The NBA trade period is a frenetic, frenzied and sometimes farcical time of the season when franchises attempt to move the pieces of the puzzle into place. Throughout all the behind-the-scenes negotiations, bartering, leveraging and tough talking between all parties involved, all fans can do is get a bucket of popcorn, put their feet up and watch the show happen. Depending which players are put on the table for bait, it can be the most exciting and rewarding time of the year, or the most stressful.
For every dream move that happens, there is a transfer of consequence – being shifted like cattle for the purposes of circumstance. It is easy to forget the human element at this time, with athlete’s families and livelihoods having to pick up and start all over again on a whim.
The franchises struggling to keep touch with the rest of the pack will more often than not be the ones conducting the most business, with GM's waiting until the last second to get the best deal for the club. The 2015-16 period saw The Brooklyn Nets bring in 3 new faces through the draft and a staggering 6 through free agency.
But what about all of the deals that didn’t happen? With the Nets languishing on 15-41, second from last in the Eastern Conference, who knows how many more the organization was looking to shift? Without a doubt, teams down the lower end of the pecking order will miss out on huge draft talent not because the option wasn’t available, but because of simple oversight. Those “almost” deals will end up haunting them forever.
Over the years there have been plenty of the near misses come the trade period. These are the top 15 that almost came off.
15 Hakeem Olajuwon for Glen Rice/Steve Smith
The Houston Rockets built a large portion of their success in the mid 1990s around the hulking presence of Hakeem Olajuwon. The towering 7 ft Nigerian native had a stellar all-round game, so much so he was the 1st overall pick in the 1984 draft and headed straight to Texas. He was an incredible asset to the organization but despite later winning championships in 1994 and 1995, Olajuwon wanted a bigger slice of the pie and negotiations were underway to send Glen Rice or Steve Smith to Houston and for him to got the other way to Miami Heat. Common sense prevailed in the end for the Rockets.
14 Ralph Sampson for Clyde Drexler
Looking back on the 1980s, there was a huge amount of talent floating around the draft system to the point where some benefited hugely to this day, whereas others would still be in complete despair. The Rockets strongly considered sending power forward Ralph Sampson to the Trailblazers in 1984 to get their hands on Clyde Drexler and the 2nd pick in the draft. The Rockets would have done a lot more in that time than just the 1986 finals if it went through.
13 Chris Paul for Lamar Odom
After 6 distinguished years with New Orleans, Chris Paul was about to be put on the market in 2011 and the suitors were lining up. But rather than going to the Clippers, the Lakers were prepared to make sure his Californian experience was with the gold rather than the red and blue. The machinations of the deal would have seen Pau Gasol to the Rockets with Kevin Martin, Lamar Odom, Luis Scola and Goran Dragic departing to New Orleans. Given where the Lakers are now, the introduction of Chris Paul could have prevented them from falling down the Western Conference trap door.
12 Isiah Thomas to NY Knicks
By 1993-94, Isiah Thomas’ body was giving up on him. The 2-time champion and 12-time All-Star had given all he could to the Detroit Pistons as a point guard, with his fast and furious approaching taking its toll. But that didn’t stop the New York Knicks from enquiring about the player. Everyone in the NBA liked what Thomas was about but even Stevie Wonder could see that he was well past his best. Not surprising then that the Knicks admiration for the player would end in a coaching stint in the Big Apple.
11 Charles Barkley for James Worthy
Most NBA observers are adamant that Charles Barkley should have been in a championship winning team. The power forward had all the talent in the world and the Lakers knew it, even when his off-court behavior left a bit to be desired with the 76ers. In 1991, a season before he left for the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers put James Worthy up for trade for Barkley. That collapsed deal cost LA a chance at taking out the unstoppable Chicago Bulls and if he had gone, who knows how that series would have panned out?
10 Michael Jordan to Houston Rockets
That particular Ralph Sampson trade that never happened put the breaks on a chain of events that would have seen Michael Jordan start and possibly end his career with the Houston Rockets. Sampson was the 1984 Rookie of the Year and if they had decided to send him to the Trailblazers in 1984, then the organization had the priority pick to grab the greatest player of all time and take him under their wing. You can forgive some miscues at the elite level, but missing out on Michael Jordan for your NBA team is unforgivable.
9 Wilt Chamberlain for Bobby Hull
This one might sound a little confusing. Before Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain was the NBA. The man commanded the sport with Philadelphia and San Francisco until he wound down his career with the LA Lakers in the early 70s. In the 1961-62 season he ended up with a monumental scoring tally of 50.4 PPG on top of numerous other records that might never be touched again. In the twilight of his basketball days of 1971, Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was in discussions with Bulls owner Arthur Wirtz to make an incredible cross-sport switch with Chamberlain going to the Bulls in exchange for NHL legend Bobby Hull going to the LA Kings (Cooke and Wirtz had stakes in both basketball and hockey franchises of their respective city)!
8 Dennis Rodman for Richard Dumas
Like any generation in sports, the Bad Boy Pistons came to an inevitable crossroads in 1993 - with the chief architect of that gang being Dennis Rodman. The enigmatic, colorful and controversial NBA star would go onto be a key player in Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls machine, but had fate gone another way, he could have partnered up with Charles Barkley in Phoenix! The Suns were going to use Richard Dumas in exchange for Rodman until news had leaked that Dumas had a serious substance abuse problem. One of the few times Dennis Rodman looked liked the responsible and professional superior in comparison.
7 Scottie Pippen for Shawn Kemp
Looking back on the history of the 1990s trade deals that fell through, Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan can thank their lucky stars that some of these guys didn’t end up with rival franchises. Dynamic Scottie Pippen was an unsung hero in Chicago and filled the void when Jordan was out of action but reports emerged that they wanted to get Shawn Kemp from the Sonics in 1994 for his services. He had won 3 championships at that point and after keeping him, he had 6. Cool heads prevailed.
6 Julius Erving to Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks saw what many others did in the early 1970s and wanted to take Dr. J from the ABA to the NBA. His stats with the Virginia Squires were very impressive for a young man new to the top level and the Hawks were desperate to add to their single championship way back in 1958. Erving would eventually go onto play for the Nets in the ABA before his trade with the 76ers, adding a title in 1983. The Hawks are still waiting for that second championship.
5 Larry Bird to Indiana Pacers
The current president of the Indiana Pacers, Larry Bird, once had the opportunity to play for them way back in 1988. The 3-time champion and Boston Celtics legend had the most illustrious of careers that had the competition buzzing every time he stepped on the court against Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the 80s. But having won all he had by 1986, the 88 move to Indiana could have given the Pacers the experience and quality to challenge since their glory days of the early 1970s. Like the Hawks with Erving, that trade didn’t happen and neither has a championship.
4 Amar’e Stoudemire for Stephen Curry
Steve Kerr was so determined to be managing Steph Curry in whatever capacity necessary, he jumped ship from a GM position for one in coaching. When Kerr was with the Phoenix Suns in 2009 as a General Manager, the former Bulls champion put their elite player Amar’e Stoudemire up for trade in the hope the Golden State Warriors were stupid enough to let go their star pick. The Suns missed out on him and Kerr took off to the Bay Area and the rest, as they say, is history.
3 Michael Jordan to LA Clippers
This deal would have transformed the history of the NBA as we now know it. The Clippers in 1987-88, under the ownership of the now disgraced Donald Sterling, reportedly put up a staggering 5 players and any number of draft picks the Bulls could name in order to get their hands on Jordan. Chicago owner Jerry Reinsdorf didn’t take it too seriously, but apparently the GM Jerry Krause pondered the options that would have given them. Fortunately for the Bulls faithful, they passed on the worst trade of the century.
2 Kobe Bryant for Joakim Noah and Luol Deng
How volatile 2007 was for Kobe Bryant. Not only were the Cavaliers targeted with LeBron, but the Bulls were in advanced discussions to send the star up to Chicago to follow in the footsteps of his hero Michael Jordan. The trade would have seen the talented duo Joakim Noah and Luol Deng head out to California, but Kobe was smart enough to read the tea leaves. That would have gutted the rest of the Bulls roster and left him holding the can for an ailing franchise. Instead, Chicago was able to take Derrick Rose and the Lakers won two more championships. A win-win in many respects.
1 LeBron James for Kobe Bryant
Gather round the campfire folks, for this NBA trade deal that almost happened is the stuff of basketball legend. In the summer of 2007 the Lakers saw Kobe Bryant battling to fulfill the huge shoes left by Shaquille O’Neal (in every sense of the word) and thought up-and-coming Cleveland star LeBron James could do a decent job for them. Kobe stayed on won a multitude of rings while LeBron had to go to Miami to win his. That would have been a trade for the ages – high-end stock swapping hands at the elite end of the sport, doesn’t happen too often.