Sports revolve in cycles. One team cannot remain a dominant force for too long because the trade period is a great market leveler for franchises that need to get the needle moving in the right direction. Too much money is at stake, let alone the limited window for coaches, players and owners to try and lift that championship trophy while they still have the chance. The NBA can be a fickle, cynical business at the best of times, yet you can’t blame people for trying to reach for glory.
But in order to chase that dream, people make horrible decisions by panicking for a short term deal or overthinking a trade that no one else sees. Looking back over the history of the NBA, some of the biggest names in the sport have been the subject of franchise-worst trades. From Julius Erving and Patrick Ewing toJames Harden and Wilt Chamberlain, decisions at board room level can leave a lot to be desired in hindsight. They are always made with the best of intentions but when they cannot see the wood from the trees, the fans are the ones left suffering as they have to put up flops and empty seats over a long campaign.
The draft and the trade window is where the smart clubs become top clubs and where lazy clubs falter. Owners that butt in to get the sexy name or to cut their losses usually end up with egg on their face. Every franchise has been guilty of stuffing up and here at TheSportster, we’ve discovered the worst trades for all 30 clubs.
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30 Atlanta Hawks – Bill Russell
The Hawks struck gold in 1956, selecting the dynamic young Bill Russell in the draft and it seemed the former St. Louis franchise had their man. But the Boston Celtics scouts knew how good this kid was, so good in fact they put stalwarts Ed Maculey and Cliff Hagan on the table for him. Thinking they would get their quick fix, the Hawks stupidly took that deal only to see Russell at Boston win not one, not two, not three, but 11 championships. Eleven!
29 Boston Celtics – Joe Johnson
A young gun who ends up being a seven-time All-Star should be cherished by any organization. But for some reason, in 2002, the Boston Celtics had seen enough of shooting guard Joe Johnson, trading him to the Phoenix Suns for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers halfway throguh his rookie season. Neither would make any sort of impact and were quickly shipped off, while Joe Johnson has been a top tier NBAer for the last decade.
28 Brooklyn Nets – Julius Erving
NBA players in the 1970s were starting to show off the swagger and skill that we take for granted today. Julius Erving, aka Dr. J, was one such player coming through. He was a top performer for the New York Nets in the ABA in the mid 70s until a dispute between the Nets and the Knicks outlined how the ABA vs. NBA divide really drove a wedge in the middle of the sport. With Erving waiting around for the right offer and for owners to settle down and reach a deal, the 76ers traded for his services by giving the Nets $6 million. Dr. J would end up being a star in Philly where he took them to a championship in 1983.
27 Charlotte Hornets – Vlade Divac
The guy who stood in the way of Kobe Bryant going to the Charlotte Hornets is Vlade Divac. It seems like that would be a horrible thing to write on his tombstone or byline under any circumstance, but that is the reality of the situation. The sizeable Serbian center was traded to the Hornets for the draft rights of Kobe and Vlade only put in a couple of years in Charlotte before heading off to Sacromento. And Kobe Bryant, well, do we need say more?
26 Chicago Bulls – LaMarcus Aldridge
The post Michael Jordan era of the Chicago Bulls was the NBA's worst hangover period. From the giddy heights of amazing dunks, dribbles and magnificent basketball, the organization lost its way. In the trade deal that sent Eddy Curry to the Knicks in 2005, the Bulls gained hotshot LaMarcus Aldridge in the 2006 draft. But rather than hold onto him to build for the future, they gave him up for Viktor Khryapa and Tyrus Thomas. Aldridge is now a star in the NBA and this is one of those few occasions where the crying Jordan meme is actually warranted.
25 Cleveland Cavaliers – Don Ford
The Cleveland Curse has many forms, from the Browns at the Dog Pound to the Indians and of course, the maligned Cavaliers. In 1980 the NBA franchise gave up their first round pick in the draft as well as Butch Lee to the Lakers along with another first rounder in 1982, all to get Don Ford and another first round pick which ended up being Chad Kinch. Ford only stayed for 2 years and ended his 7-year NBA career with 6.4 PPG on average. So much for being a “power forward.” Oh, and that 1982 pick ended up being none other than James Worthy. Yeah.
24 Dallas Mavericks – Jason Kidd
The Jim Cleamons era in the mid 990s was a stain on the reputation of the Dallas Mavericks. His winning record percentage of .286 is testament to this. When he clashed with key point guard Jason Kidd, Cleamons wanted to flex his muscle and sent Kidd packing with Loren Meyer and Tony Dumas to the Phoenix Suns. Coming the other way was A.C. Green, Sam Cassell and Michael Finley. Two of the three worked out, but Kidd’s stellar career afterwards is a huge regret and Cleamons ultimately paid the price. Kidd did come back and win a ring with the Mavs, but that doesn't mean the original deal made sense.
23 Denver Nuggets – Carmelo Anthony
Whatever you think of Carmelo Anthony, and opinion is certainly split on the New York Knicks star, his absence from the Denver Nuggets has put the franchise in a downward spiral. The 31-year old was traded back in 2011 in a deal to New York, along with Chauncey Billups and a number of other players in a big coupe for the ailing team from the Big Apple. In fairness to the Nuggets, they were handcuffed by Melo's public trade demands, but they've only had one player from the trade really help them and that's Danilo Gallinari. That's enough for a superstar like Carmelo Anthony.
22 Detroit Pistons – Bill Curley
The Pistons have had a shocking history in the draft, most notably passing on Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony in 2003 for …. Darko Milicic! But a decade prior to that debacle, Detroit made the error of sending bad boy Dennis Rodman to the Spurs in exchange for Sean Elliott (there were other players involved, by they weren't relevant). Fast forward 12 months and Elliott was sent back to San Antonio for Bill Curley. Essentially Sean Elliott was the middle man to facilitate a swap that saw Dennis Rodman leave and Bill Curley come in. Wow!
21 Golden State Warriors – Wilt Chamberlain
All is well in the Bay Area now for the most dominant team in modern day sports, let alone the NBA. But it wasn’t always the case, as their fans would attest. During their transition from Philadelphia to San Francisco, the Warriors had a world-beater in their backyard. Wilt Chamberlain broke all types of scoring records in pro basketball with Philly and the Warriors gave him up for some cash to help their financial troubles plus Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann and Lee Shafer. It was the 1960s equivalent of trading Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green just to balance the books.
20 Houston Rockets – Moses Malone
If only the Texas franchise knew what they had in their possession, they never would have given him up. Moses Malone was a quality center coming through the ranks in the mid 1970s and when he was starting to improve his game in 1982, he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. Malone won a championship right away in the City of Brotherly Love, only for Houston to get Rodney McCray and Caldwell Jones in return.
19 Indiana Pacers – Stephen Jackson
Al Harrington had a bittersweet time with the Indiana Pacers for six years. From 1998 to 2004, the forward battled a serious knee injury that continues to plague him till this day, but he still averaged double figures per game and was a big impact coming off the bench. When they decided to cash in their Harrington chips for Stephen Jackson, the end result was the Pacers getting nothing more than a hot head. Only months into his Indiana stint, he fought a fan in the stands to start the ‘Malice at the Palace’ debacle that defined his career.
18 Los Angeles Clippers – Austin Rivers
The Clippers have had some shockers in their history. Whether it’s picking up dud free agents or draft choices that leave you asking what the hell the blue and red LA franchise was thinking, the Clipper have made a ton of mistakes. However, bringing in Austin Rivers under his coach and father Doc Rivers just screamed of nepotism. It demonstrated how thin the Clippers are as a unit. Especially when they’re bringing in the coaches son after he just agreed to go to the Boston Celtics. He could prove us wrong, but right now it looks a terrible deal, even though the Clippers didn't give up a lot for him.
17 Los Angeles Lakers – Steve Nash
In 2012. the Lakers decided to top up their team with as much proven talent and experience as was possible under NBA regulations. But the introduction of veteran Steve Nash only resulted in injury, poor form, and a sad end to a great career, as well as the stalling of the regeneration of a famous franchise, a decision that still haunts them to this day. Nerve damage in his back illustrated how physically taxing the game had been for him after almost two decades of play. Nash’s move to LA from the Phoenix Suns included first and second round picks in the 2013 draft, a second round pick in 2014 and another first round pick in 2015. Essentially three years of young talent coming through for a former MVP with a crooked back, a deal that didn’t help Kobe and the Lakers add to their tally of championships.
16 Memphis Grizzlies – Steve Francis
Three-time NBA All-Star Steve Francis had a dynamic opening to his career at the elite level with the Houston Rockets between 1999 and 2004, but how things could have been different. Based in Vancouver at the time, the Grizzlies franchise buckled under the pressure of Francis’ personal demands, saying that Vancouver was too far away from his initial home. Eleven players switched hands in a complicated deal involving Brent Price, Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington and Antoine Carr. Francis turned into a star for the Rockets, while the Grizzlies got no one of note.
15 Miami Heat – Mario Chalmers
Pat Riley can forever dine out on the fact he convinced LeBron James to come to Florida to win two championships with the Heat. That is something the fans can never forget, but in 2015 he made a horrible call by sending Mario Chalmers to the Memphis Grizzlies with James Ennis following suit, just to get Jerry Stokes and Benoit Uber. The 29-year old was a top performer for Miami and now the Heat are left with the consequences of that bizarre decision.
14 Milwaukee Bucks – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The great Abdul-Jabbar was given over to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975 all because the player felt like Milwaukee wasn’t the right cultural fit. In hindsight, the Bucks should have done everything in their power to make it the right fit, as Abdul-Jabber won five championships later in California, all for the return of Elmore Smith and Brian Winters, along two other players who made no impact at all. The math simply didn’t add up in Milwaukee’s favor. An organization rarely gets their hands on a gem like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and their hands were forced into a horrible trade.
13 Minnesota Timberwolves – Al Jefferson
When Al Jefferson went public to state that he was “ shocked, disappointed and hurt” over the sacking of head coach Kevin McHale, the writing was on the wall that the center was getting disillusioned with life in Minnesota. But their decision to move him to the Utah Jazz when he averaged 21.0, 23.1 and 17.1 PPG over his three seasons with the Timberwolves for Kosta Koufos and two future first-round draft picks simply doesn’t add up. Player power might be a serious issue in the NBA but calls like this that destroy the moral of the dressing room and drives away the best talent fails on every level.
12 New Orleans Pelicans – Emeka Okafor
Known as the New Orleans Hornets back in the day, the Louisiana city has seen its basketball team stuff up for generations. In 2009, they decided to trade the services of center Tyson Chandler to the Charlotte Bobcats for Emeka Okafor, a player who was a high draft selection who hadn't found his game yet. In three years in New Orleans, Okafor averaged a pedestrian 10.3 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game, which wasn't what New Orleans was hoping for. On the other hand, Tyson Chandler became an All-Star big men, who was considered one of the best in the league in the defensive end.
11 New York Knicks – Patrick Ewing
It doesn’t matter that Patrick Ewing was past his prime in 2000. It really doesn’t. The New York Knicks stalwart and face of the franchise throughout the 1990s had given blood, sweat and tears only to be sent packing for three guys who wouldn’t be able to give anywhere near what Ewing gave to the Madison Square Garden faithful. Luc Longley, Glen Rice and Travis Knight all had varying degrees of pedigree in the 3-for-1 trade (along with draft picks), but the $90 million black hole it created started a slide the Knicks continue to fall down.
10 Oklahoma City Thunder – James Harden
Why did you do it Oklahoma? That infamous contract dispute could be blamed on a number of parties, but ultimately James Harden wanted to use his free agency power to maximize his earnings when his contract wound down in 2012. The Thunder’s argument didn't hold much water, with Serge Ibaka getting a big top up at the same time, thus minimizing a lot of cap space. In that trade, the Thunder received Kevin Martin who simply couldn’t fill Harden’s shoes when he went to the Rockets. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden could still be on the same team. Ponder that one.
9 Orlando Magic – Gilbert Arenas
This 2010 trade defied the fact that Orlando were called “Magic,” because this was anything but magic. The franchise gave away current free agent and former champion forward Rashard Lewis, a player who had racked up a great PPG average during his four years in Orlando, in order to sign Gilbert Arenas. The Arizona College product put up just 8 PPG in his single season at the club and was a complete waste of space in every sense.
8 Philadelphia 76ers – Charles Barkley
Arguably one of the greatest NBA players to never win a championship, the Philadelphia 76ers had an ace up their sleeve with Charles Barkley in 1992. With a raft of issues off the court that strained the relationship between player and organization, Barkley was handed to the Phoenix Suns where he took them to a finals series and won MVP. The 76ers had received Tim Perry, Jeff Nornacek and Andrew Lang. Daylight robbery!
7 Phoenix Suns – Stephon Marbury
Charles Barkley could build an argument to say his move away from Phoenix was the Suns' biggest mistake, but the Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury trade in 2001 remains a mighty head-scratcher. Jason Kidd was on his way to becoming a Hall of Fame point guard and reaching his prime, but an ugly domestic violence saga off the court put the Suns in an awkward position. From a moral standpoint it was the right thing, but he ended up going to the Nets while the Suns got a guy who was paid a lot of money without setting an example and didn't help build a winning team culture.
6 Portland Trail Blazers – Shawn Kemp
Whatever the Cavaliers got in return for the services of Shawn Kemp, his very absence would have been reward enough. The power forward was no longer an All-Star by the 1998 season and when he went to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2000, the ‘Reign Man’ demonstrated why the franchise has had such a poor history picking elite talent in the NBA. In his first and only season in the city, he went into rehab for drug abuse. Says it all.
5 Sacramento Kings – Ed Pinckney
Bad trades in Sacramento seem to come at a dime a dozen, but there is one that should still baffle Kings fans. In 1987, they gave up the services of Eddie Johnson, a player who would score a ton of points despite having never played in an NBA All-Star game, for future journeyman and assistant coach Ed Pinckney. Johnson was a solid performer to average 16 PPG over his career, while Pinckney offered very little to the Kings organization.
4 San Antonio Spurs – Richard Jefferson
In 2009, San Antonio decided to move on Fabricio Oberto, even though the Argentine center had given terrific service. This decision would not have looked like the shocker it actually was had Richard Jefferson not come through in a muddled trade from the Bucks. Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas were also involved, while Jefferson spent three very unspectacular years in Texas achieving very little other than topping up his bank account.
3 Toronto Raptors – Vince Carter
There a moments for a franchise when they need to get their house in order to satisfy their key personnel. In 2004, the Toronto Raptors had an established shooting guard in Vince Carter, but with the Canadian club languishing under the leadership of president Richard Peddie after a host of unfulfilled promises, Carter wanted out. He got his wish and was traded to the Nets for Aaron Williams, Eric Williams, some first round picks and Alonzo Mourning, a player who never actually showed up. Carter stayed an All-Star as the franchise stagnated.
2 Utah Jazz – Gordan Giricek
Two poor stints with the Memphis Grizzlies (2002-03) and the Orlando Magic (2003-04) was somehow enough to convince the Utah Jazz that Gordon Giricek was worth the investment. The Croatian shooting guard was traded to the Jazz in exchange for DeShawn Stevenson and a second round pick, but beside a 33-point effort against the Suns, the spell was a complete write-off. He skipped on to the 76ers and Suns to little fan fare before heading back to his native Europe. A waste of everyone’s time.
1 Washington Wizards – Ricky Rubio
The 2009 draft class was a good one. Amongst the College graduates coming through were James Harden, Blake Griffin, Steph Curry and talented Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio. Washington’s decision to give away their No. 5 pick to the Timberwolves for Randy Foye and Mike Miller was incredibly short sighted. Not only would they prove to be busts, but Rubio (or the potential selection of Steph Curry who went two picks later) would have solved a lot of the Wizards issues.
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