NBA trade deadline winners and losers

Photo of Nikola Vučević of the Orlando Magic
Michael Tipton/Creative Commons

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With another trade deadline in the rearview mirror, it’s only fitting to write an immediate reactionary article judging trades before even seeing players in their new uniforms. Choosing “winners” and “losers” is far from a perfect science, as the judge has yet to see how a player fits in with a new team or how valuable a traded draft pick becomes. However, I’ll take my best stab at picking which teams went right and which ones went wrong.


Winner: Orlando Magic

I’ve never been so proud of a team for tanking. The Magic seemed to be doomed to eternal mediocrity, with Nikola Vucevic playing just well enough for them to not get a top lottery pick. But finally, they traded away Vucevic, in addition to Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, for a significant pile of draft picks and a couple of intriguing young prospects in Wendell Carter Jr. and RJ Hampton.


Loser: Houston Rockets

Oh no. Oh NO! Victor Oladipo, the only notable player that Houston received in the James Harden blockbuster trade, apparently had zero trade market and was given away for two vets on expiring contracts and an irrelevant pick swap. Unless those future Brooklyn picks end up in the high lottery, which seems pretty unlikely, this franchise has a rough stretch ahead of it.


Winner: Milwaukee Bucks

I’m counting the P.J. Tucker trade here even though it was a week and a half before the deadline. Tucker’s play has fallen off a bit lately, but he still gives Milwaukee the versatility they crave. The Bucks’ ability to go small by substituting Tucker in for Brook Lopez will help them guard the perimeter against elite shooting teams in the playoffs. Tucker allows the coaching staff to move Giannis Antetokounmpo to the center position and institute a more switchable defense that allows fewer threes. Only 8% of Antetokounmpo’s minutes have come at the five this year because Milwaukee didn’t have the personnel for him to man the center spot. Tucker’s arrival changes that.


Loser: Los Angeles Lakers

If the reports are true that the Lakers turned down an offer involving Kyle Lowry because they didn’t want to give up Talen Horton-Tucker, they missed out on a massive chance to improve their title odds. The deal probably would have taken Horton-Tucker, Dennis Schröder and one of Montrezl Harrell or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. While those are all nice rotation players, they can be replaced through the buyout market and the bench. Meanwhile, Lowry is still a genuine star at age 35. He would have given the Lakers better shooting, defense and playmaking. He was one of the league’s ten best guys in last year’s playoffs. And I just can’t understand prioritizing the future instead of making a win-now move for a team built around LeBron James, whose career is nearing its end.


Winner: Denver Nuggets

Aaron Gordon is a really fun addition to this squad, and he is finally going to have an elite playmaker around him in Nikola Jokic. Gordon has the potential to be a really valuable two-way role player who can set screens, pass, and defend big forwards. This move was a risk for Denver, as it’s betting on some unrealized potential and hoping his new shooting improvements hold up, but I think that it was well worth the relatively low price tag they paid. Plus, it brought back Nuggets legend Javale McGee.


Loser: Portland Trail Blazers

I like Norman Powell, but I don’t understand why Portland wanted him. The Blazers are a bad defensive team built around two guards, and they decided to add another guard who isn’t that good on defense. Powell is capable of playing small forward, but it’s not his ideal position. He’s a good player and an okay defender, but he does not address this team’s needs. I feel like Gary Trent Jr. could have been traded for something more useful than half a season of Powell before he hits free agency.


Winner: Rajon Rondo

Instead of signing for cheap with a contender last offseason, Rondo chose to get a big contract from the Atlanta Hawks. And after they traded him to the Clippers, he gets to keep the money while also being on a great team. Rondo played his cards perfectly.


Loser: Reporter Parity

Woj and Shams once again refused to give any small-market reporters a chance. So much for fairness.


Winners: Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans

Both of these teams were heavily rumored to be looking to trade their young prospects who are headed towards restricted free agency, those being John Collins and Lonzo Ball respectively. They both were nervous about paying up to keep these players, even though both are very talented and great fits within their young cores. I’m glad that neither decided to sell potential stars who should be a big part of their futures.


Loser: Washington Wizards

The Wizards refuse to pick a direction. They’re not good enough to make the playoffs but have too much star power to rebuild. Instead of selling high on their stars or adding meaningful rotation pieces for a playoff push, Washington essentially stayed put. It added Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchinson, who are both fine but don’t fulfill any crucial needs. It looks like it’ll be another season of aimless wandering for a team that doesn’t seem to have a clear plan.


Winner: Miami Heat

It’s pretty remarkable how much Miami added this deadline considering how little the team gave up. The Heat shipped off Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk. Meyers Leonard (awkward) and Chris Silva in return for Oladipo, Nemanja Bjelica and Trevor Ariza. Oladipo has not looked good this year, but Miami will get a chance to get an up-close look at him before he goes into free agency this summer to decide whether he’s worth paying in the offseason. Ariza and Bjelica will both be able to play power forward, a position where Miami needed depth after losing Jae Crowder.


Losers: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown

I am actually fine with how Boston handled this deadline. Many expected the Celtics to make a big move, but Boston was relatively quiet. I really like that the team added Evan Fournier, who should add some desperately needed depth on the wing. However, it must be frustrating for their two young stars to not have a great supporting cast around them. Tatum and Brown surely expected to compete for a championship this year after an Eastern Conference Finals appearance last year, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards after Boston didn’t make a major push to get better.


Winner: Sam Presti

Nothing makes the OKC general manager happier than getting draft picks. And Thursday he received two second-rounders for George Hill and another one for Ariza. The Thunder now has an absurd 34 picks in the next seven drafts. Sam Hinkie must be proud.


Yet to See: Chicago Bulls

Chicago made the biggest move of the deadline, acquiring Nikola Vucevic. It gave up Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two future first-round picks to acquire the two-time All-Star. The Bulls also made some other deals, including one for center Daniel Theis. The reason I can’t make up my mind on these moves is that I need to see where they go from here. I don’t think Vucevic fits next to Lauri Markkanen, and I also don’t totally understand adding a 30-year-old to this young roster. If Chicago doesn’t make any big moves or signings this offseason, I would count this trade as a loss. However, if it flips some of their youth to land another star to put next to Zach LaVine and Vucevic, then I’ll be a fan of these moves.

Casey Grae covers women’s water polo and writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected]