The trade market is the fastest way for an NBA team to make a dramatic change. Free agency and drafting are each pivotal as well, but there are limitations to each. Drafting a great young star will take a few years to develop. Most picks take a few seasons before their talent leads to the team winning and contending for postseason success. Free agency gives teams the advantage to re-sign their stars to a bigger contract than what new teams can offer. If a star is going to leave money on the table, chances are that he will go to a contender. That eliminates 90% of NBA teams hoping to acquire such a talent on the free agent market.
Recent years have seen organizations trade superstars and major assets more than any other time frame in NBA history. This decade is going to be remembered for the stars being moved from team to team. Many of these situations were due to trades shocking us with relevant talent being dealt away. We will look at both trades that featured one team making a savvy business move that is already paying off in a huge way along with those that had a team make a horrible decision. Most of these trades already have led to the positive or negative change for a franchise. Others could see even bigger impacts on their franchises as time goes on. Find out where your team ranks with the thirteen smartest transactions teams have made since 2010 along with thirteen of the dumbest.
26 Smart: Celtics move down in draft to get Jayson Tatum
The genius of the Boston Celtics front office has seen them win almost every trade they’ve taken part in over the past few seasons. One of their prior trades won them the lottery of the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft from the Brooklyn Nets.
Boston believed Jayson Tatum was the best player in the draft but knew they could get him third. This led to the Celtics trading the first overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the third pick and another future first-round pick. Tatum already looks significantly better than top pick Markelle Fultz.
25 Not smart: Lakers trade for Dwight Howard
The Los Angeles Lakers banked on the wrong talent to lead to a super team. Following the end of the 2008-2010 NBA Finals run, the Lakers struggled remain contenders moving forward. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard would join Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles.
While Nash endured injuries, Howard played a full season as a huge bust for the team. Dwight and Kobe clashed in the locker room leading to Dwight choosing to leave in the upcoming free agency. The Lakers did not give up much, but they pulled off their one major trade on the wrong guy.
24 Smart: Cavaliers deal Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love
The 2016 NBA Championship win by the Cleveland Cavaliers is arguably the sweetest victory for an NBA franchise. LeBron James led the Cavaliers to a 3-1 comeback in the NBA Finals over the 73-9 Golden State Warriors team.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love complimented LeBron for the big three needed to pull off such a great win. Cleveland made a huge trade sending away Andrew Wiggins and a few forgettable pieces for Love. The run of a great championship win and four consecutive NBA Finals appearances made the Love trade worth it.
23 Not smart: Nets make Deron Williams face of franchise
The Brooklyn Nets franchise tried to make a huge jump into relevance when moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn. It led to many regretful decisions in trades and free agent signings. The move to start the chain of events was trading for Deron Williams.
Williams sent to the Nets from the Utah Jazz in exchange for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and other smaller assets. Utah did not benefit greatly from the trade, but Williams turned out to be the wrong guy for Brooklyn to build around. A lack of personality and mediocre set the tone for the Nets flopping.
22 Smart: Pacers trade away Paul George for Victor Oladipo
One of the best recent moves by an NBA organization was the Indiana Pacers trading Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. George informed the Pacers he was not going to re-sign them with them in the 2018 offseason which gave them one year to trade him.
Most pundits viewed it as a losing situation with teams knowing George demanded out and was an expiring contract. Indiana managed to land an All-Star with Oladipo becoming the face of the franchise and Sabonis being a great secondary talent.
21 Not smart: Clippers get rid of Blake Griffin to break it all up
The Los Angeles Clippers committed to the core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Redick just a few seasons ago. Jordan is the only one currently on the roster and he wants out before next season.
Griffin chose to re-sign with the Clippers to a long-term deal in 2017 after the team pitched him eventually retiring with them. The Clippers then traded him to the Detroit Pistons for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris and other pieces just months later. It is believed that players now have no trust for the Clippers organization, and this could hurt them in the future.
20 Smart: Knicks trade Carmelo Anthony at right time
Carmelo Anthony was once viewed as the savior of the New York Knicks franchise. Fans expected the core of Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler to compete for an NBA Championship, but they never got out of the second round.
The contract of Anthony became a horrible one for New York as they could no longer contend in the East. Anthony was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017 for Enes Kanter and smaller pieces. Thunder fans are now livid at a diminished Anthony killing their cap space.
19 Not smart: Cavaliers give Dwyane Wade away at trade deadline
The Cleveland Cavaliers completely blew up the roster at the 2018 trade deadline getting ready of major names like Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder at the deadline. The moves here did help them get back to the NBA Finals.
However, the most unique move was sending Dwyane Wade to the Miami Heat for a second-round pick. Wade struggled in the regular season, but he could have been a huge help in the postseason. An extra scorer like Wade may have been the difference in Cleveland winning Games 1 and 3 of the NBA Finals.
18 Smart: Blazers ditch Gerald Wallace for future superstar
One of the teams to take advantage of the Brooklyn Nets desperation to become a playoff team was the Portland Trail Blazers. Gerald Wallace was a respected veteran on their team as they started to underperform.
Portland decided to put Wallace on the trade block leading to the Nets overestimating his value. Brooklyn sent a couple of role players and a first-round draft pick to the Blazers for Wallace. Portland ended up drafting franchise player Damian Lillard to lead them into the future in exchange for a role player no longer in the league.
17 Not smart: Suns trade Isaiah Thomas for little in return
Isaiah Thomas is one of the most successful players to get traded four teams in his young NBA career. The most outrageous of the trades featured the Phoenix Suns getting rid of him in a three-team deal.
Phoenix acquired Brandon Knight and Marcus Thornton in the move. Thomas went to the Boston Celtics and helped them become a contender in the Eastern Conference. During his peak with Boston, Thomas became an All-Star and an MVP candidate. The Suns managed to get nothing of note in value for him.
16 Smart: Celtics cash in to acquire Kyrie Irving
The future of Kyrie Irving would see him become a superstar in the NBA. Irving did great for the Cleveland Cavaliers with the peak moment of a game-winning shot in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to win a ring.
Cleveland eventually saw Irving request a trade. The Boston Celtics used many of their acquired assets to cash in on the right trade of adding Irving. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and the placement of the draft pick all turned out to be disappointments for Cleveland while Boston has their new superstar.
15 Not smart: Knicks trade for Derrick Rose and sign Joakim Noah
The New York Knicks had one last ditch effort to attempt to contend for an NBA Championship with Carmelo Anthony as the face of the franchise. New York traded Robin Lopez and smaller pieces to the Chicago Bulls for Derrick Rose.
This wasn’t a bad trade in general even though Rose was no longer a starting caliber player. The trade was even worse because it was done to convince Joakim Noah into signing a long-term contract. Noah fell apart his first season in New York and has arguably the worst contract in the NBA today.
14 Smart: Cavs add JR Smith and Iman Shumpert
The Cleveland Cavaliers made many moves during their four-year run of consecutive NBA Finals appearances. LeBron James’ presence meant the team had to do anything to improve before each postseason run.
The most underrated deal of the run came at the 2015 trade deadline when Cleveland acquired JR Smith and Iman Shumpert in a three-team deal from the New York Knicks. Both players helped the Cavaliers win the 2016 NBA Championship. Cleveland only gave up Dion Waiters and forgettable pieces in this trade.
13 Not smart: Mavericks ruin hot start by trading for Rajon Rondo
Mark Cuban has made many bold moves during his time as Dallas Mavericks owner. While the 2011 NBA Championship was sweet, the organization wanted to have more title wins over the past two decades. A huge move in 2014 convinced Cuban that the Mavericks would now become title contenders.
Dallas acquired talented point guard Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics for Jae Crowder, Brendan Wright and other smaller pieces. While they didn’t give up much, the addition of Rondo caused the team to implode. The Mavericks’ hot start quickly faded out with Rondo being a poor fit.
12 Smart: Nets get D'Angelo Russell from desperate Lakers
The tough situation of the Brooklyn Nets losing draft picks meant they needed to add young talent through trades. Brooklyn lucked out when landing young prospect D’Angelo Russell in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nets only gave up the expiring contract of Brook Lopez and a late first-round pick for Russell and the fat contract of Timofey Mogov. While the Lakers did draft Kyle Kuzma with the pick, the deal was done to get rid of Mozgov’s contract. Brooklyn found the ideal way to add the new face of their franchise.
11 Not smart: Hornets take another bad contract to unload Dwight Howard
The odd path of Timofey Mozgov continues here with the most recent NBA trade. Ahead of the 2018 NBA Draft, the Brooklyn Nets agreed to send Mozgov and second-round draft picks to the Charlotte Hornets for Dwight Howard.
Charlotte looks terrible here for taking the contract of Mozgov. Both contracts are bad, but Mozgov has an extra year on his. Brooklyn is already looking to buyout Howard and create two max contract slots for future free agents. Meanwhile, the Hornets have a player that was benched all season for two more years.
10 Smart: Clippers take advantage of Hornets to get Chris Paul
Chris Paul was once the biggest trade asset on the market for both Los Angeles teams at the time. The Los Angeles Lakers were the ones to first finalize a three-team trade with the New Orleans Hornets that would have landed Paul for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
Commissioner David Stern shut the deal down believing it was unfair for the Hornets. New Orleans ended up trading Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and other pieces. The Clippers took advantage of a great situation to become relevant for the first time in many years.
9 Not smart: Kings give away DeMarcus Cousins for nothing
DeMarcus Cousins is arguably the most controversial star in the NBA. The attitude of Cousins has him criticized for it holding his potential back as a top tier talent. A shocking move came in 2017 when the Kings traded Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans.
It is unknown if Cousins will be a success for New Orleans long term, but the decision was a bad one for Sacramento. Instead of getting a future superstar, the Kings only got Buddy Hield and pieces no longer on the roster.
8 Smart: Jazz acquire Ricky Rubio for very little
The Utah Jazz recently had a great season thanks to a fascinating young core giving them more hope for the future. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert may be their best players, but the addition of Ricky Rubio as point guard was an invaluable move.
Utah was able to steal Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves for a protected first-round pick. Rubio played a huge role in the Jazz surprising everyone by eliminating the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. Most importantly, Utah has a bright future with Rubio running the offense.
7 Not smart: Magic give up a lot for Serge Ibaka then give him away
The path of Serge Ibaka in recent years has been shocking to witness when it comes to trade value. Ibaka was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder following a great run there to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo and other solid assets.
Ibaka clearly had great value before heading to Orlando. It turns out the Magic didn’t even appreciate his skills. Orlando traded Ibaka a few months later to the Toronto Raptors for a package centered around Terrence Ross. The Magic gave up a future superstar for Ibaka then dealt him for a role player.
6 Smart: Spurs steal Kawhi Leonard from Pacers
Kawhi Leonard’s current controversy with the San Antonio Spurs may see him traded, but the original trade to acquire him in 2011 was a huge success. San Antonio completely won the trade with the Indiana Pacers when landing Leonard out of the draft in exchange for George Hill and forgettable pieces.
Leonard instantly matured and played a huge role in the Spurs getting to the NBA Finals in 2013 and 2014. The Finals MVP in 2014 proved Kawhi was going to have a special career. San Antonio scored a future superstar in exchange for a glorified role player.
5 Not smart: Clippers trade away #1 pick to clear cap space
The Los Angeles Clippers were once the laughingstock of the NBA for failing to make a positive impact for many years. One trade that displayed how inept they were featured former controversial owner Donald Sterling being a cheapskate.
The Clippers got rid of a bad Baron Davis contract by offering a lottery pick in a deal that sent him to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Davis did nothing of note for the Cavaliers, but the draft pick would see Cleveland win the lottery with it. This pick turned out to be Kyrie Irving, whom L.A. missed out on due to being cheap.
4 Smart: Rockets acquire James Harden at perfect time
The Oklahoma City Thunder core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka had the rest of the league in fear if they stayed together. Harden showed signs of brilliance, but he was still a reserve coming off the bench for scoring help.
Oklahoma City started looking at trades for Harden. The Houston Rockets swooped in offering a tempting package of reserve scorer Kevin Martin and promising draft pick Jeremy Lamb. Harden turned the Rockets franchise into a huge success and nothing they gave up for him turned out to be important.
3 Not smart: Nets ruin future to acquire Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce
The worst transaction to negatively hurt a franchise in recent years featured the Brooklyn Nets ruining their future. Brooklyn desperately wanted to contend with the Miami Heat leading to them giving up a boatload of future draft picks to the Boston Celtics for the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
The experiment lasted one season with the Nets getting destroyed by Miami in the second round. Pierce left in free agency and Garnett was traded the following season before retiring. The noteworthy draft picks traded turned out to be Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum among other role players.
2 Smart: Warriors make sly move to add Andrew Bogut
The most forgotten piece to the Golden State Warriors success in recent years is Andrew Bogut. While he is no longer on the team, Bogut’s presence certainly helped the Warriors win the 2015 NBA Championship.
Golden State added Bogut in a trade sending Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown in exchange for the big man and Stephen Jackson. The only person involved in that trade to make a difference was Bogut. It allowed the Warriors to get the paint defense needed for a title run that helped them become a juggernaut today.
1 Not smart: Knicks trade for Andrea Bargnani's bad contract
The New York Knicks have been criticized for making many bad moves over the past fifteen years. One recent one to stand out featured them bailing the Toronto Raptors out of a terrible Andrea Bargnani contract.
Most NBA experts believed Toronto would be stuck with Bargnani for the rest of his huge contract coming off his worst season. The Knicks stepped in offering draft picks and role players to take Bargnani. It set the Knicks back years, including missing on a first round draft pick that became Jamal Murray.