The goal with any trade in the NBA is for both teams to get better. Sometimes, one team wants to win now, while the other wants to shed salary and collect future picks. Other times, two teams have players that fit each other’s needs better than their own. The 2011 George Hill-Kawhi Leonard trade worked out well for both the Pacers and Spurs, for example.
But most times, one team gets the better end of a deal, to varying degrees. Some are a complete disaster for one team and alter the balance of power around the league.
The Thunder’s much-maligned 2012 trade of James Harden to the Rockets wasn’t a total loss for Oklahoma City, as they ultimately netted starting center Steven Adams. It’s also questionable whether Harden would have remained willing to come off the bench for the Thunder, and whether that would have caused drama. The Thunder continued to contend after trading him.
That’s more than can be said for any of these trades over the past decade…
8. Feb. 23, 2017 — Chicago trades Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick to Oklahoma City for Anthony Morrow, Joffery Lauvergne and Cameron Payne
With their long-term future in flux, the Bulls made the perfectly sensible decision to move on from Gibson, who was a free agent at the end of the season, and McDermott, who wasn’t a part of their long-term plans. That part makes sense.
The part that doesn’t is giving up the two best players in the trade and a second-round pick for two inconsequential rentals (Morrow and Lauvergne) and Payne, a former lottery pick who hasn’t shown much in his career. It wasn’t the first or last time the Bulls needlessly threw away a second-round pick. The Thunder used McDermott and that second-round pick to trade for Carmelo Anthony.
7. June 26, 2014 — Orlando trades the rights to Dario Saric (No. 12 overall), a 2015 second-round pick and a 2017 first-round pick to Philadelphia for the rights Elfrid Payton (No. 10 overall)
The Magic gave up two future picks to move up two spots to draft Payton, who never developed into the elite starting point guard they envisioned. Meanwhile, Sam Hinkie ended up with two extra picks and Saric, the player he wanted all along and could have just taken at No. 10 overall if then-Magic general manager Rob Hennigan hadn’t been so easily swindled.
6. Nov. 3, 2008 — Detroit trades Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheikh Samb to Denver for Allen Iverson
Shortly after the start of the 2008-09 season, the Pistons sent Billups, a fan favorite and the 2004 Finals MVP, to Denver for Iverson — or, more accurately, Iverson’s nearly $21 million expiring contract. Iverson’s lone season in Detroit was a disaster — he bristled at a move to the bench and was ultimately shut down with a back injury.
Meanwhile, Billups played a key role on a very good Nuggets team that reached the Western Conference finals. After Iverson’s money came off the books in the summer of 2009, Pistons GM Joe Dumars used the cap space to pay Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva a combined $90 million over five years. Detroit has made the playoffs just once since, in 2016.
5. July 10, 2015 — Sacramento trades Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, first-round swap rights in 2016 and 2017 and a future first-round pick to Philadelphia for the rights to Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic
In some ways, the defining move of the Sam Hinkie era. The Kings were so desperate to unload the contracts of Thompson and Landry that they gave the Sixers swap rights on their first-round pick for two consecutive years, plus another first-round pick — all to open up cap space to throw at Wesley Matthews, who was coming off a torn Achilles.
When Matthews spurned them to sign with the Mavericks, they spent that money on Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos, and missed the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year.
4. Feb. 24, 2011 — LA Clippers trade Baron Davis and a 2011 first-round pick to Cleveland for Jamario Moon and Mo Williams
The Clippers wanted to get out of the final year and $13.9 million of Baron Davis’ contract, which was understandable. This deal could have avoided being on this list if they had simply put the lightest possible protections on the first-round pick they sent to Cleveland. The Clippers finished the season with the eighth-worst record in the league, but the pick wound up No. 1 in the lottery, and the Cavs took Kyrie Irving in the 2011 draft.
So much about the last seven years would be different if the Clippers had kept that pick. For starters, if they draft Irving, do they still make a play for Chris Paul after the Hornets’ deal with the Lakers falls through? If they do, is Irving included in the trade? If Irving ends up in New Orleans, how differently does Anthony Davis’ career go? And if the Cavs don’t have the opportunity to draft Irving, does LeBron James return there in 2014?
The Paul trade, and the Clippers’ subsequent success, overshadows the shortsightedness of this move, but the Clippers’ fortunes could have been different if they’d placed even a top-one protection on the pick.
3. March 15, 2012 — New Jersey trades Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and a 2012 first-round pick to Portland for Gerald Wallace
The night before the 2012 trade deadline, Dwight Howard unexpectedly signed his opt-in waiver with Orlando, effectively killing the Nets’ chances at trading for him. Instead, they went all-in on acquiring veterans in an attempt to convince Deron Williams to re-sign that summer.
The Trail Blazers, meanwhile, were coming apart at the seams and willing to sell every one of their veterans for parts. The first-round pick the Nets sent Portland in the trade for Wallace was only top-three protected, reportedly because there were only three players New Jersey valued at the top of the draft. The pick landed at No. 6 in 2012, and Portland drafted Damian Lillard, which completely turned around its fortunes as a franchise.
That summer, the Nets compounded their mistake by re-signing Wallace to a four-year, $40 million contract that almost immediately became one of the worst in the league as Wallace’s production fell off a cliff. They also re-signed Williams to a five-year, $100 million max deal as his play started to decline. But as bad as the repercussions were for the Nets’ trade with Portland, it was nothing compared to what they did a year later.
2. July 12, 2013 — Brooklyn trades Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace and 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 first-round picks to Boston for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, D.J. White and a 2017 second-round pick
For the first five years he owned the Nets, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov was more concerned with how “HELLO (INSERT STAR HERE)” would look on a billboard than he was with how much basketball sense a trade or signing made. Part of it was understandable — with a new arena in Brooklyn and a decades-old Knicks fan base in New York to compete with, the Nets had to make a splash.
But in an effort to generate short-term buzz, Prokhorov and then-GM Billy King made one of the most damaging trades in NBA history in the summer of 2013, acquiring 37-year-old Kevin Garnett and 36-year-old Paul Pierce from the Celtics for four unprotected first-round picks or pick swaps. This star-studded iteration of the Nets, billed as a superteam and LeBron challenger at the time of their construction, never made it past the second round of the playoffs and will be remembered as one of the most expensive disappointments of its era.
King’s successor, Sean Marks, has done a nice job turning the franchise around, and their long-term prospects look good. But after disintegration of the Garnett-Pierce team, the Nets spent several seasons among the worst teams in the league, without any high lottery picks to show for it, while Boston built what looks to be a contender for a long time. As a result, the Nets have been the most irrelevant franchise in the league for the past half-decade.
1. July 10, 2013 — New York trades Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, a 2016 first-round pick and 2014 and 2017 second-round picks to Toronto for Andrea Bargnani
As crippling as the Garnett-Pierce trade has been for the Nets, their motivations in trading for two veteran Hall of Famers in an effort to compete in the short term were at least understandable. The Knicks’ decision to give up multiple draft picks for Andrea Bargnani was indefensible and inexplicable the day it happened, and only looked worse as time went on.
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Bargnani had two years and $23 million left on his deal and was coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. It was the type of contract that, under normal circumstances, the Raptors would have had to attach a first-round pick to as a sweetener to get a team to take it. The Knicks gave up a first and two seconds for a player who was never worth it, for no reason.
To add insult to injury: the trade was so widely panned that during the 2013-14 season, Knicks owner James Dolan pulled out of trade discussions with Toronto for Kyle Lowry because he was worried about the perception that he would get fleeced again by Raptors GM Masai Ujiri. The Knicks have done a lot of questionable things in the Dolan era, and this deal is right near the top of the list.
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