utah Jazz (The Trade), both for second-rounders. Both are nice prospects, but will the Raptors get better players in those upcoming drafts?
If there was a win, it was giving up a fan favorite in Powell, probably expecting the 27-year-old to opt out and prove too costly as a free agent. Instead, they add a good player in Trent Jr., who will be restricted this offseason.
Low-Key Winner, If Like Delon Wright? Sacramento Kings
The Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons were all willing to move on from Wright. Now, Sacramento gets a look at the guard, who is under contract for next season at $8.5 million. If he’s finally found a home, then it’s a win for the Kings.
Wright wasn’t expensive—a late Los Angeles Lakers 2021 second-rounder (via the Kings), a 2024 second and Cory Joseph, who is owed $12.6 million next year, only $2.4 million of which is guaranteed. If Wright has a short stay in Sacramento, then cutting Joseph instead of trading him and seconds for Wright might have been the better move.
The Kings also added a prospect in Silva from Miami and a veteran defender in Mo Harkless for a player they didn’t value in Bjelica. Davis from the Raptors for a Memphis Grizzlies 2021 second was a good pull.
Winner: Detroit Pistons
Because they got out of Wright’s contract for an easier one to dispose of in Joseph, plus two seconds.
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers
George Hill is a very solid, experienced backup point guard. He’ll help Philadelphia in the playoffs.
The cost wasn’t significant. Tony Bradley, Terrance Ferguson and Vincent Poirier were not priorities to the 76ers, and the team was wise to give up two seconds for an improved playoff chance.
Eh: New York Knicks
The Knicks helped the 76ers land Hill and for their trouble get Ferguson and Poirier. Perhaps coach Tom Thibodeau can find some on-court value in New York’s return. They did land a late 2021 second-rounder from the Sixers, but the Knicks didn’t land Lonzo Ball or any upgrades to help their playoff push. Will Thibodeau notice he no longer has Ignas Brazdeikis on the roster?
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
More picks, please…
$ Winner: Golden State Warriors
The fans won’t care much, but the Warriors saved some luxury-tax millions by trading Brad Wanamaker (The Trade) and injured Marquese Chriss (The Trade).
OK: Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte added Brad Wanamaker, giving it an extra point guard while LaMelo Ball recovers from a wrist injury. Wanamaker doesn’t necessarily move the needle, but the Hornets got some cash to take him on.
Loser: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs got some cash to take on Chriss from the Warriors but found no trade for LaMarcus Aldridge, whom they have since released on a buyout.
Winner: Atlanta Hawks
They didn’t need Rajon Rondo. They may not need Lou Williams, but he has the potential to give the Hawks a significant scoring punch off the bench. Atlanta also got two second-round picks and some cash for its trouble.
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
They didn’t go all-in to get Lowry from the Raptors (no Horton-Tucker), but with LeBron James and Anthony Davis sidelined with injury, can the team rebuild chemistry with those dangled in offers (Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope)?
Reinvesting in Lowry at, say, $25 million a year for a couple of seasons would have been cheaper than paying Schroder what he’s likely asking (as close to $20 million annually as possible) and Caldwell-Pope. Horton-Tucker’s ceiling is still unclear, likely scuttling the upside of a Lowry deal for the Lakers.
Winner*: Los Angeles Clippers
*If the Clippers get Playoff Rondo, they filled their biggest need in a playmaking point guard who doesn't need to score. Giving up Lou Williams, who had a diminished role this season, plus two second-rounders wasn't a significant price.
But if the Clippers get regular-season Rondo, this was not a winner.
Winner: Lemon Pepper Lou
No further comment…
Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.