We’re still a ways off from the 2016-2017 NBA Season, but that hasn’t stopped NBA front offices from scrambling to make signings and trades to make sure they are well-equipped for a chance to take home the O’Brien trophy in June next year. NBA teams usually look towards the offseason to retool their lineup and see who would make the best fit going into the upcoming season.
While some front offices focus on the offseason to try to make blockbuster moves to shake things up for their team, there have been some times, albeit rare, when NBA teams have swapped a player in the middle of the season and had it pay enormous dividends.
When a player switches teams mid-season, whether they’re a superstar or a roleplayer, it usually doesn’t make for a smooth transition. You have new teammates that you need to build chemistry with, a new coach who you have to gel with and learn the system and playbook from, a new location to adjust to and other factors that make for a quite difficult change. However, some players have made jumps to new teams where everything goes seamlessly and they just…click. And often it shows big time in terms of wins and accolades.
The following list takes a look back at those mid-season moves that ended up being genius decisions that brought tremendous success to the players and teams involved.
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15 Baron Davis Cavs Trade Brings Lebron and Kyrie Together (2011)
While this move didn’t bring instant success to the Cavaliers in the short-term, it certainly paid off indirectly in the long-term, giving the Cavs the resources necessary to assemble a championship team.
In 2011, the Los Angeles Clippers deal with Baron Davis was an expensive experiment that the team wanted to put the kibosh on. They were looking to unload B-Diddy’s heavy contract onto any willing taker. They would find an eager customer in the Cleveland Cavaliers who traded Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. Not exactly earth-shattering but there was one caveat: the Cavs wanted the Clippers to also throw in a first round pick before they would take on Davis’ $13 million dollar salary. That pick would wind up being the No.1 pick in the draft lottery and with that the Cavs would select Kyrie Irving.
Irving would go on to be rookie of the year and become a 3 time all-star and a big enough cookie to lure LeBron James back to Cleveland.
14 Ray Allen Shipped to Seattle For Gary Payton (2003)
This blockbuster move was a big deal in 2003 and benefitted the Seattle Supersonics greatly as they were able to ship out their aging franchise player Gary Payton for sharpshooter Ray Allen in his prime. Gary Payton was in the twilight of his career and in the last year of his contract when the move was made. Payton was not happy with the move and would play for half a season before signing with the Lakers in the offseason as a free agent.
This move was significant in that Milwaukee essentially gave away their franchise player and got nothing in return. Allen would thrive on the Supersonics and form a high scoring duo with Rashard Lewis where they would so as far as the Conference semifinals in the 2005 Playoffs.
13 Tim Hardaway Joins the Miami Heat (1996)
Before Steph Curry was the golden child point guard of the Golden State Warriors, they had Tim Hardaway. Hardaway was the master of the crossover and could score in bunches but in 1996 Hardaway would be traded mid-season to the Miami Heat. The move would prove to be a jackpot for the Heat.
Hardaway would start for the Heat and get the team to the playoffs which they had missed the season prior. While they were swept in the first round that season by the 72 win Chicago Bulls, the Hardaway trade would payoff the next season as Hardaway would finish 4th in voting for the MVP award and be selected to the All-NBA first team after posting a franchise record 61 wins. The Heat would make it all the way to the Conference Finals in 1997, once again being eliminated by the Bulls.
12 Mark Jackson Returns to the Pacers (1997)
After being bounced from one coast—on the New York Knicks—to the other—on the Los Angeles Clippers, Mark Jackson looked to have found a home in Indiana as part of a successful group of players with Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Antonio Davis and Dale Davis. With Mark Jackson at the point, the Pacers were title contenders. However in 1996 Jackson was traded to the Denver Nuggets to acquire Jalen Rose.
Trading away Jackson proved to be a disaster for the Pacers and feeling remorseful for ridding Jackson, GM Donnie Walsh re-traded for Jackson at the trade deadline. Jackson’s return would spark the Pacers and Jackson would eventually help to get the Pacers all the way to the NBA Finals in 2000 where they would lose to the LA Lakers in six games.
11 Carmelo Anthony Traded to the Knicks (2011)
The New York Knicks had been a disaster in the new millennium. After missing 8 out of 10 straight playoffs since the year 2000 it was clear that the Knicks were a long ways from being the championship contenders they were in the 90’s. That looked to change however when the Knicks made this blockbuster mid-season move in February of 2011, acquiring superstar Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets in three-team trade.
The Knicks were desperate and swapped practically their entire roster and draft picks for Anthony and it was enough to snag Melo. The move was a big deal and hoped to be the reboot of the Knicks by having Anthony paired up with Amare Stoudamire. The deal didn’t create instant success as the Knicks were pretty much still a mess in the front office but acquiring the New York native was one of the biggest moves they could make to try to get themselves out of mediocrity.
10 Andrew Bogut Traded to the Warriors (2012)
This move made two days before the trade deadline of the NBA 2011-2012 lockout season went under-the-radar at the time, but this was one that paid off in the seasons that followed and eventually brought the Warriors a championship. Andrew Bogut was the No. 1 draft pick in the 2005 draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and was a mainstay for 7 seasons with the team. An excellent passer in the post and a great defender, Bogut’s stock dropped with the team after numerous injuries.
Bogut would be traded to the Warriors along with Stephen Jackson for Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown. The move was a big get for the Warriors who now had a solid center in their lineup and were able to ship out Monta Ellis, which allowed Stephen Curry to really blossom into an MVP player. This low-risk move would be instrumental in the Warriors becoming NBA record-breakers and snagging a trophy in 2015.
9 Jeff Hornacek Traded From the 76ers to the Utah Jazz (1994)
Jeff Hornacek was a staple of the title contender Utah Jazz of the 90’s but he didn’t start out that way. Known as a shooting guard most of his career on the Phoenix Suns, he was traded to the 76ers in 1992 and was assigned point guard duties on the team. Playing out of position was difficult for Hornacek and soon enough the Sixers would give up on their experiment and ship the SG to Utah.
This proved to be a great trade for Utah and a rejuvenation for Hornacek as he would become a prime roleplayer playing alongside the dynamic duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton and would make the NBA playoffs all the seasons he was there and even reached the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, nearly winning a championship but falling to the Bulls on both occasions.
8 Kevin Johnson Traded To The Phoenix Suns (1988)
Phoenix Suns great Kevin Johnson actually started his illustrious career with the Cleveland Cavaliers as the 7th pick in the 1987 NBA draft. The pick was a bit odd by the Cavs who already had a star point guard in Mark Price. The Cavs thought process was that perhaps Johnson could challenge for the starting Point Guard job and overtake Mark Price to start on the team. However, it didn’t work out that way as Johnson saw limited minutes and was shipped midseason to the Phoenix Suns along with two draft picks for veteran forward Larry Nance.
The move proved to be a great catch for the Suns as Johnson would become a three-time All-Star. One of those draft picks that came with him would became Dan Majerle and the pair eventually teamed up with Charles Barkley to make a fiercesome trio who would get the Suns to the NBA Finals in 1993. For all of his contributions, Johnson is now a finalist to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
7 Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington Shipped to the Golden State Warriors (2007)
In 2007 the Pacers were still reeling from the stench that was left on their franchise from the 2004 Brawl in the Palace with the Detroit Pistons fans. The Pacers were looking for a fresh start and decided to trade away some of their notable players from that era and got rid of Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, sending them to the Golden State Warriors midseason for Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Troy Murphy.
The trade would be a gem for Golden State as Jackson and Harrington thrived in the Warriors offensive scheme and meshed well with star Baron Davis. The Golden State Warriors would just barely make the playoffs as the eighth seed and would go against the league leading Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. It is then that the Warriors would pull off a stunning upset over the 1st seeded Mavericks, eliminating the favorites in the first round.
The Warriors would be eliminated in the semifinals but thanks to their midseason acquisitions, Golden State shocked the world.
6 Josh Smith Traded from the Detroit Pistons to the Houston Rockets (2015)
Josh Smith had long been a franchise player for the Atlanta Hawks. However in 2013, Smith was a free agent and decided to explore the market and would sign with the Detroit Pistons. Smith ended up not being a good fit for the team so it was decided that Smith’s contract would be bought out.
Smith would then be picked up in late December by the Houston Rockets and would make an immediate impact off the bench. Smith and his new team would get the #2 seed in the Western Conference.
Smith’s biggest contribution would come in the conference semifinals when he led the charge in fending off elimination from the Los Angeles Clippers with a clutch comeback performance down by 19 points on the road. The Rockets would make history by coming back from a 3-1 deficit and would go to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 20 years. The Rockets would fall to the Warriors but the midseason signing of Smith was a big part in getting them that far.
5 Dikembe Mutombo Traded to the 76ers, Reaches Finals (2001)
Hall of Fame Dikembe Mutombo made a name for himself with his defense and shot-blocking prowess but had never made it to the NBA Finals. After having various successful seasons with the Denver Nuggets and the Atlanta Hawks, Mutombo was moved again to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he would have the most successful season of his career.
At the February 2001 trade deadline, the Allen Iverson led 76ers were leading the Eastern Conference but had just lost their starting center Theo Ratliff to injury. The Sixers acted fast, sending various players including Ratliff to Atlanta for Dikembe Mutombo. Mutombo would earn Defensive Player of The Year honors with the 76ers and would help the Sixers reach the NBA Finals for the first time in 18 years. They would fall to the Lakers in 5 games but thanks to Big Deke, the 76ers would have a memorable season.
4 Wilt Chamberlain Traded from Warriors to 76ers (1965)
In 1965 there were no official trade deadlines but this was the first major blockbuster mid-season trade in NBA history. The San Francisco Warriors at the time were having financial problems and their biggest asset to help relieve their woes was to trade away their star center back to his hometown of Philadelphia in exchange for Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer and cash. After a bit of adjusting to his new surroundings, Wilt “the Stilt” would take his new team to the Conference Finals but would fall to the Celtics.
During the 1966-67 season however, Chamberlain and the 76ers would post a 68-13 record which was the most regular season wins in history at the time and make it all the way to the NBA Finals. It in their that in six games Chamberlain would win his first NBA Title, ironically against his old team who wanted him gone, the Warriors.
3 Rasheed Wallace Traded to the Pistons and Wins a Championship (2004)
In the 2003-2004 season, the Portland Trailblazers had grown tired of the “Jailblazers” reputation they had earned with their controversial bad boy players like Rasheed Wallace and decided to do away with him. Wallace would be traded to the Atlanta Hawks for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. However, Wallace would only play one game for the Hawks before being traded again, this time to the Detroit Pistons as part of a three-team trade. All this moving around proved to work out for Rasheed and especially for the Pistons as it resulted in an NBA Championship.
Wallace’s style of play and attitude was just what the Pistons needed as he would stretch the floor at the PF position with his shooting range and his defensive toughness meshed well with the defensive minded Pistons. The Pistons would make it all the way to the NBA Finals where they would upset the heavily favored LA Lakers super team, putting an end to the Shaq and Kobe era.
2 Pau Gasol Traded to the Lakers (2008)
A season before this big move, the Lakers were abysmal and a far cry from their Championship years. The disappointment had built up so much that Kobe Bryant was demanding a trade away from the organization he had long been a part of if they didn’t make moves to become a championship contender in the finals years of his prime.
The Lakers would listen to their franchise star's demands and managed to send Kwame Brown, rookie Marc Gasol, Javaris Crittenton and two draft picks to Memphis for the older Gasol brother and shifted the Lakers back to their Championship ways. Gasol complemented Kobe well as the 2nd go-to player L.A. needed and the Lakers would lead the western conference in wins and went to The Finals that same year, losing to Boston in six games. Gasol and Kobe would return to the Finals the following two seasons and win the gold back-to-back. Without Pau, Kobe's five-championship legacy would look much different. Aside from the Lakers benefiting, Memphis also benefited in having the younger Gasol brother Marc blossom into their franchise All-star center.
1 Clyde Drexler Traded to Houston Rockets to help Houston Repeat (1994)
The Houston Rockets shocked the world in 1994 by becoming NBA Champions. With many fans and analysts labeling it a fluke, the Rockets aimed to prove the naysayers wrong. However, in 1995 Houston was having trouble defending their crown and their first half of the season was very disappointing.
Desperate for something to reignite the Championship team for another run, the Rockets would trade for NBA Hall of Fame Player Clyde Drexler, who was the long-time franchise player for the Portland Trailblazers but who had been long alluded from winning a championship ring.
The move didn’t turn things around immediately as the Rockets continued to struggle, going 17-18 to end the season as Drexler worked to adjust to his new surroundings. The Rockets went into the playoffs as the 6th seed but due to the tandem of Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston would overcome superpowers the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs before sweeping the Orlando Magic in the Finals to win their second straight Championship.
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