The NBA Trade Deadline came and went last week and, as it always does, generated no shortage of rumors about players who could potentially be moved.
Kyle Lowry, Malcolm Brogdon, DeMar DeRozan, John Collins, Harrison Barnes, and Al Horford were among the big-name veterans whose names were floated in rumors that ultimately didn’t materialize. Some well-known players did change teams, both via trade and through buyouts that occurred just after the trade deadline.
The Houston Rockets probably had the worst showing, moving Victor Oladipo to the Miami Heat for Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and a pick swap. Oladipo was the main return in Houston’s trade of James Harden to Brooklyn earlier in the season. Bradley and Olynyk were just salary filler, so the Rockets basically ended up moving Harden, who has a realistic shot at this year’s MVP award, for three draft picks and four pick swaps. After moving Harden and now Oladipo, Houston essentially ends up with no young prospects out of the deal, only future draft picks.
While the Rockets got clearly worse at the deadline, here is a look at five teams whose fortunes improved the most after making big moves.
No team landed a bigger impact player than the Bulls, who pried All-Star center Nikola Vucevic away from Orlando. Vucevic was leading the Magic in scoring, rebounding, and assists this season and also is a 40-percent three-point shooter. But the Magic were going nowhere despite his brilliance, and now he pairs alongside another All-Star in Zach LaVine. Vucevic hasn’t had help like LaVine in any of his years in Orlando, and their offensive skillsets complement each other well.
March 29, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (9) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) during the first quarter at Chase Center. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago is currently in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, but they’re only two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot and four games out of fourth place and a homecourt advantage spot in the playoffs.
Their new star doesn’t come without complications – Chicago’s defense was already bad, and Vucevic with Lauri Markkanen up front means the Bulls will struggle to stop just about anyone. But they now have as much or offensive talent than most of the teams they’re competing with, so they should be a favorite to end their streak of four straight seasons without making the playoffs.
The Nets already made their marquee move, acquiring Harden earlier in the year. Harden has fit seamlessly and often carried the team as the Nets have played long stretches without stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this season.
The Harden trade did create some problems on the roster, though, particularly in the frontcourt. Jarrett Allen, who was shipped out in the trade, was the team’s best defensive player and without his size inside, the Nets have often had to play small. DeAndre Jordan is past his prime. Nic Claxton has played well, but he’s untested and playing for a team with championship or bust aspirations.
The Nets didn’t make another big trade, but they did snatch two former All-Stars off the buyout market in a move that will surely help their NBA betting odds for a title. It remains to be seen how much Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge have left – both are past their primes as well, and Griffin in particular has a significant injury history.
But Griffin did score 19 points in his second game with the Nets and has looked healthier than he did at any point in the last two seasons. Aldridge was also contributing well in a complementary role for the Spurs this season before San Antonio decided to shut him down and negotiate a buyout. Griffin and Aldridge don’t fix the team’s defensive issues, but both can hit perimeter shots to space the floor for the stars and Griffin is an exceptional passer for his size.
The Hawks had a productive offseason that brought in key contributors in Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. A third signing was a bust, though – Rajon Rondo hasn’t fit as hoped or helped the team’s defense. Atlanta erased that mistake by shipping him to the Clippers for Lou Williams.
Williams is having a down season, but he’s only one season removed from averaging 20 points per game off the bench for the Clippers. If he can rediscover that magic in Atlanta – his home-state team – then he should bolster the team’s playoff chances. He won’t help the defense, but with so many poor defenders in the lineup, no one is going to save the defense. The Hawks were right to add more offense and just try to put as many points on the board as possible.
Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors
It’s rare that a trade benefits both teams simultaneously, but the Blazers and Raptors made a rare one. Portland acquired Norman Powell, who is having an exceptional season and has at times kept Toronto from falling completely apart during a challenging season.
But Powell is an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and, after the team handed out a big contract to Fred VanVleet last season, is a player they can probably not afford to re-sign, especially if their plan is to bring back Lowry.
Mar 28, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Norman Powell (24) and Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) talk with officials during the fourth quarter at Amalie Arena. Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports
Portland gets a big scorer for its win-now strategy, and Toronto picked up Gary Trent Jr, a promising young player who isn’t quite as good as Powell, but can replace some of his scoring and shooting, is young and improving, and he’s a restricted free agent so Toronto can potentially sign him to a smaller long-term deal than Powell would command.
The Raps also picked up veteran Rodney Hood in the trade, who can also help replace some of Powell’s scoring.
The Celtics added an impact player in Evan Fournier for a small price – two future second round picks. Fournier is underrated and helps immediately, even if he doesn’t quite fit the bill of a “star” player. The Celtics are victims of Danny Ainge’s rhetoric in some respects. The Fournier move was a fantastic one, but Ainge is so frequently involved in peddling trade rumors for major stars only to always seem to fall “just short” that a lowkey move like this one doesn’t move the needle.
Fournier will help Boston, though. He’ll be a great third or fourth offensive option alongside Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker, and he also gives the team a third strong perimeter defender alongside Brown and Marcus Smart. He should help Boston hold on in a tight playoff race.
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