NBA Trade Deadline Deals Contenders and Tankers Should've Made

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 12, 2021

NBA Trade Deadline Deals Contenders and Tankers Should've Made

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The NBA trade deadline is, in hindsight, often a land of what-ifs and regrets.

    Sometimes teams get in trouble by acquiring the wrong player, overpaying on the trade market or choosing the wrong direction for their franchise's future. For other teams, though, the worst moves are the ones that were never made.

    The latter has our attention here.

    From contenders who failed to address a need to tankers who should have flipped more present parts for long-term assets, we're highlighting the deals that should have happened at the 2021 trade deadline. Rather than retroactively balancing the budget for these trades, we'll focus more on the trade framework than the nitty-gritty financial details.

Celtics Swinging Big at Center

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The Trade: Celtics acquire Myles Turner from Pacers for Tristan Thompson, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and a first-round pick

    Traveling back to the trade deadline means returning to a time in which Jaylen Brown wasn't lost for the season. Those were the best of times weren't they, Boston Celtics fans?

    Well, they could have been had Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge used more of his resources to land a bigger fish. Sure, the addition of Evan Fournier helped, but Boston had bigger problems than a spark-plug scorer could fix.

    For instance, why not attack the team's 18th-ranked defense with a Defensive Player of the Year candidate?

    Myles Turner might have unlocked the Shamrocks' full potential as a defensive anchor and stretch shooter. Defensively, he could patrol the paint and cover for the inevitable leaks behind Kemba Walker. Offensively, Turner's shooting threat (career 35.2 percent from deep) would have kept attack lanes open for Walker, Brown and Jayson Tatum.

    Robert Williams III, when healthy, has done an admirable job of stepping into the starting center spot, but he lacks Turner's size, instincts and overall skill level. Doing this deal could have kept Williams in a reserve role, turning the position from a liability into a strength.

    As for the Indiana Pacers, it's time to cut the cord on the jumbo frontcourt combo of Turner and Domantas Sabonis, who have been outscored by 2.3 points per 100 possessions across 1,058 minutes. The Pacers have encountered all kinds of turbulence this season, and this deal would have helped turn the page to something new.

    Maybe Indiana native Romeo Langford, 2019's No. 14 pick, could find some traction for his career back in the Hoosier State. Grant Williams plays a low-maintenance game that's easy to fit with most lineup constructions. Tristan Thompson could function as a serviceable stop-gap or a future trade chip. Finally, the pick could have netted young talent for a team that needs more of it.

Pistons Selling High on Jerami Grant

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Trade: Pistons send Jerami Grant to Heat for Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson

    The Detroit Pistons raised eyebrows when they gave Jerami Grant a three-year, $60 million deal in free agency. But they arguably should've raised more when they didn't deal him at his potentially peak price near the deadline.

    Statistically speaking, Grant looks like a $20 million player with several career-best marks, including 22.3 points, 2.8 assists and 2.1 threes per game. Given that, there's a decent (or better) chance that his production is being propped up by the dearth of talent around him in Detroit. And even with the numerical boost, he's still a 27-year-old with a 13.5 career player efficiency rating.

    The Pistons should be in full asset-accumulation mode, and as much as general manager Troy Weaver likes Grant, they can't plan their rebuild around a player who might've topped out at being an All-Star snub.

    Detroit reportedly fielded offers featuring "multiple first-round picks" for Grant and didn't bite, per James L. Edwards III of The Athletic. That could actually be defensible if none of the picks offered great value.

    This deal is different since it includes two established commodities.

    Herro flashed star potential on basketball's biggest stage at the bubble. Robinson has one of the league's deadliest deep-range strokes. Add them to a young core with Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, and Detroit could be awfully interesting in a few years. Plus, the Pistons could have extracted an extra asset or two to offset the salaries the Heat would've needed to add to this exchange.

    Miami, meanwhile, would have filled its Jae Crowder void with a significant upgrade and added some missing juice from its 22nd-ranked offense. Since Grant's activity level and defense both seem like natural fits for the Heat #Culture, he could've hit the ground sprinting in South Beach and potentially restored Miami's championship hopes.

Raptors Reset

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Trade: Raptors send Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher to Warriors for Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman and Eric Paschall

    If you listen closely during the breaks between Stephen Curry's three-point barrages, you can hear the unmistakable tick of a championship clock. Curry is 33 years old and playing at an MVP level. The time for this team to strike is now—or, really, next season when a hopefully healthy Klay Thompson rejoins Curry and Draymond Green in a title-chasing nucleus.

    But the Golden State Warriors know they'll need more than that trio to add another ring to the collection. What they don't know is whether James Wiseman, 20 years old and raw for his age, can catch up to that core in time to assist with that effort.

    "Can we get James up to speed quick enough to match the timeline with our three core guys? That's a great question," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said on 95.7 The Game's "Damon, Ratto & Kolsky" show, via NBC Sports Bay Area. "And we don't know the answer."

    The Warriors shouldn't have that uncertainty hanging over them. They wouldn't have it had they converted Wiseman, a rejuvenated Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall into Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher.

    Siakam would be a dream get for the Dubs. He could fill the third (or second) scorer's role, having averaged 22.1 points (plus 3.9 assists) since the start of last season. He can get out in the open court, work two-man magic with Curry (or Green) and, if his three-ball recovers, add value as an off-ball spacer. Defensively, he'd form a two-headed, shape-shifting monster with Green in a hyper-versatile frontcourt.

    Boucher, who got his first taste of NBA hoops with Golden State, would return to the Bay sporting a three-point cannon (1.5 makes at a 38.9 percent clip) and intimidating length (1.9 blocks in 24.0 minutes). Having him and Kevon Looney tag-team the minutes Green doesn't get at center could give the Warriors more stability there than a learning-on-the-job Wiseman can provide.

    As for the Raptors, they could have kick-started their rebuild early—ahead of Kyle Lowry's potential departure in 2021 free agency. While Wiseman would arrive as a possible future centerpiece, Toronto native and 2014 top pick Andrew Wiggins might spark the most immediate excitement. His year-plus schooling in the Warriors' way has made him more efficient on offense and more disruptive on defense.

    Tack on 24-year-old Eric Paschall as an instant-offense spark, and there might have been enough for the Raptors to bite.

Lakers Leveling Up with Kyle Lowry

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Trade: Lakers land Kyle Lowry from Raptors for Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Talen Horton-Tucker

    OK, we're not getting a lot of creativity points here, since this exact deal was reportedly discussed. Jovan Buha and Bill Oram of The Athletic provided the particulars on the talks between the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors:

    "Multiple sources told The Athletic that the Lakers and Raptors discussed a trade that would have sent both members of Los Angeles' starting backcourt, Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and likely some draft compensation to Toronto for Lowry. Throughout Thursday morning, sources said, the sticking point was the inclusion of Talen Horton-Tucker. 

    "The same sources said that Rob Pelinka, the Lakers' vice president of basketball operations, insisted that the price was too high for 35-year-old Lowry, and that he was not willing to trade Horton-Tucker, the 20-year-old combo guard who has emerged as a valuable rotation player for the Lakers in his second season."

    For L.A. to stop short on behalf of Horton-Tucker makes no sense.

    He is intriguing and 20 years old, both of which should make him highly appealing to a long-term rebuilder. But the Lakers are the defending champs and hoping to cash in on as many more ring runs as 36-year-old LeBron James can guide. Horton-Tucker's best basketball could be five years down the line. James might be out of the league by then, and even if he's still around, he won't be wearing the best player on the planet label anymore.

    L.A. might have more incentive than anyone to prioritize the present over the future. Landing Lowry would have been the ultimate expression of that. He still ranks among the very best at his position and is one of only six players averaging 17 points, seven assists and two three-pointers. He could have unlocked the Lakers' half-court attack without disrupting their top-ranked defense.

    That's a big enough prize to ignore Lowry's age (35) and upcoming free agency, especially when Horton-Tucker is approaching the open market, too. Even if the Raptors wanted a draft pick with Horton-Tucker, that would have been a reasonable (albeit steep) price for the Lakers to pay.

    And if Toronto believes in Horton-Tucker's long-term potential, adding him ahead of his restricted free agency would have been preferable to seeing Lowry possibly leave for nothing this summer. The Raptors could have also decided if Schroder and Caldwell-Pope were worth keeping around or sending out in different deals for additional assets.


    All stats current through May 10 and courtesy of and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.