The 2021 NBA trade deadline came and went on Thursday afternoon. It was among the most eventful deadlines in recent Association history with the Orlando Magic holding a fire sale.
Remaining back east, the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat were also pretty darn active. The same thing can be said for the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers out west. In looking at this, we check in on the biggest winners and losers from the NBA trade deadline.
Winner: Chicago Bulls find that All-Star to pair with Zach LaVine
There were a lot of rumors surrounding the Bulls as potential buyers ahead of Thursday’s deadline. Most of that included Chicago acquiring Lonzo Ball from the New Orleans Pelicans. While that did not happen, general manager Marc Eversley did pull off the biggest trade of the deadline. That included acquiring one of the most-skilled big men in the game, Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic.
Heading back to Orlando in this deal is struggling big man Wendell Carter Jr., cap filler Otto Porter Jr. and two first-round picks. That includes a top-four protected selection in the 2021 NBA Draft. This is an absolute coup for Chicago. The 30-year-old Vucevic has morphed into an elite player in recent years. He’s averaging 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. The Switzerland native is also shooting 41% from distance this season.
Chicago is now building a contending core with Vucevic and fellow All-Star Zach LaVine. Add in the presence of stud rookie Patrick Williams, and things are looking up for the Bulls. Being able to acquire this star center without giving up Williams is an absolute coup for Chicago.
Loser: Portland Trail Blazers miss the mark
Acquiring impending free agent guard Norman Powell was a nice move for embattled general manager Neil Olshey. The 26-year-old is in the midst of a career season, averaging 19.6 points on 44% shooting from the field. He’ll help create a three-guard lineup in the Pacific Northwest with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Even then, Portland paid a high price to pick up a player who could very well depart in free agency. That included the impressive 22-year-old Gary Trent Jr. The former Duke standout is averaging 15.0 points on 40% shooting from three-point range in his third NBA season. He’s four years younger than Powell and is slated to become a restricted free agent. Portland could have matched any offer for him. Instead, it faces the real possibility of losing Powell for nothing during the summer. That’s a loss.
Winner: Denver Nuggets now championship contenders
We heard rumors that the Nuggets were going to be active ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. That included suggestions that they were targeting Orlando Magic star forward Aaron Gordon. Well, this came to fruition mere hours before the deadline. Denver picked up Aaron Gordon from the Magic in exchange for Gary Harris, rookie first-round pick R.J. Hampton and a first-round pick.
It’s no small price to pay. However, the 25-year-old Gordon is both a short-term addition and someone who fits into Denver’s long-term future. He’ll likely slide in at the three, creating a tremendous frontcourt with Michael Porter Jr. and NBA MVP candidate Nikola Jokic. That’s a tremendous tandem with star guard Jamal Murray holding down the backcourt. Add in the acquisition of underrated center JaVale McGee from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth was doing work on Thursday.
Loser: Boston Celtics fail once again at NBA trade deadline
Rumors leading up to the NBA trade deadline pointed in the direction of Celtics general manager Danny Ainge being active. The team is struggling through a rough 2020-21 season after earning a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last fall. Boasting a full slate of draft picks and a league-record $28.5 million trade exception as well as a ton of young players, Boston was set to make a move.
Unfortunately, the acquisition of guard Evan Fournier on Thursday really doesn’t change the dynamics too much in the Eastern Conference. Don’t get me wrong. The impending free agent is a good player. He’s averaging 19.7 points on 39% shooting from distance this season. Fournier will likely slide in at the three with Jayson Tatum moving to the four and Jaylen Brown at the off-ball guard position.
Even then, moving that trade exception for an impending free agent when the market would have been much larger this coming summer made little sense. Instead of parting with that and two future first-round picks, the Celtics would have been better off giving up a couple of their young assets. It would have made more sense from a long-term perspective.
Winner: Atlanta Hawks add another scorer
It was reported ahead of the NBA trade deadline on Thursday that the surging Hawks might ultimately be sellers. That made no sense with the team at .500 and as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Apparently, general manager Travis Schlenk agreed.
Atlanta pulled off the coup of the deadline, acquiring three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner Lou Williams and two second-round picks from the Los Angeles Clippers for Rajon Rondo. Having averaged north of 20 points per game in three seasons prior to some regression during the 2020-21 campaign, Williams gives Atlanta another big-time scorer to go with Trae Young for a potential playoff push. Acquiring two second-round picks for a player in Rondo who was averaging less than four points this season was also a win.
Loser: Orlando Magic fail at NBA trade deadline
We knew that the Magic were looking to go into full-scale fire sale mode ahead of the NBA trade deadline. In the end, the struggling team moved off stars Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon to start anew with a rebuild. It makes sense. The current iteration of this team was going nowhere fast.
With that said, general manager John Hammond did not necessarily acquire the assets most expected in trading the team’s three biggest stars. That includes three first-round picks, two second-round selections, Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Harris and R.J. Hampton. In a vacuum, Vucevic should have brought that type of package back to Orlando by himself. Sure Carter Jr. and Hampton might fit into Orlando’s long-term rebuild. But the team did not take advantage of what seemed to be a seller’s market.
Winner: Miami Heat get their man
To say that the Miami Heat were linked to Victor Oladipo ahead of the NBA trade deadline would be an understatement. A marriage seemed to be in the cards even before he was dealt to the Houston Rockets from the Indiana Pacers in the James Harden blockbuster.
Well, as the deadline passed, Miami got its guy. The team acquired the former All-Star two-guard from Houston for pennies on the dollar. That includes Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a pick swap in the 2022 NBA Draft. We’re not kidding. This is all Miami gave up for a guard who can average 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists on a nightly basis. The Heat now also own Oladipo’s bird rights and can re-sign him this summer. What a move from Miami front office head Pat Riley.
Loser: Houston Rockets are a laughingstock
Fresh off a 20-game losing streak, most expected new Rockets general manager Rafael Stone to make some moves. That included the above-mentioned Oladipo. He turned down an extension offer recently and was slated to leave via free agency after being acquired in the James Harden blockbuster.
Unfortunately, Houston was bamboozled by legendary Heat front office head Pat Riley. That included the Heat giving up cap fillers Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk as well as a mere pick swap. This is a thing that actually happened. It also means that Houston actually acquired not a single player of substance in the Harden blockbuster back in January. Let that sink in for a second. Not a single player of substance.