2021 Trade Deadline

2021 NBA trade deadline: 10 takeaways

With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, it's time for a look at the early returns.

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Aaron Gordon has his eye on a contending situation in Denver, where he’ll join the Nuggets after Thursday’s deal.

This was one of those trade deadlines where the biggest names involved managed to keep their company ID cards and didn’t need to forward the mail.

Seriously: Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball and John Collins carried the most weight … and maybe that’s why nobody could haul them away from the Raptors, Pelicans and Hawks. As usual in these situations, deals cannot happen unless somebody wants what you’re selling bad enough to extend an offer you cannot refuse. Plenty of them died on the negotiating table Thursday.

That’s not to suggest nothing happened on 2021’s NBA Trade Deadline Day, which was mildly interesting, could prove beneficial to a few teams come playoff time — and once again cannot be accurately judged in terms of “winners” and “losers” at this time because future first-round picks were involved in a handful of them.

Here are 10 takeaways from the trade deadline — what happened and what didn’t, and what it all means (… or might, anyway) for some of the buyers and sellers who struck deals:


No more Magic in this core

After a flurry of trades, the Magic are clearly going for it … in 2025. Once again, they’re pushing the reset button and admitting their last rebuilding project didn’t work. Just like the one before that. And the one before that. Actually, ever since Dwight Howard left in a huff, this franchise has spun its wheels, failing to make great Draft-day decisions, never building their assets enough to swing blockbuster trades, or making itself attractive enough to get the best free agents.

Curiously, Nikola Vucevic came in the Howard trade and stood as the face of the franchise, and deservedly so; the two-time All-Star developed into a solid scorer. That said, he and Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier weren’t good enough to make the Magic a consistent playoff team. Why keep any of them around another season only to watch their value drop further?

The Bulls have the playoffs in mind after trading for All-Star center Nikola Vucevic.

That philosophy made sense, and in due time we’ll know if the execution did, too. None of the trades involving those three fetched a potential star in return. For the most part, Orlando’s haul of young players and picks will only jump-start the next rebuilding process, which will center around Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac and Wendell Carter Jr. Oh, and because they dumped their best players now, Orlando will surely fall near or at the bottom of the standings this season and get a high draft pick. So there’s that, too.


Oladipo feels the Heat

Initially, you may conclude Miami surrendered little to Houston in exchange for a scoring guard in his prime, and such a reaction sounds reasonable. But then, what, really, is the riddle known as Victor Oladipo?

A few years ago he seemed on a verge of being special, but then came an injury and a gradual comeback, followed by a value that reportedly sank pretty quickly. Understand that this is his fifth team in his eight seasons — those who run NBA teams aren’t perfect people, but they’re not dummies, either.

Miami's depth, star power and game plan seem tailor made for Victor Oladipo (and vice versa).

Some teams were scared off because the word through secondary channels is Oladipo wanted to be in Miami and, as an unrestricted free agent in a few months, probably would’ve signed there anyway. Miami will soon learn if Oladipo is OK being a secondary option to Jimmy Butler … and Bam Adebayo (… and perhaps Tyler Herro) and price him accordingly this summer.


Rockets’ frustrating follow-up

Help us understand this: In the James Harden trade, why didn’t the Rockets hold onto Caris LeVert, a good young player who’s signed for three years at reasonable money, instead of rolling the dice on Oladipo, who was and is approaching unrestricted free agency? This was unfathomable then, and insane now, with LeVert hitting daggers in Indiana and Oladipo in Miami.

Therefore, the Rockets have mostly future first-round picks (which may fall late in the round) to show for surrendering an all-time great in his prime. Again, those picks might produce an asset or two, but LeVert was not draft guesswork. He was in the flesh and just touching his potential. Again: Just weird on Houston’s part.


It’s a Bulls market

It’s generally believed, with some historical proof to support this theory, that you cannot travel very far in the NBA postseason without at least two All-Stars. Well, the Bulls just gave Zach LaVine some starry company by adding Vucevic, and if nothing else it should be plenty of fun watching these efficient offensive players tag-team the opposition. This is a solid inside-outside combo designed to give the Bulls options and make them more balanced.

What’s also good for Chicago is Vooch is signed for two more seasons and an upgrade over Carter in terms of ability and experience. By getting him now, the Bulls are making a serious bid to be in playoff contention this season, rather than risk being involved in a Play-In Tournament scenario. And if all goes well they can make some first-round noise this spring.


Kyle Lowry, still a Raptor

Either the asking price was too steep, or the asking price was too steep. Yes, that’s redundant, but it’s really the only reason Lowry is still a Raptor. The three most logical landing spots — Clippers, Sixers and Heat — either didn’t want to part with young talent (Tyler Herro) or couldn’t clear enough cap space to make it happen. Remember, since Lowry becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, teams are willing to surrender only so much for a player who could be a three-month rental; they couldn’t talk money until after the season.

Raptors star guard Kyle Lowry is staying in Toronto for now.

There’s also the small possibility Toronto had a somewhat reasonable offer in place, but Lowry didn’t want to play for that team — and given what he’s meant to the franchise, Toronto probably afforded him that choice. And now he gets to ride it out on a team falling in the standings, while playing peacemaker between Nick Nurse and Pascal Siakam.


Celtics settle focus on Fournier

There’s no question Danny Ainge wanted Vucevic, and has to be annoyed Chicago’s offer was considered better (a comparable one from Boston would be Robert Williams, Marcus Smart and a Draft pick). But the prize behind door No. 2 in Orlando isn’t so shabby: Fournier is a proven scorer, a shooter off the dribble who can create for himself and passes reasonably well.

In this situation, if Kemba Walker falls into a funk again, the Celtics can bring in someone who can pick up the slack. Also, much like Gordon in Denver, Fournier should be rejuvenated now that he’s playing for a contender — assuming, of course, you believe the Celtics still fit that description.


A next level for Aaron Gordon?

After gradual improvement in his first three seasons, there was reason to suspect Gordon would eventually be a star. Well, folks are still waiting on that, because Gordon’s progress hasn’t taken such a drastic turn. In some ways, he’s still the same as before, a ‘tweener forward who lacks the bully-ball attitude it takes to be a power player, and the consistent stroke needed to live on the perimeter.

Aaron Gordon's versatility and 3-point shooting gives Denver added frontcourt depth for the difficult West playoff road ahead.

In that sense, the premier dunker has tantalized without capitalizing on potential, at least in Orlando. But now, he’s in a more productive atmosphere, with more at stake, on a better team with championship dreams. Will that trigger a change from within? This appears to be a good deal for Denver in a few ways: Gordon has the size to match up defensively with big swingmen in the West (LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, etc.), and can be more of a finisher offensively with the Nuggets, especially with Nikola Jokic instantly becoming the best passing teammate he’s ever had.


Blazers going for it

The task of trying to strike gold in Damian Lillard’s prime continues in earnest with the Blazers adding an upgrade for their three-guard rotation. Norman Powell is a good and aggressive scorer, yet not a reckless one. He should be a good fit with Lillard and CJ McCollum, more experienced — if not more reliable — than Gary Trent Jr.

Norman Powell is bringing his 3-and-D game to the Pacific Northwest.

But there’s a plus: Powell has the size and grit to help the Blazers defensively, where they need it most. He can get the toughest assignment, and he’ll see plenty of those in the playoffs. It’s too premature to say he’ll be a difference maker, but give Portland credit for being aggressive. The only downside is he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer and might turn out to be a rental.


Rajon Rondo reconsiders the Clippers

Last offseason, the biggest head-scratcher was Rondo signing with the Hawks. It just didn’t make sense for either the player or the team: the Hawks already had Trae Young and later signed Kris Dunn, leaving Rondo few minutes at point guard. Yes, his leadership was a perceived plus, but word is some of the Hawks players felt he pushed that privilege too far. As for Rondo, why go to a developing team when there were better options, especially at his age when championships should be the main goal?

The Clippers, who had a dire need for a playmaking point guard, didn’t want to give Rondo a guaranteed second season last fall. So Rondo went for the money. Well, as it turned out, he now has the money and the fit. He’ll be the point guard on the floor in the fourth quarter, when the Clippers lapse into hero-ball with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard taking turns going 1-on-1. Rondo will have the ball and decide who gets it. Also, the rapid development of Terance Mann made Lou Williams expendable.


Big man buyouts

As expected, nobody wanted to offer enough to materialize a trade market for Andre Drummond or LaMarcus Aldridge. The former is strictly a half-court player who blocks the lane, the latter is somewhat injury prone and no longer a feared mid-range scorer. The Spurs already cut Aldridge a check and wished him luck; Drummond’s set to be net.

Drummond would work best with the Lakers, because Anthony Davis hates playing center and will be thrilled at a reduced role near the rim, especially defensively. Aldridge could return to Portland, or Boston, or Miami. But will either player be on the floor when the game’s on the line, deep in the fourth quarter in the playoffs? Probably not.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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