The 2021 NBA trade deadline was as much about the deals that didn’t happen as the ones that were actually completed.
Raptors star Kyle Lowry, considered the most impactful player available ahead of Thursday’s deadline, ended up staying in Toronto (well, Tampa, but you get it). The Hawks shut down the John Collins conversation pretty early. The Pelicans didn’t move Lonzo Ball. Andre Drummond and LaMarcus Aldridge are off to the buyout market.
Sure, there were a lot of transactions on deadline day, including one trade that involved an All-Star center. But it would be a stretch to say any deal drastically altered the championship picture.
Does the lack of blockbuster trades mean we’ve punted on our annual naming of winners and losers? Of course not. Let’s do this.
NBA trade deadline winners
Chicago made multiple trades Thursday, but the reason the Bulls emerged as a winner is the addition of Nikola Vucevic. They had to let go of Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and two lightly protected first-round picks, but Vucevic gives their offense a completely new element.
The 30-year-old big man is in the midst of a career year that earned him an All-Star selection. He is capable of scoring in the paint (third-most points on post-ups in 2020-21), as the roll man on pick-and-rolls (league-high 6.1 points per game) and beyond the arc (career-high 40.6 percent on 3-pointers). Vucevic should be a great fit alongside Zach LaVine.
Vucevic is one of five players in NBA history to have a season averaging 24+ points, 10+ rebounds, and a 40+ 3P%
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) March 25, 2021
Does Vucevic make the Bulls a true contender in the Eastern Conference? No, not really. But it’s a winning move for a franchise that has participated in six total playoff games over the last five seasons. Not everything has to be title or tank.
Lou Williams jokes and Magic City
“Lemon Pepper Lou” was traded to Atlanta, which unleashed an avalanche of Twitter jokes. Get that order ready, Magic City!
😒 It took the Underground Goat breaking NBA records and scoring over 15,000 points in the league for the Hawks to realize what was good for them.
Welcome home, Champ. 🗣🗣🗣 pic.twitter.com/zC0R7rjaMa
— Magic City Kitchen (@magicitykitchen) March 25, 2021
Aaron Gordon was miscast as a No. 1 option for a Magic team that has desperately needed a superstar. He always seemed destined to be a terrific role player who fills specific needs.
Well, here’s his chance. Denver sent out Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton and a 2025 protected first-round pick in order to acquire Gordon, who gives the Nuggets a versatile defender capable of matching up with the Western Conference’s top wings. (No one can stop guys like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, but Gordon is at least built to challenge them.)
Gordon should also benefit from playing off MVP candidate Nikola Jokic on the offensive end. Imagine Gordon spotting up on the perimeter (43.5 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season) or slicing to the rim and Jokic finding him for easy buckets.
It’s unclear how much Gordon will raise the ceiling for a team with real expectations, but this is a worthwhile gamble for Denver.
Sam Presti’s passion for draft picks
It would be nice to love anything as much as the Thunder’s general manager loves future flexibility.
This is just insane.
Oklahoma City now has a projected 34 draft picks over the next 7 years.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 25, 2021
Terrence Ross’ Twitter account
Apologies to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania, but these were the best tweets of the day:
Lol if you don’t laugh, you cry 🤣🤣🤣
— Terrence Ross (@TerrenceRoss) March 25, 2021
NBA trade deadline losers
Danny Ainge and the Celtics
Let’s be clear: Newly acquired shooting guard Evan Fournier should help the Celtics. He is averaging nearly 20 points per game and presents Boston with a legitimate creator behind Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker.
However, this was yet another deadline that saw Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge almost get a game-changer. Boston was considered the favorite to land Gordon as recently as Wednesday, yet he went to Denver. The Celtics also moved Daniel Theis in an apparent salary dump without bringing in another quality center.
But hey, at least they can create another trade exception that will help them almost snag someone later.
Other element with Evan Fournier addition: If Celtics don’t re-sign him this offseason, they will have the ability to create…you guessed it…another sizable TPE in a sign-and-trade since they get his Bird Rights as part of the deal.
— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) March 25, 2021
It’s understandable that Orlando would want to go for the full teardown considering this version of the Magic peaked as a first-round punching bag and currently has the second-worst record in the East. There are some intriguing pieces here to build around — Carter, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac among them.
If you literally lose three of your top four scorers, though, you have to be in the loser category. It’s going to be a rough final stretch for the Magic.
It certainly felt like Lowry had played his final game as a Raptor on Wednesday night.
Surprise! The greatest player in franchise history is staying put.
On the surface, it feels as though the Raptors missed their opportunity to get assets back for Lowry, who is set to enter unrestricted free agency this summer. Now there is a chance he walks for nothing.
So, why keep him? Toronto president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri didn’t find “a package that compelled him” to trade Lowry, and Lowry was “fine” with the idea of playing out the season, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. It’s possible that Lowry re-signs with the Raptors or agrees to a sign-and-trade scenario in the offseason. The relationship between Lowry and the front office is obviously solid.
We’ll put the Raptors down as tentative losers (in part because waiting that long for nothing to happen was annoying).