The NBA trade deadline is one of the most exciting times in the association, with fans frantically refreshing Twitter for the next “Wojbomb.”
As the 2020-21 NBA season entered its second half, teams scrambled to execute the perfect trades to position themselves for a deep playoff run or to gather assets and draft capital for the future.
Rebuilding teams like the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets had “fire sales,” trading away quality starters for future draft picks. Meanwhile, contenders like the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat made big splashes at the deadline to bolster their chances of competing for an NBA championship. The following trades will significantly influence the outcome of the post-season.
Nikola Vučević to the Chicago Bulls
In the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, the Orlando Magic reached the postseason as the seventh and eighth seed respectively, but the first round of playoffs was the end of the road for them in both seasons. Without any hopes of landing a star player in free agency, they are hitting the reset button.
Nikola Vučević, a two-time All Star with the Magic, was the team’s star center and netted the Magic the best assets in return. Vučević was dealt along with forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls, in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two first round picks.
The Magic acquired a young center in Carter Jr., who was the seventh pick of the draft in 2018. He did not pan out in Chicago as a standout player, averaging only 11.3 points and 9.4 rebounds in the best season of his young career. However, he has battled many injuries in those three seasons, which may explain his lacklustre play. A fresh start on a team with fewer expectations may jumpstart his career.
In addition to Carter Jr, Magic acquired Chicago’s first round picks in 2021 and 2023, setting themselves up for upcoming drafts as they look to acquire young talent on team-friendly contracts.
For the Bulls, they pair their new All-Star center with All-Star guard Zach Lavine, who is averaging 27.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists, all career highs, and has blossomed into a star this season. The team is currently tenth in the East and hopes that the addition of Vučević can help them secure a spot in the NBA play-in tournament. The move to surround Lavine with talent may also convince him to sign a contract extension and become the franchise’s cornerstone for the foreseeable future.
Victor Oladipo to the Miami Heat
Oladipo was nothing more than a rental for the Houston Rockets, who acquired him in January as part of the blockbuster James Harden trade. After the team traded away superstar guard Harden, their goal was to accumulate picks and promising young players. Oladipo is a former All Star, but remained a puzzling pickup for the rebuilding Rockets.
Houston finally cashed on his diminishing value at the deadline, trading Oladipo to the Miami Heat for Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley and first round draft pick swap rights in 2022.
For the Rockets, this feels like a squandered opportunity. The team was hoping that Oladipo would play well in his brief stint to maximize his trade value, inviting a bidding war from contending teams for his services. He was a far cry from his All-Star seasons in 2018 and 2019, and the list of suitors dried up.
A package of two veteran players in Olynyk and Bradley and only a pick swap will be of minimal help to a franchise in limbo. Veterans may help the team win now, but winning directly contradicts their ultimate goal of acquiring a high draft pick by finishing low in the standings.
The Heat acquire a solid player in Oladipo, who will be more impactful on a team that already has All-Star-calibre players in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The team reached the NBA Finals last season, but will face tougher competition in the East this year, with the emergence of the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. Acquiring a 20-point scorer in Oladipo while giving up minimal depth is only a positive, and may put them over the hump again this post-season.
The trade is also a win for Oladipo himself, who has been campaigning for a move to the Heat since the NBA Bubble last year. The Indiana Pacers star reportedly asked Miami Heat players “Can I come play with y’all?”in a move that drew ire from his teammates. Now that Oladipo has reached his preferred destination, a resurgence back to form might be in store.
Rajon Rondo to the LA Clippers
The Atlanta Hawks signed Rondo to a two-year deal in the offseason. The team hoped that the veteran point guard would be a mentor to their young star guard Trae Young, as well as a steady playmaker off the bench. However, Rondo’s play was uninspiring, as he averaged career lows in minutes, assists and points per game. Atlanta is currently the fifth seed, but required a better scorer off the bench to remain in the playoffs.
The lack of production from Rondo led to the Hawks sending him to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for guard Lou Williams, a three-time sixth man of the year. He provides the Hawks with instant offense off the bench. Williams averaged 12.1 points per game with the Clippers, but his defensive woes were part of the team’s surprising downfall last post-season. However, the Hawks will happily accept his subpar defense due to his offensive skill set.
The Clippers acquire a veteran playmaker who can orchestrate their offense and allow All-Star forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to shine as scorers. Although Rondo’s production has cratered this season, his true value becomes apparent in the postseason, where his experience and steady playmaking can turn the tide of a playoff series. Rondo is not the defensive stalwart he was in his prime, but his long wingspan still helps him bother opposing guards.
Rondo’s defense and playmaking abilities were crucial for the Los Angeles Lakers’ last postseason, capped off by a 19-point outing in the title-clinching Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals. The floor general will again be instrumental for LA in the postseason, except this time it will be the Clippers who benefit.
Aaron Gordon to the Denver Nuggets
Magic forward Aaron Gordon has come up in trade discussions dating back to last year’s trade deadline, but a trade never materialized.
Days before the deadline, Gordon formally requested a trade, citing “frustration with the losses, the injuries, the way [the team has] been playing and how many losses have accumulated over the years” as the main reasons. His wish was fulfilled on deadline day, as the Magic traded Gordon to the Denver Nuggets
The Magic turned a disgruntled star into a first round pick and veteran guard Gary Harris, who remains out with a thigh injury. They also acquired in return a young player in rookie R.J. Hampton, who could potentially develop into a solid rotation player. For a rebuilding team, this is the right return in a trade.
The Nuggets hope Gordon can replicate Jerami Grant’s production. Grant was key to the Nuggets’ post-season last year, providing them with 11.6 points per game and most importantly, staunch defense against elite wing players such as Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Grant left the team in free agency, and the Nuggets have been looking to regain that defense edge since. Gordon’s 6’8” frame is similar to Grant, and his lateral quickness provides Denver with defensive versatility.
Gordon is no slouch on the offensive end either. He averaged 14.6 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 37.5 per cent from three point range in 25 games with the Magic this year. His playmaking adds another dimension to the dynamic Denver offense, and his dunking ability as a lob finisher will mesh perfectly with MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, who leads the Nuggets with 8.4 assists per game.
Gordon may be the missing piece the Nuggets need to go the distance, as they were only bested by the championship-winning Los Angeles Lakers last post-season.
The trade deadline saw contenders like the Nuggets and Heat improve considerably, but these moves may not move the needle in their favour.
The Brooklyn Nets remain favourites in the East, racking up wins due to the excellence of James Harden and Kyrie Irving, all while missing their best player in Kevin Durant. In the West, the Lakers are currently marred by injuries to both their superstars, James and Anthony Davis, but a full-strength Laker team was firmly considered best in the west earlier this season.
Thanks to trade deadline reinforcements, the league is primed for an exhilarating end to the season, as fans eagerly await the playoffs.