After a relatively quiet run-up to the trade deadline, the dam broke on Thursday.
There were 16 trades. In one day.
Trades were flying around the league from Toronto (via Tampa Bay) to Los Angeles, yet two players most expected to be on the move — Kyle Lowry of Toronto and Lonzo Ball of New Orleans — stayed put.
Who were the winners and losers at the trade deadline? Let’s break it down.
WINNER: Denver Nuggets
Denver went all-in — and that makes them the biggest winners of the day.
The Nuggets traded for Aaron Gordon, helping fill a hole left by the departure of Jerami Grant (although the Nuggets have a slightly better net rating at this point in the season without him, they have just been unlucky at the end of games). Part of that is Gordon can be a shot creator, the third (maybe fourth if Michael Porter Junior is hot) in the offense, but also a guy who can cut, set picks, roll to the rim, draw the attention of defenders. Plus, he’s shooting 37.5% from three this season; those defenders also have to respect him at the arc.
However, the bigger help is on defense — Gordon is a big body, athletic, and a quality defender. Not lockdown, but he makes the Nuggets defense better. In a West loaded with big wings — LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and so on — Gordon can be a defender the Nuggets can use on him.
Denver also picked up JaVale McGee, a big backup with championship experience (with Stephen Curry and LeBron James) who can be a big body matched up against Rudy Gobert, maybe Andre Drummond, and other matchups in the playoffs.
Is that enough to make them one of the West’s elite teams? They’ll need to prove it. But you have to like the attitude and aggressiveness. Denver made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, these are moves that say they want to get back there and beyond.
WINNER: Orlando Magic
It may seem counterintuitive to say the team that traded away Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, and Evan Fournier for picks is a winner, but they are.
It’s about time they made these moves and tore it down.
The Magic have been stuck on the carousel of mediocrity for years. They had a core of talented players — Vucevic is an All-Star, Gordon could have been — and high draft picks like Mo Bamba, but it has never come together. This team’s core was average at best and was getting older; there wasn’t much of a future for it. It was time to tear it down, get young players and draft picks, and rebuild with Jonathan Isaac as the first key piece. Orlando got three first-round picks, a couple of second-rounders, and interesting young players such as Wendell Carter and R.J. Hampton out of those trades. It’s a start.
Orlando chose its direction. Magic fans may be skeptical that will amount to much — they have been down this road before. But this was the move they needed to make.
LOSER: Boston Celtics fans
Boston fans came into the trade deadline thinking they were the frontrunners for Aaron Gordon, they had the largest trade exception in NBA history to make things happen, and they had possibilities.
They ended the day with Evan Fournier, without Daniel Theis, and with an owner who got below the luxury tax.
None of that is terrible. Fournier and his shooting will be a good fit in Boston, he makes the team better. They will be fine without Theis, they have enough bigs, and it just means more Time Lord. Boston didn’t do anything wrong.
It just didn’t live up to expectations, which makes it a long day for their fans.
WINNER: Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia didn’t trade for Kyle Lowry. Neither did Miami. Boston didn’t get Aaron Gordon. Milwaukee added P.J. Tucker last week but didn’t make a massive move.
The Brooklyn Nets have looked like the best team in the East with just two-thirds of their stars are on the court, and they are rightfully the favorites to come out of the conference because we can only imagine what happens when Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are start working together. Brooklyn was a winner on Thursday because all their main competition didn’t make a bold move and get dramatically better — not for lack of trying, but it didn’t happen for them.
Which keeps Brooklyn looking like the top dog in the East. Whether the Nets stars can coalesce, and whether their spotty defense will be enough in the playoffs, remains to be seen. But the Nets were winners on Thursday without doing a thing.
Winner: Chicago Bulls
Chicago is a winner for the same reason Denver is on this list, we like teams that are aggressive and go for it.
Chicago went for it and added an All-Star center in Nikola Vucevic to partner with Zach LaVine. They also added Daniel Theis and Troy Brown, Jr. for depth — all without sacrificing a key rotation player (Wendell Carter Jr. was not that anymore). The Bulls did give up two first-round picks, which hurts, but this was about adding talent and trying to make a leap out of the 10-seed and just making the play-in to being a playoff team in the East. The Bulls now have two All-Stars that should boost their pedestrian offense, they are going to win more games and be a tougher playoff out.
There’s a lot of work still to do for the Bulls to be a threat to Brooklyn/Philadelphia/Milwaukee, but this is an aggressive step. It’s a sign of what the new front office is thinking in Chicago, and Bulls fans have to like it.