Almost all of the 30 teams in the NBA have found themselves in a situation in which they could erase a choice in which management either signed a free agent that did not pan out as hoped or made an agreement with another club to swap players, hoping that a new home would reap benefits. It is easy for fans and media to sit back and critique these moves months or years after they have taken place, but to be honest, there have also been a few doozies that were obvious flops right out of the gate.
Below we take a look at ten recent trades that have taken place within the past five years and feature players that have been in the league for at least three years. Yes, there have been questionable trades during that time that feature younger players (Fultz/Tatum), but it is heavily believed that most rookies need at least three seasons to show their true value and growth.
We will also look back at ten free agent signings that have left many shaking their heads knowing that these additions were doomed from the start and would only go on to handcuff the franchise for years to come. Chances are NBA Fantasy and NBA2K fans could make better moves in real life than the management teams of the following NBA franchises.
20 Trade: Sacramento Sends Landry, Thompson, And Stauskas To Sixers For Cap Space
In 2015, the Kings were in such a desperate need to clear cap space (with Wesley Matthews and Rajon Rondo as their target) that they sent three players and a first rounder and made a draft pick swap to do so. The Sixers quickly re-traded Jason Thompson, Carl Landry would play one season before getting waived, and Nik Stauskas would play two and a half mediocre seasons in Philly before being traded. The thing was, Philly didn't mind picking up the cap space as Sam Hinkie was stockpiling draft picks and young players. We can discuss how Philly wasn't smart enough to keep the 2017 and 2019 pick, but that is a story for a different day.
19 Signing: Timofey Mozgov - Lakers
In the summer of 2016, the Lakers front office tried to sell the fans on the signing of a big man with a championship pedigree. That pedigree was made up of 76 minutes, 15 points and 21 rebounds. Now if by chance the team had offered Mozgov a couple of million to mentor their young big men, then the signing wouldn't be that bad, however, such was not the case. At no point in his eight-year career has Moz put up the type of numbers that would warrant a four-year/$64 million contract, but yet that is what the Lakers inked him to and basically handcuffed their future free agent spending. Luckily for the Lakers, they found a trade partner in the Brooklyn Nets to take on Mozgov's deal, but it cost them D'Angelo Russell.
18 Trade: Magic Deal Rights To Dario Saric For Rights To Elfrid Payton
One one hand, this trade is tough to gauge because although they were drafted in the same year, Payton (10th pick) has played two more seasons than Saric (12th pick). On the flip side of that argument is that Payton will now be on his third team in five years. While both were members of their respective All-Rookie teams, Saric was in the running for the Rookie of the Year. Neither of the draft picks included in the deal remained in Philadelphia so weighing this trade when all is said and done comes straight down to the two principal individuals. While statistically, they are about equal, it is easy to see that Saric is a key component in "The Process" of Philadelphia's success, while Payton looks to just be holding on.
17 Signing: Joakim Noah - Knicks
Phil Jackson was by far a better coach than he was an executive. With the Bulls and Lakers, the Zen Master guided six Chicago teams and five LA clubs to NBA championships. Sadly, as a front office executive, he basically decimated the New York Knicks. One prime example comes in the form of signing the glue piece to a solid yet underachieving Chicago Bulls roster from 2009-2014.
Never known as an offensive force, Noah earned his pay through the hustle and blue collar work ethic that endeared him to his coaches, teammates and fans. Unfortunately, by the time 2016 rolled around the Knicks were getting a shell of the former All-Star, who was now hampered by injuries but was still presented with a contract for four years/$72 million. This season, Noah will make over $18.5 million in a role the more than likely will see him on the sidelines more than he will be on the court.
16 Trade: Denver Sends Rudy Gobert To Utah For A 2nd-Rounder
Earlier in the night, the Nuggets drafted the Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert, with the 27th pick in the 2013 Draft. Then they parted ways with the 7'1" Frenchman for Erick Green, a point guard chosen in the second round. If you were to compare the rookie stat line for each player, you would think that the Nuggets were the winners in this trade based on the fact that they didn't have to pay Green a committed contract and they also had a bag of paper Ben Franklins.
Then came the next four years and Gobert turned himself into a two-time member of the All-Defense team, a member of the All-NBA team and the Defensive Player Of The Year. Green, on the other hand, would end up playing only nine games in his sophomore season, including a ten-day contract and six games with the Jazz before heading to the Euroleague.
15 Signing: Chandler Parsons - Grizzlies
Has there ever been a player who exceeded all expectations and then just as surprisingly, saw their career nosedive? After being drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round of the 2011 draft, Parsons shocked many by putting up an All-Rookie team performance and then increased his stat line in various forms over the next four years split between Houston and Dallas. While he never put up All-Star type numbers, the Memphis Grizzlies thought that even though Parsons had been battling injuries that they may be getting the jump on the rest of the league by signing the forward to a four-year/ $94 million deal. Apparently, they didn't see the red flags that a player with bad knees wouldn't be worth the annual $24 million.
14 Trade: Kings And Suns Trade Away Isaiah Thomas
It seems as though a lot of deals involving the diminutive point guard from Seattle can fall into this category. When the Kings used the last pick of the 2011 draft on the point guard, there were very few expectations of him. After coming off the bench his rookie year, he found himself in a starting role. So what do the Kings do? They traded him for a guy (Alex Oriakhi) who never stepped onto an NBA court. The problem was, the Suns were basically a team full of point guards. So in turn, halfway through the 2014-15 season, they flipped Thomas for Marcus Thornton. Now a member of the Celtics, Thomas would turn himself into a two-time All-Star, an MVP candidate and led the C's to the Eastern Conference Finals. All before they decided to part with him.
13 Signing: Zach Randolph - Kings
In a league that is seemingly getting younger and younger, the Kings decided to offer Randolph a two-year/$24 million contract during the summer of 2017. Now we aren't saying that Z-Bo didn't provide Sacramento with valuable stats, but for a team that is looking for a complete rebuild, it didn't really make sense to offer this type of contract to a player who was at the end of his career.
Once a 20/10 player during his time with Portland, New York, and Memphis, Randolph still managed to lead the Kings in scoring and finish second in rebounds and fifth in minutes. While the first two facts are positive, the fact that Randolph was taking valuable minutes from Skal Labissiere or Nigel Hayes doesn't help the future growth of the Kings. Will the vet take a seat with Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles, and Deyonta Davis in the lineup this year?
12 Trade: Denver Sends Jusuf Nurkic To Portland
If you wanted to use the argument that the Nuggets moved Nurkic because they were loaded with players at the four and five position, that could be reasonable. However, the return on that move was a player (Mason Plumlee) who took up a similar spot on the roster, but yet one of less talent and was slightly older. Since moving to Portland, Nurkic has averaged 14 ppg, 9 rpg, and 1.5 bpg, whereas his counterpart in Denver has tallied about half of his point and rebound production. Throw into the fact that the Nuggets added in a first-round pick, which eventually would become Zach Collins, and it seems as though the trade is something that Denver would like to take a mulligan on.
11 Signing: Mike Conley - Grizzlies
When you talk about the best point guards in the game, rarely does Conley's name come into the conversation. Now it's not as if the Grizzlies point guard doesn't have value. While he might not shoot like Steph Curry or attack the hoop like Russell Westbrook or drop dimes like Chris Paul, Conley does give Memphis a steady ball handler to set up the offense and a gritty defender on the other end of the court. However, a five-year/$153 million deal far exceeds what fellow point guards like Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and John Wall are paid. Considering that Conley has only once averaged over 20 points a game in a season and has never averaged more than 6.5 assists and has only been acknowledged once for a spot on the All-Defensive team as an individual award, it may not have been the most well-spent $153 million.
10 Trade: Magic Trade Oladipo, Sabonis, And Ilyasova To OKC For Ibaka
What the Orlando Magic front office is thinking is absolutely baffling at times. With a roster full of big forwards, the team decided it would be a good idea to trade for another one and in doing so move an up-and-coming young guard (Victor Oladipo), a veteran combo forward (Ersan Ilyasova) and a young big man with basketball running through his bloodlines (Domantas Sabonis).
Ibaka would last only half a season in Orlando before he was moved to Toronto. Oladipo would go on to become one of the most explosive shooting guards in the league and earn a spot on the All-NBA team. Sabonis, in just his second year, doubled his rookie output to become a solid near 12 ppg/8 rpg contributor. While neither continues to play for the Thunder (the duo was traded for Paul George) they could have very well helped turn Orlando into a playoff contending team had the Magic shown a bit more patience.
9 Signing: Hassan Whiteside - Heat
The Sacramento Kings had been looking for a big man to play alongside DeMarcus Cousins for a while, but apparently, they didnt think that the 33rd pick in the 2010 draft was worthy of joining their star player drafted 28 picks earlier. After floating around the D-League and overseas for a few years, the Miami Heat offered the young center a contract, for which he rewarded the team by leading the league in blocks and posted a double-double for the season.
In turn, the Heat extended a contract offer of four years/$98 million to Whiteside in the summer of 2016. Again, a win-win situation as Whiteside would lead the league in rebounds that season. Now it appears as though the love affair is nearly over as the two parties have been strongly linked to trade rumors all summer, especially considering that Whiteside's production in points, rebounds, and blocks all dropped in 2017-18. Throw in a minimal role and production during the Heat's first-round playoff loss and you can see how the team would want to test the waters on moving the contract. Word has it that the two sides have mended their relationship, but don't be surprised if it is just a ploy to build up his trade value.
8 Trade: Wolves Acquire Jimmy Butler For Dunn, LaVine, And Markkanen
While the Bulls struggled to a 27-55 record last season, the addition of three young and talented pieces (Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, first-rounder Lauri Markkanen) laid the groundwork for a solid roster of the future. The problem was in doing so, the team had to give up Butler, a rock-solid commodity. In adding Butler, the young Timberwolves felt that they were bringing in the missing piece of the puzzle that would lead the team to a much sought after playoff berth. You could label this a win-win trade. The problem is, stories have run rampant that Butler wants out of Minnesota as soon as possible. That's not exactly what the Timberwolves had planned. Chicago, in the meantime, has three starters who are under 23-years-old that will have the team competing for a playoff spot in the East possibly as soon as next season.
7 Signing: Brandon Knight - Suns
It's interesting how some teams will sign a player to a free agent contract and everyone has an opinion on it. Many consider Knight's five-year/$70 million deal with the Suns to be one of the worst in recent history. Let it be known that after Knight inked his $14 million a year deal in the summer of 2015 that he then averaged a career high 19 ppg along with 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Now don't think that this was a complete one-off, as in his career, Knight's minimums have been 12/3/2 during his six years in the league. The fact remains that due to health reasons he has played only 106 games in the last three seasons, and missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have value. Having just been traded to the Rockets, Knight has the opportunity for a fresh start with Houston's second unit.
6 Trade: Cavs Trade Kyrie Irving To Boston, Get Isaiah Thomas In Return
If the Cavs never made this deal, could they have won the 2018 NBA Championship? Would Irving have remained healthy or would he be sidelined regardless? What if Thomas was actually in good health when he was in Cleveland? The story circulated around Irving leaving was that he wanted to be the focal point of his own team and that he had issues with a certain Cleveland native named LeBron.
In Boston, it now seems as though the Celtics managed to find a way to win without Irving and have a new young core of stars for the All-Star guard to contend with. Thomas would struggle in Cleveland and end up being moved at the trade deadline for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and the 2018 pick that became the Cavs' point guard of the future, Collin Sexton. If you are willing to deal with the potential drama of Uncle Drew, then the Celtics won by a landslide, but let's revisit this conversation towards the end of the 2018-19 season when Irving becomes a free agent and possibly leaves Boston for his heavily rumored new home in the Big Apple.
5 Signing: Tristan Thompson - Cavaliers
The Kardashians strike again! While nobody will mistake the Cavs forward for an All-Star, the Canadian did prove to be a valuable cog in Cleveland's buildup to a championship team. Prior to signing his big money contract, Thompson posted back-to-back near-double-double seasons and was a key contributor to the Cavs defensive unit. Then came Khloe and everything has since gone downhill.
After Thompson signed a five-year/$82 million deal, the Cavs would find themselves hoisting their first NBA Championship, but the input from Thompson during the season and throughout the playoffs was nowhere close to what he had contributed in years prior, both on and off the stat sheet. Last season, Thompson raked in over $16 million and played the worst season of his career.
4 Trade: Kings Send DeMarcus Cousins To New Orleans For Tyreke Evans, Et Al.
Maybe technically, now that Boogie is a member of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, one could say that the Kings won this trade, but nobody knew that the league's most dangerous modern-day twin towers would not last longer than a season and a half. As of this summer, the Pelicans have neither Cousins nor Omri Casspi nor anyone related to those two individuals on their roster as Cousins left as a free agent and Casspi was waived. The Kings, on the other hand, well, they turned the two draft picks into Harry Giles, Justin Jackson, and Frank Mason III. Both Evans and Langston Galloway played the remainder of their traded season with the Kings before parting ways in the offseason. Hield, a projected star coming out of Oklahoma, hasn't lived up to his potential but has become a solid asset with the second unit, averaging double-digit scoring in two of three seasons. Maybe in some twisted way, the Kings did actually win this trade.
3 Signing: Jabari Parker - Bulls
How does one quantify the value of Jabari Parker? Do you base it on his high school career and single NCAA season in which he was named a two-time Mr. Basketball and a National Player Of The Year and Freshman Of The Year? Or do you base it on the fact that the former second overall pick in 2014 has only once played more than 70 games in a season, has had multiple ACL injuries and last season averaged just 12 points and 5 rebounds? Apparently, the Chicago Bulls figure he is worth at least $20 million a season.
Now the one check mark in favor of the Bulls is that they signed Parker to a two-year deal, with the second being a team option should he not work out. The big question is, where does Parker fit in? Does he play with the starting unit alongside Dunn, LaVine, Portis, and Markkanen, which means that 2018 seventh overall pick and fellow Blue Devil, Wendell Carter Jr. (basically a Parker clone) rolls with the second unit, or do you put your big money player in with the bench crew? Tough call for Coach Hoiberg.
2 Trade: Nets Acquire Garnett, Pierce, And Terry From Celtics
This trade not only just squeezes into our five-year window, but it is, more importantly, is one of the trades that changed the landscape of the NBA in more than one way. First off, the Nets on paper acquired a steal of a deal adding icons in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The problem is both of them were in their late 30s and at the tail-ends of their Hall Of Fame careers. Same could be said for Jason Terry, minus the HOF. The Celtics got a boatload of castoffs in return, that is, until the draft picks kicked in. Brooklyn's head office traded their future for a win-now roster that didn't fulfill its potential and the Celtics are currently cashing in on Jaylen Brown (2016 pick) and Jayson Tatum (what the 2017 pick became).
1 Signing: Luol Deng - Lakers
In two years, Deng saw action in a Lakers uniform only 57 times. If you break down each year of Deng's free agent contract that he signed during the summer of 2016 ($18 million, $17.1, $18 and $18.8) it basically amounts to highway robbery. Honestly, it would be embarrassing to calculate how much more money Deng has made sitting on the bench not playing than he did when he actually got minutes on the court. The thing is, you can't really blame Deng, because really, what is the guy supposed to say to a team that is willing to offer him that kind of deal at 31-years-old and on the downside of his career? No? That would be crazy.
The problem now with his contract is that they would have to give up a valuable piece of their future to have someone take on essentially a player who hasn't played in a year and a half. Luckily for the Lakers, there is such thing as the waiver stretch provision, which has allowed the team so swallow a good chunk of the contract, but over the course of a couple of seasons, which will open up more room for shopping next summer.