Trades. Sometimes they cancel each other out. At other times, they tilt slightly on one side. But occasionally, the trades are blatantly lopsided. Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, and LeBron James are just some of the biggest names that were traded during the middle of their prodigious careers. Needless to say, these lopsided trades changed the course of a team’s history – one for the better and the other for the worse.
Mega-trades do not happen often, especially in today’s era where scouting has improved, sports metrics have developed, and statistical analytics have been the recent craze. Sports science has created an entirely new way of understanding the value of a player. Quite frankly, it is hard to make a lopsided trade today. Coupled with an eye for talent, advanced metrics makes it very difficult for scouts to swing and miss on the talent and potential of a rookie and what may be left in the tank of a veteran player. However, in the world of sports, there are always extra variables.
Sometimes disgruntled and primadonna players demand trades from their current team, so that they can compete for a championship contender or because they simply do not like their coach. At other times, a general manager, who may feel like his job is on the line, might trade a franchise player for a bunch of future assets to make it seem like the future is bright, as long as everyone remains patient for just a couple more years. But all too often, these assets end up being more dead weight than the cornerstone of a franchise. The “blockbuster” trade was not necessarily for the team’s future, so much as it was for the job security of the general manager. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if a shrewd general manager can sniff out the anxiety of another general manager, what ends up unfolding is a lopsided trade. It has happened before in the NBA and they will happen again.
Here are the top 10 best trades in NBA history.
10. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen for Role Players and Picks
The Boston Celtics had not won a championship since 1986 and GM Danny Ainge desperately wanted a culture change. So, in 2007 the Celtics exchanged Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, and Theo Ratliff’s expiring contract for the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves Kevin Garnett. That same year, the Celtics traded Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and the 5th pick (Jeff Green) to the Seattle SuperSonics for Ray Allen and Glen Davis. The two trades paid immediate dividends for the Boston Celtics who won a championship during Garnett and Allen’s first year in green.
9. Dennis Rodman for Will Purdue and Cash
Even the high character San Antonio Spurs could not handle the explosive, or insane, personality of Dennis Rodman. In 1995, the Spurs traded away the 34-year-old power forward to the Chicago Bulls for Will Purdue and some cash. For the next three years, the Chicago Bulls won championships in ’95-’97. Rodman also continued his rebounding title for seven consecutive years. From ’95-’97, Rodman averaged a whopping, 14.9, 16.1, and 15.0 rebounds per game for the Chicago Bulls.
8. Dirk Nowitzki for Robert “Tractor” Traylor
The Milwaukee Bucks drafted an unknown 7-foot German named Dirk Nowitzki with the 9th pick of the 1998 draft. The Bucks then packaged Dirk Nowitzki and Pat Garrity to the Dallas Mavericks for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. Little did the Bucks know that Nowitzki would go on to become the best shooting 7-footer in NBA history. He has also led the Mavs to the playoffs twelve years in a row and even won a NBA Championship in 2011. It has been nearly sixteen years since Dirk was drafted in 1998 and he is still with the same team that traded for him – the Dallas Mavericks.
7. LeBron James for Future Draft Picks
LeBron James signed a 6-year deal worth $110 million with the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010. What most people may not realize is that this was not a free agent signing, but a sign-and-trade with Cleveland Cavaliers. Rather than losing King James for nothing, the Cavs made a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat. Since “The Decision,” the Cavs have not been to the playoffs and continue to remain the most depressed city in all of America, while the Heat have gone on to appear in the Finals three consecutive years in a row and have won two of them in a row. LeBron James may not be on his own NBA Mt. Rushmore right now, but by the end of his career it’s possibly he will be.
6. Robert Parish and Kevin McHale for Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown
In 1980, the Golden State Warriors traded Robert Parish and the 3rd pick in the 1980 draft to the Boston Celtics for the 1st and 13th picks in the 1980 draft. The Warriors ended up taking Joe Barry Carroll with the 1st pick and Rickey Brown with the 13th pick, while the Boston Celtics took Kevin McHale with the 3rd pick. This gave Red Auerbach his power forward and center combo for the next decade. Coupled with Larry Bird, the Boston Celtics had one of the best front courts in NBA history, which is why they went on to win three NBA championships together in ’81, ’84, and ’86.
5. Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice
Big time NBA players do not come out of the University of Central Arkansas, so when the Seattle Supersonics had the opportunity to trade Scottie Pippen for a known commodity – Olden Polynice – they did not hesitate to pull the trigger on a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Polynice went on to average 7.8 ppg and 6.7 rpg, while Pippen was nominated as one of the top 50 players of all time, went on to win six NBA titles, and may be the best defending small forward of all-time. Olden Polynice was a solid big man in his own right, but when you juxtapose him next to Scottie Pippen, the Chicago Bulls were the clear cut winner in this trade.
4. Wilt Chamberlain for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark, and Darrall Imhoff
In 1968, the Philadelphia 76ers sent their 3-time MVP to the Los Angeles Lakers, despite helping them winning a title the previous year. In ’67, Chamberlain averaged 24.3 points per game, 23.8 rebounds per game, and 8.6 assists per game, yet the 76ers chose to trade the most dominant big man of his era to the West. In 1968, Chamberlain won his 4th MVP and in 1972, he helped the Lakers win a championship over the New York Knicks. Players that score 100 points in a single game should never be traded and it is for that reason this remains one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.
3. Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac
Vlade Divac quickly became a fan favorite during the Magic Johnson era. When Divac first entered the league, he could barely speak English, but Divac quickly paved the way for other international players to adjust to American culture and the American game. However, the Los Angeles Lakers were in the midst of a transition era with the Showtime Lakers dynasty coming to an end. Therefore, GM Jerry West traded their finesse big man to the Charlotte Hornets for a high school kid out of Philadelphia who grew up in another country himself. Kobe Bryant may not be on everyone’s NBA Mt. Rushmore, but he still stands as the closest comparison to Michael Jordan. Bryant has won five rings and is still on the same team that traded for him in 1996.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for Brian Winters, Elmore Smith, Junior Bridgeman, and Dave Meyers
The Milwaukee Bucks traded away a player that still holds the record for the most points in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was traded by the Milwuakee Bucks to the Los Angeles Lakers for Brian Winters, Elmore Smith, Junior Bridgeman, and Dave Meyers in 1975 after six years with the Bucks. Kareem went on to play another fifteen years with the Lakers where he helped lead the Showtime Lakers to five more NBA Championships and became the MVP with the Lakers three different times (’76, ’77, and ’80). Kareem’s scoring record still stands at 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.
1. Bill Russell for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley
The Boston Celtics traded Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley to the St. Louis Hawks for the 2nd pick (Bill Russell) in the 1956 draft because the Hawks did not have enough money to sign him. Russell went on to win the MVP award five times with the Boston Celtics and a remarkable eleven NBA Championships during his illustrious 13-year career (’57, ’59-66, ’68-69). The stats speak for themselves. Today, there is no NBA team in St. Louis and the Boston Celtics remain one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports.