The Whiteboard: 3 teams that missed their chance to improve at NBA Trade Deadline

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The 2021 NBA trade deadline is officially in the rearview mirror, and it’s evident which teams got better — really, it was most of the playoff or playoff-adjacent teams that made deals.

The Denver Nuggets certified themselves as a Western contender by adding Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee. The Miami Heat snagged Victor Oladipo, Nemanja Bjelica and soon enough, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Philadelphia 76ers got George Hill, the Dallas Mavericks added two shooters in J.J. Redick and Nicolo Melli, the Portland Trail Blazers upgraded from Gary Trent Jr. to Norman Powell, and the LA Clippers put a LOT of stock in the legacy of Playoff Rondo (although you could make the case that was a downgrade).

Hell, even the Boston Celtics did something, using their massive trade exception on Evan Fournier.

However, for a couple of teams that didn’t make deals at the deadline, several adversaries around them got better while they stayed the same. For a select few, that’s not a big deal. The Brooklyn Nets, for example, simply need to get Kevin Durant healthy and scour the buyout market after all the deals they’ve made this season. The Milwaukee Bucks added Jrue Holiday before the season and just landed P.J. Tucker. And the Utah Jazz, despite coming back down to earth in recent weeks, didn’t really have many avenues to realistically improve a core that’s built its success on chemistry.

So which teams had the means to make a move and didn’t? Here are three that may have missed their chance to improve at the NBA trade deadline.

Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns didn’t need to make a move, and it’s hard to fault James Jones and Monty Williams for liking their team. The Suns are a top-5 team by almost any measure, and they have the best bench in the league. In fact, the total plus/minus of their second unit (plus-107) dwarfs that of the next-closest team (plus-79). They’re legitimately three-players-deep at every position, and they could be a threat to win a title if certain things break their way.

However, it will take a lot of things breaking their way for that to happen, and the Suns’ bench advantage will matter less come playoff time, when rotations shorten to 8-9 guys — especially for a team with such limited postseason experience. Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton and Cameron Johnson — four of their top seven players — will be appearing in their very first playoff game, which matters regardless of how much experience Chris Paul and Jae Crowder bring to the table.

Even though Torrey Craig was a terrific (and nearly free) pickup, the Suns could’ve sacrificed some of that depth to batten down the hatches for the playoffs, when that deep bench will get chopped down. P.J. Tucker wound up being out of Phoenix’s price range, but after seeing what George Hill went for, or pondering what it might have taken to pry Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic, it will be hard NOT to think of this moment in time if the Suns’ first playoff run in 11 years comes up short during a wide-open season.

Los Angeles Lakers

If the Los Angeles Lakers get LeBron James and Anthony Davis back healthy, with enough time to shake off the rust before the playoffs start, they’re still a potent threat to repeat as NBA champions. But their road to the Finals is about to be a lot tougher than the cake walk they strolled through during last year’s title run.

The Lakers have dropped to fourth in the West, only two games ahead of the Nuggets and Blazers and only four games ahead of the 7-seeded Mavs. It may seem like a stretch for them to fall that far, but AD still has no timetable to return from his calf injury, and James is out for the next 3-5 weeks with his right ankle sprain. This team could plummet down the standings pretty quickly, and the front office did nothing to brace for the ongoing fall.

Their means for improving were limited, and making a shortsighted move just to get through the next month or so would’ve been foolish. But the Lakers had better hope Talen Horton-Tucker turns into the player they think he’ll be (or that Kyle Lowry doesn’t age gracefully), because right now, Kyle Kuzma, Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell don’t look like enough to keep this group afloat in the rugged West.

Golden State Warriors

Everyone knows the Golden State Warriors‘ title chances went out the window when Klay Thompson tore his Achilles, but aside from dumping Brad Wanamaker and Marquese Chriss to free up roster spots for the buyout market, the Dubs were strangely quiet at the trade deadline.

Kelly Oubre Jr.’s market was apparently a lot softer than anticipated, because the Warriors made it brazenly obvious he was available for months. This sub-.500 team just isn’t very good, and it doesn’t provide Stephen Curry with much help on the offensive end.

Considering Curry is 33, Draymond Green is 31 and Klay will be a 31-year-old coming off two significant injuries when he returns, the Warriors may quickly run out of time to compete for titles and prevent that window from closing. Their lack of activity at the deadline may prove to be prudent depending on what they have planned for the offseason, but for the time being, it’s curious they were unable to do anything to improve a disappointing situation.


The three teams above may not exactly be “losers,” but it’s worth taking a deeper look at the NBA trade deadline’s biggest winners and losers.

Our own Ben Ladner broke down what the Denver Nuggets’ big swing on Aaron Gordon means for their playoff prospects.

As The Ringer’s Rob Mahoney points out, this year’s trade deadline just made a wide-open title race even more wide open.