NBA Trade Deadline: The Most Desperate Deadline-Day Deals of the Last 5 Years

The lead-up to the NBA trade deadline is always fun and full of rumors. Speculation runs wild — will Team X make the blockbuster deal needed to vault them into championship contention? Will Team Y trade away its superstar and kick off a rebuild?

But deadline day itself is more often than not fast-paced, hectic, and pure chaos. That doesn’t always mean franchises are making the most intelligent deals. In fact, it can be the opposite in some cases.

In anticipation of this year’s deadline day on Feb. 10, here are the most desperate deadline-day deals of the last five seasons.

2021: Portland Trail Blazers acquire Norman Powell from the Toronto Raptors

Honorable mention here can go to the Denver Nuggets’ trade for Aaron Gordon or the Chicago Bulls‘ deal to bring in Nikola Vucevic. But those moves made more sense.

Gordon fills a role in Denver, and Vuc has paid off this season even if he didn’t last year.

But acquiring a third guard to pair with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum made next to no sense, even if Powell is a good two-way player.

Portland was trying to make another deep playoff run and sent away a promising prospect having a solid season in Gary Trent Jr. and an expiring contract in Rodney Hood.

The Blazers got the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs and lost to Gordon and the Nuggets in six games. An offseason of Damian Lillard trade rumors followed, and now Powell might be on his way out as part of a Portland rebuild.

Trent, meanwhile, is averaging 16.6 points and shooting 37.4% from three as a 23-year-old on a Raptors team in the thick of a playoff race.

2020: Minnesota Timberwolves trade Andrew Wiggins and more for D’Angelo Russell

Golden State general manager Bob Myers made the shrewd move to bring Russell in as the Brooklyn Nets were in the process of forming their Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving.

The Warriors were then able to flip Russell, Jacob Evans, and Omari Spellman to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins, a 2021 protected first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick.

Wiggins has started every game since arriving in California, and the first-round pick turned into Jonathan Kuminga, a 19-year-old rookie playing minutes on a championship contender.

Minnesota’s move for Russell was made, in part, to placate Karl-Anthony Towns. But the former Ohio State star is now the Wolves’ third wheel behind KAT and Anthony Edwards.

D-Lo isn’t the greatest fit as another ball-dominant guard alongside Ant-Man, and although the Timberwolves are in the running for a playoff spot this year, hasn’t been as crucial a player as Wiggins has and doesn’t possess the upside of Kuminga.

2019: Raptors pry Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for the stretch run

The desperation moves in 2020 and ’21 didn’t work out. The 2019 version, however, did.

Toronto had a right to be desperate in this situation. The team had made a shocking trade for Kawhi Leonard and needed to go all-in during a championship-or-bust season.

They grabbed Gasol from the Grizzlies in return for CJ Miles, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, and a 2024 second-round pick. Memphis didn’t have much use for an aging center at that point (they landed the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, some kid named Ja Morant).

Gasol started all 24 playoff games and averaged more than 30 minutes a night for the eventual-champion Raptors.

2018: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers trade six players in one day

What are the most desperate NBA trade deadline deals of the last 5 seasons?
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the Cleveland Cavaliers look on during a game against the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 30, 2017. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

LeBron James was looking to bring the Cavs to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, perhaps knowing he would bounce and head west the following year.

Things apparently weren’t going according to plan during the first half of that season because LBJ and Co. jettisoned more than a third of their team in a single day.

Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, and Isaiah Thomas were all sent packing. Cleveland got Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., George Hill, and some picks in return.

The Cavaliers did, in fact, make their fourth straight Finals appearance. However, they were swept by the Warriors, and James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.

No one can say they didn’t go for it, though. Like, really go for it.

2017: It’s Toronto’s turn to grab PJ Tucker

Deadline-day speaking, Feb. 23, 2017, was pretty boring. In this scenario, the honorable mention trade is Lou Williams moving from the Lakers to the Rockets, who were still leaning on James Harden to carry them to the promised land at this point.

In terms of desperation, though, the most significant move was the Raps dealing Jared Sullinger and two second-round picks to the tanking Phoenix Suns in return for journeyman defensive stopper.

It wasn’t Kawhi Time yet, but Toronto was still competing for a championship with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

PJ played in all 10 of the team’s playoff games that season and averaged the fifth-most minutes before the Raps eventually lost to LeBron’s Cavs, who lost to — you guessed it — the Warriors.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and trade information courtesy of NBA.com.

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