Every single decision you make puts your future at stake. Everything you do now will have a strong influence on what you do or what becomes of you later on. This fact of life can be applied to several aspects of our society, namely sports. For this case we are focusing on the NBA.
For all 30 NBA franchises, the main goal is construct a championship level team in hopes of capturing a world championship, and generating an abundance of success that serves to the benefit of the team, team owners, fans and host cities of the league. When it comes to building that championship level team, things tend to become very difficult as the chances for any team in that regard is most reliant on the players on a given team.
At times there are players who come in looking like great players in the making and do work out and others that don’t. There are those who don’t appear to have a high ceiling yet somehow turn into an all time great, there are even those who are guaranteed to be good but just aren’t a good fit for certain teams. All these things among many other aspects like coaching, egos, chemistry, etc. go to show just how difficult it is to put the right group of players in place to build a future contender.
Because of this, all teams are prone to making mistakes that have huge implications on the potential they may have had, whether it’s passing on a player on draft night, trading away a future superstar, drafting a bust, letting a player walk in free agency, not properly building around a superstar talent, and so on. What this list will focus on is 15 teams that made some decisions in past years that basically jeopardized any chances of later success. Here are 15 Times An NBA team messed up their future for one reason or another.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves: Not Drafting Stephen Curry
Steph Curry is one of the best basketball players in the world; one of the ultimate underdog stories. One thing that contributed to this great story was the fact that he was drafted by the perfect team: the Golden State Warriors. It’s truly a wonderful, feel-good story… that should have never happened. If you thought passing on a superstar on draft night was bad, try doing it twice in a row. The Minnesota Timberwolves took Jonny Flynn with the 5th overall pick in 2009 and Ricky Rubio with the 6th. Had they taken Curry it would have potentially set up a future involving him, Kevin Love and possibly a contender for years to come. Thankfully, Minnesota currently fields one of the top teams in the Western Conference and has a bright future, but they stand little chance to defeat the best team in the league, the Golden State Warriors, who currently have – you guessed it – Stephen Curry. Moreover, the Timberwolves look good now, but that doesn’t change the fact that they passed on a two-time MVP… twice.
14. Indiana Pacers: Trading Kawhi Leonard
To be fair, at the time of this trade the Pacers were in need of a point guard and while it had been well established what kind of player George Hill was, the contrary was true about Kawhi Leonard. However, over time, we have been shown just how lopsided this trade turned out to be. Leonard ended up becoming one of the 10 best players in the game, and Hill… well, he plays in Sacramento now so that should give you an idea on how he’s doing. For Indiana especially, this has to hurt. Not too long ago in both 2013 and ’14, Paul George led this team to consecutive eastern conference finals appearances where on both occasions they were in position to upset the Miami Heat. Add Leonard to that, and you not only might have a championship already but also what would have been the most devastating wing duo since Jordan and Pippen.
13. Sacramento Kings: Not Drafting Damian Lillard
The 2012 NBA draft did not reflect kindly on Sacramento. With the 5th overall pick in that year’s draft the Kings drafted forward, Thomas Robinson, a player who wouldn’t even finish his rookie season with the team. Robinson would spend the majority of the following years with the Portland Trail Blazers, who ironically enough picked at No.6 overall in the 2012 draft, right after the Kings. With said pick, the Blazers selected point guard, Damian Lillard, who would be the Rookie of the Year in 2013 and is currently on his way to a 4th All-Star appearance in just six seasons. Judging by how successful Lillard has been his career thus far, Sacramento would have definitely been better off taking Dame at No.5. It would have paired him with DeMarcus Cousins, the best center in the league, and surely have made the Kings a credible contender by now.
12. Phoenix Suns: Letting Joe Johnson Walk
If you are a person who became a fan of the NBA around 2010 like myself, there are a lot of things you probably missed out on; things you thought to be true that weren’t. You know – things like Jason Terry having his best years with the Dallas Mavericks, Steve Nash was always a Phoenix Sun (until he signed with LA in 2013), and so on. Before doing my research I had always figured that Joe Johnson had spent the majority of his career with the Atlanta Hawks, but in reality it turns out that he started his career with the Suns and only left the team to go to Atlanta due largely to unsuccessful contract negotiations. If you were fortunate enough to see how good Joe was in his prime and how close the Suns had gotten to making an appearance in the NBA finals without him, you would have no trouble seeing why letting him go elsewhere was a colossal mistake that likely costed the team a chance at the Larry O’Brien trophy.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Trading Kobe Bryant
Do I really need to explain why this was such a bad move? I’m going to do it anyway. The person who made the call on this trade should not be allowed anywhere near an NBA franchise. YOU TRADED KOBE!!! While the Los Angeles Lakers were able to reap the benefits of trading for Bryant by capturing five championships to add to their collection, the Charlotte Hornets remain one of the most irrelevant franchises in the league. Had the Hornets been wiser and kept Bryant, it would have strongly elevated the franchise to levels it has yet to get to. To this day the Hornets are yet to live that move down as not a single player (all due respect to Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Gerald Wallace, etc.) of Bryant’s stature or potential has graced the teal and purple, which is why they remain at the cellar of the league today.
10. Cleveland Cavaliers: Carlos Boozer Leaving
Remember when I brought up those players who were on different teams early in their careers that recent NBA fans don’t know about (See no.13)? Consider this another one of those situations. One of the reasons why LeBron James left the Cavaliers after his first stint with the franchise was because he didn’t have much (if any) help to get him over the hump in the eastern conference. It turns out that he did, but that guy jumped ship sooner than him. Carlos Boozer was a borderline superstar as a member of the Utah Jazz and led them to numerous playoff berths along with giving every team they faced a run for their money. Boozer was a Cavalier first. Had the team retained him and not allow him to even entertain free agency, then not only would it have possibly kept LeBron in Cleveland, but the Cavs could have won their first championship sooner than they did.
9. Memphis Grizzlies: Trading Kevin Love
The story of Kevin Love in the NBA is definitely an interesting one. A guy who started his career with an underachieving franchise and through coming up just short of a postseason berth year after year, he found his way onto the Cleveland Cavaliers where he would breakthrough and win a championship. Because of the reduced role he’s had with the Cavs, people don’t seem to really understand how good Love is and how much he could have added to the Memphis Grizzlies. Love was originally drafted by the Grizz but was later traded to Minnesota where he spent the first six years of his career. Had he stuck with Memphis he would have been added to a core that included Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Rudy Gay. You can’t tell me that doesn’t look like a contender on paper.
8. Orlando Magic: Not Signing Tim Duncan
I would imagine that for a majority of us it is literally impossible to see Tim Duncan in a jersey for any team other than the San Antonio Spurs, but it almost happened. The Orlando Magic had the opportunity to bring in the Big Fundamental to play alongside Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in the early 2000s. At the time, all three of these gentlemen were considered to be all-world performers who all had arguments to be at the top of the list of players in the game. Surely, a team comprising of those three players would created not only a perennial championship contender, but a potential dynasty in the making as well. Apparently a deal was done, but for some reason it all fell through. What I know is that Orlando’s side caused the fallout and because of this they are to blame for this. He’s the greatest power forward of all time and you would have most definitely won a title. That’s where you reach a point where you just do what you have to do.
7. Detroit Pistons: Drafting Darko Milicic
The 2003 NBA draft will forever be remembered as the day the power balance in the NBA would change from one generation to the next. This was the draft that was headlined by LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. For the Detroit Pistons they had the opportunity to draft one of these stars with the 2nd overall pick and be one of the more revered franchises in the league even now. LeBron ended up in Cleveland, Anthony in Denver, Bosh in Toronto, and Wade in Miami. Who did Detroit take? Darko Milicic. While Detroit did actually win the NBA championship in the following season and appear in several conference final series thereafter, it only adds on to the bittersweet feeling Detroit basketball fans must get when they think of the extended stretch of success the Pistons could have had if they had drafted any of the 4 hall of famers that were available in the ‘03 draft.
6. New York Knicks: Trading For Carmelo Anthony
I want to say this first, acquiring Carmelo Anthony was not the mistake here. Anthony will go down as one of the all-time great scorers in league history, and in 2010 was a top 5 player in the league who made known his desire to play for the New York Knicks. The reason why trading for him was a bad move was because they could have waited for free agency that Summer to pick him up and would then not have to have given up basically all of their depth players in the trade to get him. Guys like Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and others went on to help the Nuggets to continue to compete in the playoffs while the New York Knicks had opened up a championship window that would only be open for a short amount of time thanks in large part to a lack of depth on the roster.
5. Dallas Mavericks: Letting Steve Nash Go
Believe it or not, Steve Nash was once teammates with Dirk Nowitzki. How one of the all-time great point guards and power forwards played together for only a small amount of time is truly unfortunate. Entering free agency, Steve Nash was not valued very high as a player while in Dallas, which is probably why he was allowed to walk in free agency to return to the place where he was drafted, the Phoenix Suns. It was in his second stint with the Suns where he would win consecutive league MVP awards in 2005-06. It was in the second year of his MVP reign where the Mavs would fall just short of capturing a championship. They would remain in contention until 2011, where they would win the title. With all that being the case it, begs the question: Would they have won more with Steve Nash on board? If so, how much more?
4. Atlanta Hawks: Drafting Marvin Williams
With the 2nd overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft, the Atlanta Hawks, who never seem to be able to acquire or retain enough star talent, selected Marvin Williams. Now with all due respect to Mr. Williams, he was a solid rotation player while at the top of his game, but that isn’t what you hope to get from the 2nd overall pick. What made this selection place such a negative effect on Hawks in the years moving forward was that the next two picks in that draft were Deron Williams, who led the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets to several playoff appearances respectively, and was arguably the best point guard in the game for the better part of the late 2000s along with the guy selected after him: Chris Paul, who some would argue is still the best pure point guard in the game even now. Considering just how good those players had been, they more than likely would have elevated the Hawks in past years and make us look at them in a different light today.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Trading James Harden
Be honest, you knew this was going to be here. Now to be fair, we still don’t know if the Thunder are guaranteed to fail to win a championship in the coming years. However, the trio they had with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden barring injury would have definitely delivered a championship to OKC. It’ll be fine, they said. He’s just the sixth man, they said. Well, that same guy is now revered as one of the five best players in the game today and will win the league MVP award in June. On top of that, he is leading the Rockets atop the league standings and has Houston in good position to win a championship. So pertaining to the question about the Harden, Russ, and KD core, it wasn’t about if they would win a championship, but when.
2. Portland Trail Blazers: Not Drafting Kevin Durant
The Blazers as it stands today are a pretty good team but don’t look to be anywhere close to competing for a championship. It is for this reason more so than anything else that the decision they made in the 2007 NBA draft was one that’ll haunt them for years to come. Kevin Durant is arguably the most talented scorer in NBA history. He’s a player that could average 40 points a game if he really wanted to. To this day, he is considered by many to now be the best player in the world, and while I disagree with this claim wholeheartedly, I get why people say it. That said, the Blazers will probably continue to kick themselves for not taking him with the first overall pick until they win a championship. Judging by how the team looks right now, it might be a while before we get there.
1. Brooklyn Nets: Trading Away The Future
This is the inspiration for this entire article so it’s fitting for it to be the top entry. There’s no question that the Brooklyn Nets were aggressively trying to construct a championship contender when they made all those trades in the early portion of the decade. At first, things were looking up for the Nets, but time would later show that all those deals to bring in stars like Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Gerald Wallace, and others would reflect poorly on the team in the years that followed. There was the Deron Williams trade that involved giving away Derrick Favors and the pick that ended up being Enes Kanter, the Gerald Wallace trade that involved giving away the pick that turned into Damian Lillard, and then there’s the Celtics trade. Oh good Lord, the Celtics trade. This trade sent a significant portion of Brooklyn’s depth to Boston along with first round drafts picks in 2014, 2016, 2017 (swap option), and 2018, which the Celtics used to draft James Young, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown, as well as trade for Kyrie Irving, a majority of whom are currently helping the Celtics stay atop the east standings while the Nets remain near the cellar. So Brooklyn, what were you thinking?
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