How does one win with the NBA trade deadline? It’s not always as simple as “They got the best player or on the market!” or “They just became the best team in the league!” Teams win the NBA trade deadline because they simply made the best out of it for their own good. Doing what’s best for the team can mean either capitalizing on the window they have now or preparing for the future.
A group of teams stood out as the clear winners of the NBA Trade Deadline for different reasons. Let’s start with the biggest winners and why.
Past their shaky start to the season, the Nuggets are on the upswing. They’ve won 10 of their last 12 games, while Nikola Jokic has further solidified his MVP campaign. Jamal Murray is on pace to set multiple career-bests — a positive, although not the gaudy numbers he put up in the Bubble — and Michael Porter Jr. has started to acclimate himself after an up-and-down rookie season. 26-18, they have a bottom-10 strength of schedule the rest of the season, per Tankathon, and should only continue to gain ground in the Western Conference.
Despite that, Denver didn’t allow the opportunity for further improvement to slip through their fingers. In JaVale McGee and Aaron Gordon, the team has now added a significant amount of athleticism to their frontcourt that they sorely missed with the departures of Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant in the offseason. McGee should provide solid minutes, but Gordon is a major acquisition for a team that was already ascending.
Gordon is the athletic, two-way power forward that, much like Grant, should look great alongside Jokic. He should give Denver’s 19th ranked defensive rating (112.7) a significant boost while also providing a one-on-one defensive chess piece that they can match with LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and the other star forwards the Nuggets expect to face in the Western Conference playoff. Gordon’s career-high three-point percentage (37.5 percent) – and his underrated ability as a passer should pay dividends, as well.
Gordon was brought in to replace what Denver missed in Grant — but his fit might just be better.
Before the trade deadline, Chicago stuck between a rock and a hard place.
By no means a bad team, their 19-24 record had them merely in the playoff conversation. Considering the three-game difference between the fourth-seeded Charlotte Hornets and the 10th-seeded Bulls, there was always going to be competition for those bottom-five spots in the Eastern Conference postseason picture. Of course, they could have just waived the white flag, sold off their productive veterans and looked to next season.
But, instead, Chicago chose to bet on themselves and cashed in big.
In the biggest deal of the day, the Bulls acquired All-Star Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic in the midst of a career-year. Paired with Zach LaVine, Chicago now has a legitimate claim to one of the best duos in the conference and has considerably boosted their odds to lock up a spot in the postseason, perhaps even one ahead of the league’s new play-in tournament.
But it doesn’t stop there. Al-Farouq Aminu, also acquired in the Vucevic deal, should strengthen the perimeter defense while Daniel Theis, who started in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals and was acquired from the Boston Celtics, should prove a versatile play behind Vucevic.
Miami didn’t just get it done on the day of the trade deadline. About a week ago, the team acquired Trevor Ariza, a more than capable veteran that should help in their push to return to the NBA Finals, from the Oklahoma City Thunder. And they aren’t done, as they are currently considered the favorite to sign LaMarcus Aldridge, who was recently bought out by the San Antonio Spurs.
That said, the HEAT made some serious noise on Thursday.
Early in the day, the team sent Moe Harkless to the Sacramento Kings for Nemanja Bjelica and Chris Silva. Harkless, who has played in just 11 games this season and averaged just over 11 minutes per contest, was essentially a non-factor, but Bjelica could prove a real difference-maker. At the very least, Bjelica and his career 38.9 percent three-point percentage should open up the inside nicely for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Later, just under the wire, Miami made their biggest move, acquiring Victor Oladipo from the Houston Rockets for Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a pick swap. Oladipo has looked much more like his old self over his last eight games, averaging 25.6 points on 43.3/36.8/82.6 splits to go with five assists and 4.5 rebounds. He should provide a major boost for a HEAT offense that has struggled at times this season and is currently ranked just 25th in the NBA.
While the team certainly must like the players they acquired, they might like what they didn’t have to give up to get them just as much if not more. No young talent, no major rotations players, no assets Miami valued all too much were given up in any of these deals. Even if those additions don’t work out, they have to consider that a win.
It’s been almost ten years since Dwight Howard left Orlando — and it’s a loss the Magic still haven’t really recovered from. For a long time, the team has been on the fence, a pseudo-contender that could make the postseason, but couldn’t really do much once they got there.
But now, Orlando would appear to be committed to a full-on rebuild, having moved Gordon, Vucevic and Evan Fournier, their three longest-tenured players.
Their era of Magic basketball didn’t amount to much, which might make it stink all the more now that it’s over. But, on the plus side, Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz will be back, while the team added 21-year-old Wendell Carter Jr. from Chicago, who could do with a change of scenery and might still capitalize on the potential that made the Bulls select him seventh overall back in 2018. Better yet, they added some nice draft assets to build up a roster around those guys that, hopefully, can someday lead them to the promised land.
Most would say the Magic waited too long to blow it up. But, now that they have, they deserve props for dedicating themselves to a specific direction rather than continuing to ride the fence.