Biggest winners and losers from the 2021 NBA trade deadline

Vucevic
Nikola Vucevic was the only All-Star dealt on the NBA trade deadline day. Photo from SB Nation.

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone. Teams have scrambled together the final pieces of their roster for the remainder of the season.

With the addition of the play-in tournament, it has incentivised an extra four teams into play off contention and subsequently trades. Here we evaluate the winners and losers from this year’s NBA trade deadline.

NBA trade deadline 2021

A quick honourable mention for the Orlando Magic. Yes, they traded away Nikola Vucevic (Bulls), Aaron Gordon (Nuggets), and Evan Fournier (Celtics) but they needed a rebuild. In the last ten years, the Magic have only had one winning season – a 42-win season (one game above .500). Individually, none can argue that Vucevic, Gordon, Fournier are bad players, rather they needed to be in a different situation, in a different role.

With that being said, here are the biggest winners…

Bulls

The Bulls finally pulled the trigger and cashed in on their assets to acquire two-time all-star Nikola Vucevic. Currently in the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, Chicago are in the final play-in spot and hope to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017. Having fired Jim Boylen last summer and replaced him with Billy Donovan, expectations of a post-season appearance was merited.

Zach LaVine has been stellar this year and is enjoying career highs across the board: points, rebounds, assists, FG percentage and 3-point percentage.

LaVine’s incredible improvement this year is why the Bulls had to make the Vucevic trade. Playing the long game and waiting for Wendell Carter to develop into a player who plays akin to Vucevic does not fit the timeline of Zach LaVine, who becomes a free agent in 2022.


Heat

The Godfather does it again. Everyone was expecting Pat Riley to strike at some point on trade deadline and when he did, Riley absolutely fleeced the Houston Rockets in the process.

The Miami Heat got their man in Victor Oladipo – a player who has been rumoured to join Miami since 2018. The Heat gave up Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and a pick swap for the two-time all-star guard on an expiring contract.

Oladipo has not been the same player since his major quad injury in 2019.

However, his role in Miami will be much different from his role when he was a Pacer. A lower usage rate and reduced shot attempts might prove the catalyst for Oladipo to regain some much-needed confidence in his game as he can focus on the fundamentals that made him a former winner of the NBA Most Improved Player award.

Miami also acquired Nemanja Bjelica from the Sacramento Kings on trade deadline for Mo Harkless and Chris Silva. A move that will add some depth to a roster that has been riddled with absences all season.

76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers wanted Kyle Lowry. Kyle Lowry wanted to go to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Philadelphia 76ers got their second choice in George Hill.

The Sixers acquired Hill from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a three-team deal involving Terrance Ferguson going to the Knicks and Austin Rivers going to OKC.

Hill is a fine player that can be part of a closing line-up in the playoffs. His exploits last season with the Milwaukee Bucks showed how valuable he can be as he regularly made plays down the stretch.

He offers something different to Seth Curry. While Seth is an excellent shooter, he gets hunted in fourth quarter basketball to the point he cannot be a viable option in the crunch.

Hill however gives you that option. His 6’9 wingspan adds to the Sixers suffocating defence that has been by far the best in the month of March (101.1 defensive rating).

And the NBA trade deadline 2021 losers…

Clippers

This one might seem a bit harsh considering their minimal lack of assets, but Rondo? Seriously?

Rajon Rondo, who in the last summer signed for the Atlanta Hawks for 2 years $15 million and could not stay on the court due to constant injuries.

Rondo’s reputation as ‘playoff Rondo’ is in theory exactly what the Clippers need. A point guard who will not get too high, or too low during crunch time. One that is adept at orchestrating an offense and will hold teammates accountable. It is difficult to imagine that if Rondo were on the Clippers last season, they blow the 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets.

The Los Angeles Clippers had to make way with Lou Williams (and two second round picks) in the trade. A necessary evil that was ultimately the right decision. Lou Will may be beloved, but his game is not suited for playoff basketball in any way shape or form.

The Clippers believe Rondo is the missing piece of their championship puzzle. Having seen Rondo’s exploits, good and bad, this can go either way for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Raptors

How often can we say that Masai Ujiri made the wrong call? Rarely. Deciding to keep a hold of Kyle Lowry might prove exception to the rule. It was an open secret that the Raptors and Lowry can to an understanding that Lowry was likely to be traded to a destination of his choice.

Miami, Philly, Clippers, and even the Lakers were targeting the 35-year-old six-time all-star point guard.

The biggest stumbling block in the trade offers was Lowry’s $30 million dollar expiring contract. Turns out it is difficult to match salaries for $30 million, even more so when the player is a free agent in the summer.

The Raptors wanted Tyler Herro from the Miami Heat to be included in any trade for Lowry. That price was too rich for Pat Riley’s blood, even though he was content with dealing Duncan Robinson (RFA in the summer) in the deal. The Lakers pulled out when Toronto wanted Talen Horton-Tucker in a package that already included Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Sixers scoffed at the thought of parting ways with their 2021 and 2023 first-round picks, Tyrese Maxey, and Matisse Thybulle.

Masai Ujiri has developed a reputation as a master negotiator. Dealing Carmelo Anthony, who was an expiring contract, to the New York Knicks back in 2012 for a kings ransom testifies to this.

Ujiri trading DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard in 2018 is another example. This time Ujiri went with the principle that no deal is better than a bad deal. Only time will tell whether he made the right decision.

The Toronto Raptors did trade away Norman Powell to the Portland Trailblazers for Gary Trent Jr and Rodney Hood. Powell was due to be an unrestricted free agent next year and was looking to earn big money. Departing from him had financial sense.

Rockets

The Houston Rockets’ NBA trade deadline went as bad as one could expect. It encapsulates their tumultuous season. From the James Harden saga to the Victor Oladipo debacle, rookie head coach Stephen Silas is having a torrid introduction to head coaching in the NBA.

General manager Rafael Stone is in the hot seat.

Many have sympathy for the Harden situation, however, few would offer the same compassion for what has followed.

Acquiring Victor Oladipo was a disaster. The 20 games Oladipo had as a Rocket was marred by an incredible losing streak that cast a desolate light over the franchise.

When Harden was dealt to Brooklyn, Rafael Stone had received Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen in return. Without the benefit of hindsight, Houston were still better off keeping those two. LeVert was on a multiple year deal, and although Allen would be redundant because of Christian Wood, the Rockets could have flipped him again. Trading LeVert to the Pacers, who were itching to trade Oladipo because he was not going to resign, was baffling then as it is more so now.

The Rockets had arguably the greatest scorer of this generation. He wanted to be traded, fine. That happens. It is a superstar-powered league anyway. But to get Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs and future unprotected picks and pick swaps is an abomination.

The future picks and pick swaps really is keeping Rafael Stone in the job that little longer. It buys him time and allows him to see this process through. Banking on Brooklyn to be terrible in the future is not a terrible idea in theory. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden are free agents in the summer of 2022. Houston’s future is in the Nets’ hands, an servile position that they are now committed to.

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About Kelechi Ulu 20 Articles
It was during the 2018 Conference Finals my interest in the NBA began. Watching the Rockets and Warriors duel it out was something akin to a movie scene. It was then when I knew I was hooked onto the NBA... Since then I love reading all things NBA and listening to a plethora of basketball podcasts. It’s all for the love of the game

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