NBA Trade Deadline: Better Off/Worse Off
The 2021 NBA trade deadline was one of the busiest deadline periods in NBA history. 46 players among 23 different teams were moved in 16 separate trades (per Adrian Wojnarowski) on 1 single day. With all of that action, some teams and players were really able to improve their status in the league, while others made some questionable decisions. Here are a few of the teams and players that are better or worse off post trade deadline.
Denver came into the trade deadline surging up the Western Conference standings after a middling start to the season. They are starting to hit their stride, but still missing one key player type: A forward who can defend some of the Western Conference’s finest wings and be versatile on offense in a low usage role. By paying the price of Gary Harris, RJ Hampton, and a future 1st round pick they were able to secure the services of Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic. Gordon has shown that he has the size, strength, and athleticism to defend some of the best players in the league. Offensively he has not been an efficient player, but Gordon has been thrust into offensive roles that might be a little too advanced for his skillset. If he buys into a low usage role as the 3rd or 4th option and moves off the ball next to Nikola Jokic he could become the exact type of deadline acquisition that vaults a team to the next level. It seems like a safe bet that the Nuggets are better off now after the deadline.
The Bulls are certainly better off after acquiring Nikola Vucević from the Magic for Wendell Carter Jr, Otto Porter Jr, and 2 lightly protected 1st round picks in 2021 and 2023. Vucević is a large improvement over WCJ as the starting center, so pairing him with Zach LaVine should pay dividends for this year and next year. The large caveat here is LaVine’s impending free agency after next season, and that could certainly swing the trade in the favor of the Orlando Magic. LaVine has not hinted that he is a threat to leave Chicago, but with the Bulls taking this home run swing it will be a topic of conversation. For now, the Bulls are better off with a couple of established All Stars and their young core still intact around them.
Orlando Magic (2021 Version)
I actually really liked what the Magic did at the deadline. They traded their top 3 players and gained loads of future flexibility and draft capital, but there is no doubt that they are going to be a worse team this year and next year. Heading into next year they will be one of the youngest teams in the league, and their two best players, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac, will both be returning from major injuries. That is not a recipe for a successful season, but that is okay! This was a complete teardown for Orlando, and they are certainly worse off right now.
Orlando Magic (2024 Version)
The 2021 NBA trade deadline for the Orlando Magic was less about the current version of the team, and more about building for the mid 2020’s. By 2024 they will have had a couple of their own high draft picks, a couple of potentially decent draft picks from the Bulls, and their current core of Fultz, Isaac, Okeke, and Cole Anthony could be rounding into form as good to great NBA players. That is an enticing future that could vault the team into Eastern Conference contention at that time, as opposed to the aging mediocre core that they have sported for the past few years. The 2024 and beyond Orlando Magic are certainly better off.
Lou Will thought he was going to be able to play out his last few years on a contending team as a flame throwing scorer off the bench for the Clippers. Well, the NBA is a cruel world. He was dealt along with some 2nd round picks to the Hawks where he may get to contribute in the playoffs, but likely has no real shot at a deep run. His consolation prize is to be traded to his hometown team in Atlanta, and a place that he has played previously. He will be just fine, but that likely costs him the chance at a title before his career is over.
“Professor Big Shots” heads to South Beach! Bjeli has proven to be a valuable shooting forward in his time with both the Wolves and the Kings, but he will finally be able to play a role on a team with championship aspirations with his old friend Jimmy Butler. It always seemed like Bjelica’s personality was meant for a large market and the public spotlight, so if he carves out a role in the Heat’s rotation in the playoffs we may finally see the NBA community fall in love with the Serbian flame thrower. Side note: the Heat are also better off for this because they gave up very little to acquire him, and Bjelica is a veteran with real value on the court. Everyone is better off after this trade!
I may be in the minority on this one. The Blazers dealt Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood to the Raptors for Norman Powell. I understand the logic, as Powell is considered the better player at the moment and GTJ will need to be resigned for a larger contract this offseason, but from a team building standpoint this is not what I like to see. GTJ is a 22 year old who is budding into a potential star. Powell has been an inconsistent player who is currently having his best season of his career. That is great, but he can also decline his player option and become an unrestricted free agent after this season. If that happens, the Blazers will then need to offer a big contract to a 28 year old instead of a 22 year old. This move certainly hurt their future, and I fail to see how it meaningfully maximized the present, so I believe they are worse off.