Every year during this time of the season there is hype around the next big thing to hit the NBA or maybe even the NFL. This is partly due to our desire to find the newest, as well as our inability to appreciate the things we do have. Hype sells and the NBA hype train rolls full speed ahead every June into the NBA draft. As we all well know, players don't always live up to the hype and it takes a while to judge how a draft went. When the picture becomes clear, you can really find some questionable moves from teams all throughout the NBA.
Some teams have lived through many draft nightmares while others don't usually find themselves in the lottery much. Even the championship contenders made mistakes along the way where they were once in position questioning if they get over the top.
Finding the player you are looking for and then letting that player slip through your hands has to be even more frustrating. Every team has at least one player that really has to make them think of where their franchise could have been, had they possessed the foresight to hang on to that player, or find a way to acquire them.
This is going to be a long ride and eventually this train will stop on your favorite team. Let's take a look at "the one that got away" for all 30 NBA teams throughout history.
30 Atlanta Hawks - Chris Paul
The 2005 NBA draft was led by the 7-foot Andrew Bogut out of Utah as the number one prospect. With the second pick in the draft, the Atlanta Hawks drafted Marvin Williams out of North Carolina. Williams was a highly ranked prospect and just like every class, someone is not going to live up to expectations and Williams is one of those players. Behind Williams, Utah and New Orleans drafted what looked early on like two generational point guards. Paul turned out to have by far the best career and Atlanta had not been able to find a star-level point guard until drafting Trae Young in June.
29 Boston Celtics - Joe Johnson
The Boston Celtics selected Joe Johnson with the 10th pick in the 2001 NBA draft. As a lottery pick, Johnson was a high-value asset for the Celtics. The Celtics traded away Johnson in just his second year in the league along with backup guards Randy Brown and Milt Palacio to the Phoenix Suns for Tony Delk and Rodney Rodgers. With Paul Pierce as a lone star in Boston for so many years, it would have paid major dividends to have what would become an elite scorer in Joe Johnson. The Celtics won one championship with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. If Johnson was still with the Celtics, they may have several more.
28 Brooklyn Nets - Jayson Tatum
The Brooklyn Nets moved from New Jersey during the 2010-11 NBA season. The Nets were under new ownership, the Miami Heat just formed their super team and the Nets wanted to make a splash. Brooklyn mortgaged the future and sent first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 to Boston for an older Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Boston also got swap rights with first-round picks in 2017.
Those swap rights in 2017 gave Boston the number one overall pick in the draft that they flipped into Jayson Tatum and a 2019 projected lottery pick. The Nets next year will finally have a draft pick, so maybe now they can continue their rebuild.
27 Charlotte Hornets - Kobe Bryant
On July 1, 1996, the Charlotte Hornets made the worst decision in the franchise's history. With the 13th pick in the first round, the Hornets selected Kobe Bryant out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. Kobe went on Twitter in 2014 and said the Hornets told him they had no use for him and were going to trade him after being drafted.
The Hornets shipped Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac, won five championships, and the rest is history. The Hornets have only made the playoffs three times since 2002 and the road this year still appears difficult, all these years later.
26 Chicago Bulls - LaMarcus Aldridge
The Chicago Bulls held the second overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft. The prized prospect that summer was Andrea Bargnani and the Toronto Raptors selected him first. After drafting LaMarcus Aldridge, the Bulls traded Aldridge to the Portland Trail Blazers for Tyrus Thomas and backup forward Viktor Khryapa. Aldridge had the best career of all the players in the top 5 and Chicago would have had a perfect piece to pair alongside Derrick Rose in 2008.
The San Antonio Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili and are still thriving in a tough Western Conference partially due to the play of LaMarcus Aldridge.
25 Cleveland Cavaliers - Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2013 NBA draft lottery and had the honor of selecting number one overall. That year there was no clear choice and after selecting Dion Waiters in 2012 at fourth overall, selecting Victor Oladipo did not make much sense. The Cavs reached on potential and selected Anthony Bennett out of UNLV. The problem is, Bennett's potential led him to be considered by some as the biggest bust in NBA history. Giannis Antetokounmpo today is one of the top 5-7 players in the entire NBA. When you consider the Cavs team after 2014, paired with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, maybe the Cavs would be what the Warriors are today.
24 Dallas Mavericks - Steve Nash
The Phoenix Suns traded Steve Nash in 1998 to the Dallas Mavericks for a package that included a first round pick that would become Shawn Marion. After six seasons in Dallas, the Mavs let Steve Nash walk in free agency, where his rejoined his former team in Phoenix. Head coach Mike D'Antoni needed a point guard with the skillset to run his uptempo offense and the match was one made in heaven.
Nash would go on to win back-to-back MVPs and the Suns were one of the league leaders in wins year after year. The Mavs did eventually win one but had they had Nash during his prime years, so maybe they could have won another had they kept him around.
23 Denver Nuggets - Amar'e Stoudemire
Many people remember the 2002 NBA draft as the Yao Ming draft. It was also the year the Chicago Bulls selected Jay Williams second overall out of Duke. High school prospects were still allowed to enter at 18-years-old and Amar'e Stoudemire was the first high schooler selected.
The Denver Nuggets absolutely bombed this draft by selecting Nikoloz Tskitishvili, who only averaged 2.9 points per game in four NBA seasons. The Suns got it right at No. 9 and selected Stoudemire to pair with Steve Nash. If the Nuggets drafted Stoudemire the year before they took Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets may have had the pieces to build a champion.
22 Detroit Pistons - Carmelo Anthony
The Nuggets dropped the ball in 2002 when they passed on Amar'e Stoudemire. They partially made up for the pick thanks to the Detroit Pistons botching the 2003 NBA draft. The Pistons whiffed with the second pick in the 2002 NBA draft by selecting Darko Milicic ahead of Carmelo Anthony. Yes, Darko won a championship before LeBron, D-Wade, Melo, and Bosh. The truth is, the Pistons were on track to win a championship regardless of whom they drafted. Had the Pistons made the smart decision and drafted Melo, the Pistons would have maybe won more titles and also had a bridge star after the Chauncey Billups era.
21 Golden State Warriors - Kevin Garnett
Before the Golden State Warriors are the team that you know them as today they were a team clawing to reach the top of the western conference. In 2007, the Boston Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves. As you may know, the Celtics created a superteam that rivaled Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers. The Warriors had a deal in place to send Jason Richardson to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett that was vetoed by then-owner Chris Cohan. True Warriors fans know that had they gotten Garnett, that fun-to-watch Baron Davis-led team could have gone on to have deep postseason runs.
20 Houston Rockets - Clyde Drexler
The 1983 NBA draft was headlined by Ralph Sampson that was head and shoulders the best player in college basketball at Virginia. The Houston Rockets were owners of the top pick and selected a future superstar in Sampson, as expected. Houston also had the third overall pick in that draft and had the hometown kid staring them dead in the face.
Instead of drafting Clyde Drexler, the Rockets selected Rodney McCray, who became a career 11.7 point-per-game scorer and quality defender, but never a superstar. The Rockets missed out on a potential superteam that could not have been more perfect with Sampson as the scorer on the inside and Clyde as the high-flying wingman who could also score from the perimeter.
19 Indiana Pacers - Larry Bird
The Portland Trail Blazers had the number one overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft and selected Mychal Thompson, the father of Klay Thompson, out of the University of Minnesota. Larry Bird was the heralded product out of the state of Indiana and put small Indiana State on the map.
With the third pick in the draft, the Pacers did not make the obvious choice of taking Larry Bird but selected Rick Robey out of Kentucky instead. The rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers of the 1980s saved the NBA and the Pacers could have been just as good a rival of the Showtime Lakers.
18 Los Angeles Clippers - Kyrie Irving
The Los Angeles Clippers desperately wanted to get the contract of Baron Davis off their salary cap in 2011. The deal sent Mo Williams to Los Angeles along with Jamario Moon and their 2012 first round draft pick. At the time, the Clippers did not know that their pick would turn into the number one pick in the draft. This is one of the reasons teams don't trade first-round picks without protections anymore.
The Clippers eventually added Chris Paul, but Kyrie Irving was on a rookie contract and the small forward spot that was vacant for years could have been filled in free agency.
17 Los Angeles Lakers- Bernard King
The Los Angeles Lakers had the sixth overall pick in the 1977 NBA draft. With their pick, the Lakers selected Kenny Carr out of North Carolina State. Carr spent two seasons in Los Angeles before being sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers five games into his third season. The New Jersey Nets had the seventh pick and drafted Bernard King. While Carr had a decent NBA career as a hardworking power forward, King was a legendary New York athlete and finished his career as a four-time All-Star, four-time all-NBA, and a Hall of Fame inductee. The Lakers have a lot of situations that ended with a storybook ending but passing on Bernard King was an epic miss.
16 Memphis Grizzlies - James Harden
The 2009 draft was one of those draft classes that you remember specifically because of the busts at the top of the draft. The Los Angeles Clippers drafted Blake Griffin first overall and the Memphis Grizzlies had the second pick. At the time, UConn was led by a 7'2" center prospect that scouts projected would develop into an elite level shot blocker. Memphis selected Hasheem Thabeet with the second pick in the draft right ahead of James Harden, who landed in Oklahoma City. As painful as it is to be one pick ahead of James Harden is, also passing on Steph Curry in the same draft has to feel awful.
15 Miami Heat - Kevin Love
The 2007 draft class is not talked about often due to the career trajectory of number one overall pick Derrick Rose. The Chicago Bulls got their hometown hero and the Miami Heat had the second pick with a variety of prospects to choose from. The Miami Heat selected Michael Beasley, who at the time, was one of the highest ranked players in the nation. Beasley never reached his potential in the NBA and is now a reserve on the Los Angeles Lakers. The Heat should have selected Kevin Love, whose early years in Minnesota were filled with many stat-stuffing nights.
14 Milwaukee Bucks - Dirk Nowitzki
A couple of decades ago, players would routinely stay with an organization for their entire career. Today, it is almost expected that if a player doesn't find much success with a team in his first seven seasons, then that player normally looks for a new home. Rewind back to 1998, the Dallas Mavericks had the sixth pick in the draft and selected Robert "Tractor" Traylor. The Bucks held the ninth pick and drafted Dirk but coveted Traylor so much they traded Dirk and the 19th pick (Pat Garrity) to Dallas, and the rest is history. Dirk is now playing in his 20th NBA season and led Dallas to a much-deserved championship in 2011.
13 Minnesota Timberwolves - Steph Curry
It's hard to write this entry without shaking my head at the colossal failure the 2009 NBA draft was for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves selected not one, but TWO point guards at the top of the lottery. Minnesota was very intrigued by the Spanish prodigy, Ricky Rubio, who often drew comparisons to Steve Nash. With the fifth and sixth picks in the draft, the Timberwolves selected Rubio and Jonny Flynn from Syracuse.
One pick later, the Golden State Warriors selected Stephen Curry and the Warriors' dynasty got its first major piece that night in the draft. Meanwhile, Rubio played solidly enough for the Timberwolves, but not at a superstar level like Curry, and Flynn never got his career going due to injuries.
12 New Orleans Pelicans - DeMarcus Cousins
The Pelicans got off to a hot start this season and many thought that the loss of Rajon Rondo from last year's team could be replaced. That hot start has simmered down a bit and the Pelicans again look like a team built with no help around Anthony Davis. Davis is the hottest name in the rumor mill when projecting which superstar will change jerseys next. New Orleans envisioned this day and made a proactive move by trading for DeMarcus Cousins.
The injury to Boogie last season was untimely and the Pelicans let Cousins walk in free agency. Without a legit offer, Cousins went to the Warriors, as we know, and created as great a super team that has ever been assembled.
11 New York Knicks - Nate Thurmond
Back in the '50s up until the mid-'60s, the draft was a little different from what we see today, as the draft was typically about 15 rounds long, with 10 teams or fewer taking part. Excluding territorial pick Tom Thacker, who went to the Cincinnati Royals by virtue of being a star at the University of Cincinnati, the Knicks were technically picking first overall in 1963 and decided on Art Heyman, a wing player from Duke. Heyman was an average NBA player before finding his way years later in the ABA.
Thurmond was selected two picks later by the San Francisco Warriors and went on to have a Hall of Fame career, making seven All-Star games along the way.
10 Oklahoma City Thunder- James Harden
The Oklahoma City Thunder were the franchise everyone wanted to be seven to eight years ago. OKC had Kevin Durant, drafted Russell Westbrook in 2008, and James Harden a year later. There was no better young core in basketball and this team was going to win championships it was just a matter of when. The Thunder made the NBA finals in 2012 but lost to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.
That offseason, the Thunder were in discussions with Harden about an extension but coming off a less than impressive Finals, GM Sam Presti played hard ball. The Thunder owner did not want to pay a luxury tax for Harden, and he was shipped off to Houston. This was the first move that would lead to the departure of Kevin Durant as well.
9 Orlando Magic- Shaquille O'Neal
The 1992 NBA draft was headlined by LSU stud center Shaquille O'Neal. A young Shaq had a rare combination of size, strength, power, agility, and speed. The Orlando Magic would win the 1992 draft and their future superstar was finally here. Shaq had the personality off the court to contrast his on-court demeanor that made Shaquille O'Neal a megastar. Shaq became a free agent in 1996 and the Magic had a great chance to re-sign O'Neal. During negotiations, the Magic low-balled Shaq and offered him a contract well below his value. This ultimately led to Shaq going to the Lakers and the Lakers owning the 2000s.
8 Philadelphia 76ers - Jayson Tatum
The Celtics had the first pick of the 2017 NBA draft with assets they received from the old Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade, as we previously discussed. Now, Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge has been masterful the way he has made deals throughout the years. The Celtics were coy about who they were drafting first overall and Markelle Fultz was the assumption. Philadelphia wanted to make a splash and traded for the number one pick and Fultz.
If the Sixers made the right pick, they would have selected Jayson Tatum first overall and the Celtics would have been left with Markelle Fultz's injuries and shooting woes, to go along with Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving's last season.
7 Phoenix Suns- Kawhi Leonard
The 2011 draft had two players that were far and above better NBA players than scouts expected them to be. The Golden State Warriors finding Klay Thompson at 11th was a game-changer. The Suns had the 13th pick and drafted Markieff Morris, one of the twins from Kansas, who turned out to be solid, but no superstar. San Antonio, at the time, found their next Tim Duncan when the Indiana Pacers drafted Kawhi Leonard at 15th.
The Spurs would acquire Leonard for George Hill and the Suns were two picks ahead of drafting a player that today is top-5 in the entire NBA. Phoenix thinks Deandre Ayton is their franchise cornerstone, but the Suns have had a ton of top draft picks over the last decade that never reached their potential.
6 Portland Trail Blazers- Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan was the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft. The Houston Rockets had the top pick and drafted Hakeem Olajuwon, the future Hall of Fame center, so no one really blames them for not taking Michael Jordan. The Portland Trail Blazers, however, had the second pick and drafted Sam Bowie with the best player ever on the board still available. This was not the only time the Blazers had an all-time fumble at the top of the draft. In 2007, the Blazers passed on Kevin Durant for Greg Oden. As great as Kevin Durant was, the Jordan Brand in Oregon would have been a no-brainer.
5 Sacramento Kings- Klay Thompson
We just looked over two players that were steals in the 2011 draft and that means along with the team that missed on Kawhi Leonard, there is a team that missed on Klay Thompson. The Sacramento Kings had the seventh pick and drafted Bismack Biyombo, whom they traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in a trade that landed them the rights to 10th overall pick Jimmer Fredette, who was a massive flop.
Meanwhile, Thompson, who went 11th to Golden State, is a California kid and the Sacramento Kings could have branded that easily by making him their pick instead. Thompson is one of the best two-way players in our league and best shooters of all-time, the Kings need a star and hopefully, Marvin Bagley is that guy.
4 San Antonio Spurs - Jimmy Butler
The Spurs found their way to get Kawhi Leonard in the 2011 NBA draft, but they also missed on the defensive backcourt of their dreams. The Spurs traded for Leonard but also had the No. 29 pick in the first round. Ultimately, the Spurs went with guard Cory Joseph, whom they hoped would replace Tony Parker but Jimmy Butler went to the Chicago Bulls one pick later. Can you imagine how good the Spurs would have been with Kawhi and Jimmy?
San Antonio has not been in position to draft high-level talent often, so they rely on later-round guys. Gregg Popovich would have somehow turned this duo into today's Michael and Scottie.
3 Toronto Raptors- Tracy McGrady
In 1997, Tracy McGrady was a high-flying high school guard/forward that the Toronto Raptors selected ninth overall. Early in his career with the Raptors, McGrady did not see the floor much. In his second year in Toronto, the Raptors drafted his cousin Vince Carter, who would become the greatest player in their franchise history. By year three, the Raptors were playing T-Mac 31 minutes per night, but he wasn't growing as they had hoped.
McGrady was a free agent in 2000 after the Raptors made the playoffs for the first time. McGrady sought his own light after being in Vince's shadow and blossomed into one of the best scorers in the NBA. Toronto had to figure out a way to make those two work, but couldn't.
2 Utah Jazz- Dominique Wilkins
Before Michael Jordan entered the draft in 1984, Dominique Wilkins was the athletic marvel coming into the 1982 draft. With the third pick in the draft, the Jazz made the right choice and selected Dominique. The problem is that the organization did not have the cash to sign Dominique, and he did not want to play there. This resulted in the Jazz trading Wilkins to the Atlanta Hawks a few months later in exchange for John Drew, Freeman Williams, and $1M. This trade return is laughable when you look at it in hindsight. I'll give credit to the Jazz, however, for landing John Stockton and Karl Malone back-to-back in 1984 and 1985.
1 Washington Wizards - Pau Gasol
Michael Jordan is the best player to ever play the game of basketball and missing on drafting him hurts, as does having him draft for you. The Washington Wizards had the number one overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft and selected Kwame Brown. Before Greg Oden, Anthony Bennett and Markelle Fultz, there was Kwame Brown. Jordan had an allure to him because of what he could do in his playing days. As the President of Basketball Operations, MJ went with Brown over Pau Gasol that would go third to the Atlanta Hawks. Jerry West might be the best exception but generally, "great player" doesn't equate to "great team builder."