Being an NBA General Manager isn't a job for the faint-hearted. On an almost weekly basis, the likes of Danny Ainge and Bryan Colangelo need to be constantly looking for a way to improve their respective teams. Whether it's through a trade, signing someone off waivers or calling up a young prospect from the NBA D-League, there's a number of routes they can take.
But not every decision works out well and sometimes many people will question exactly what was going through their heads. One big deal can make or break an NBA GM's career, and if he's on the wrong side of a lopsided one, it could mark the beginning of the end. But sometimes these executives don't know exactly what they're dealing with. Not many can foresee the 60th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft turning out to be one of the best closers in Isaiah Thomas.
And sometimes trades are out of the control of the GM, with an unhappy player threatening to leave in free agency ultimately diminishing whatever leverage the team had during contract negotiations. While it's certainly easy to knock teams for trading players prematurely, no GM wants to be the one who lets a transcendent player walk away and not get anything in return. If Kevin Durant gave Sam Presti any indication that he was going to leave, he would've done everything in his power to package the 28-year-old into a trade.
So let's take a look at some of the heinous moves made by GMs of the past few years that will probably cost them their job somewhere down the line.
15 Vlade Divac - DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans
The most recent of all the trades on the list saw the Sacramento Kings finally part ways with All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. The departure of the 26-year-old was a long time coming but very few predicted that he would end up in New Orleans, paired with fellow Kentucky alum Anthony Davis.
Many were happy to see Cousins finally leave Sacramento as his relationship with the team was unstable at best. However, the trade was borderline laughable as the Kings received Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and two 2017 draft picks.
Many thought that owner Vivek Ranadive and GM Vlade Divac could've easily gotten a better deal for Cousins, who averaged 20.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game during his six seasons in Sacramento.
It's clear that Divac has a lot of faith in Buddy Hield blossoming into an NBA superstar and that their first round pick can also become a significant contributor. While it's a top-three protected pick, the 2017 NBA Draft has been widely regarded as one of the best in recent years.
Regardless, it's clear that this trade deservedly put both Ranadive and Divac in the hot-seat as Cousins continues to grow as one of the best forwards in the NBA today. Both Evans and Galloway are mediocre bench contributors and there's still plenty of doubt over the future of Buddy Hield.
14 Ryan McDonough - Goran Dragic to the Heat
Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough was stuck between a rock and a hard place when Goran Dragic forced his way out in 2015. McDonough was in a mad rush to find suitors as numerous sources reported that Dragic wouldn't re-sign with the Suns after his contract expired.
The Slovenian guard had flourished in the Suns' multi-guard system but quickly became the third option behind Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. Coming off a career-best year averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists, Dragic was keen to run a team by himself. And the Miami Heat were more than happy to steal Dragic for a bargain price. The Heat parted ways with Norris Cole, Danny Granger, Justin Hamilton and Shawne Williams and two draft picks in order to secure his services.
But these pieces were a relatively small price to pay, especially considering that only Cole and Hamilton still play in the league, albeit as fringe rotation players. Meanwhile, Dragic has been averaging 16.9 points and 5.7 assists per game during his time with the Heat.
While Dragic essentially forced McDonough to trade him, many will argue that a better package of players could've been salvaged. While the 2017 and 2021 draft picks could potentially save the deal; for now, the deal looks to be one of the most one-sided in recent memory. It's clear that the Dragic deal marked the end for the Suns pushing for the playoffs and the beginning of a lengthy rebuilding process.
13 Donn Nelson - Acquiring Rajon Rondo
Once an integral part of Boston Celtics' 2008 title-winning team, Rajon Rondo made it clear in 2014 that he would test free agency as soon as his contract expired. The point guard was promptly traded by Danny Ainge to Dallas in exchange for Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright, and two 2016 draft picks.
Mavericks GM Donn Nelson saw Rondo as the playmaker that the team needed in order to advance further in the Western Conference however this was certainly not the case. Rondo would play a total of 46 games for the Mavericks before leaving for Sacramento in free agency. His relationship with head coach Rick Carlisle was constantly strained, with Rondo being benched in for the last 23-minutes of a playoff game against the Rockets.
What makes this trade so egregious for the Donn Nelson is that he gave up Jae Crowder who has developed into one of the most consistent two-way players in the NBA. Additionally, the first round draft pick worked out to be Jaylen Brown, who looks to be a serviceable player with a decent future ahead.
Not only did Rondo play less than a season in Dallas, his numbers were less-than-impressive. He averaged 9.3 points and 6.5 assists and was incapable of stretching the defense due to his non-existent outside shot.
Many Dallas fans were questioning the sanity of Donn Nelson after the Mavs were beaten resoundingly in the first round of the playoffs and Rondo made a quick escape to California.
12 Larry Bird - Lance Stephenson signs with Indiana
During his first stint with the Indiana Pacers, Lance Stephenson was a rather impressive wing player who could defend and score in a variety of different ways. But in the time he has been away from the team, Stephenson has played for five different teams. His decline in performance has been astounding considering he led the NBA in triple-doubles during the 2013-14 season.
The 26-year-old last played for the Minnesota Timberwolves on two ten-day contracts but only averaged 3.5 points in the six games he featured in. Given the circumstances, it's difficult to understand what exactly was going through the head of Pacers GM Larry Bird when he signed Stephenson to a three-year deal.
The Cincinnati alum has struggled to stay on the court and hasn't played over 70 games in a season since leaving Indiana in 2014. And outside an interestingly productive 26 games with the Memphis Grizzlies where he averaged 14.2 points, Stephenson has been rather mediocre. He's been averaging single digits in scoring and has been abysmal from downtown, connecting on a meager 25 percent of his shots.
Larry Bird will go down as one of the all-time greats to ever play the game, but his management off the court is certainly questionable. The Stephenson signing is a high-risk/low-reward situation, which isn't ideal for an Indiana team trying to make the playoffs while retaining Paul George.
11 Ron Hennigan - Trading Serge Ibaka to the Raptors
After less than one season with the team, the Magic traded Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first round draft pick. On paper, this seems like a fairly even trade, but it's clear that Ibaka has been the x-factor for Toronto. Since the trade, the Raptors have been dominant as they chase the Cavs and the Celtics for the top of the Eastern Conference.
Magic GM Rob Hennigan essentially gifted the Raptors home-court advantage in the playoffs and the trade has clearly made no difference to the Magic. Ibaka is still poised to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but Toronto's consistency in making the playoffs will be an enticing reason for him to stay. Additionally, Ross' production on the Raptors was almost immediately replaced by Norman Powell and P.J. Tucker.
Despite being one of the few players in the league to score 50 points, Ross hasn't been missed by the Raptors. Ibaka provides them with a consistent scoring option who can stretch the floor. Furthermore, Ibaka is ideal for when opposing teams opt to play with a small-ball lineup, as his versatility and quickness can combat the change in pace.
Overall the move from Rob Hennigan is a confusing one. While he never wanted to commit to keeping Ibaka, there must've been a better package available for the big man. Ibaka has fit into the Raptors system seamlessly, while Ross has maintained his production on a Magic team that isn't improving anytime soon.
10 Chris Wallace - Signing Chandler Parsons
Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace really should've known better not to offer Chandler Parsons a lengthy deal given his injury history. But Wallace threw caution into the wind and threw a lot of money at Parsons, offering $94 million over four years.
Parsons is yet to play a full 82-game season and appeared in just 61 games last year with the Mavericks after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee. And it was only just one season prior that Parsons also required season-ending surgery. With that kind of injury history, many would be hesitant to offer the 28-year-old a substantial contract.
But nonetheless, Wallace brought in Parsons and he unfortunately featured in just 34 games before suffering yet another season-ending injury. Another partially torn meniscus, this time in his left knee, ended Parsons season before it even really got off the ground.
While no one wishes to see a player continuously injured, it would've been wise of Chris Wallace to be more strategic when offering money to a player who has a substantial injury history. Parsons was brought in to complement Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, but that plan is clearly in jeopardy.
9 Ryan McDonough - Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics
Just when you thought that Suns GM Ryan McDonough was done giving away well-established players for next to nothing, he sends Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics. In return, the Suns received Marcus Thorton and a first round draft pick for the 2016 Draft. Thorton, 29, was waived by the Brooklyn Nets at the end of February this year after bouncing between six teams in three seasons.
Thomas was an integral part of the multi-guard system that was employed in Phoenix but was shipped out when it became clear that the logjam became too much to handle. He averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 assists per game during his one season with the Suns and finished with scored 20 points or more in 27 games.
Not only was the trade hard to swallow because of what the Suns got in return, but watching Thomas develop into a two-time All-Star with the Celtics was even worse. The 5'9" guard earned himself the nickname "King of the Fourth" due to his ability to perform in the clutch. Thomas averages approximately 10 points in the fourth quarter and has led the Celtics to the top of the Eastern Conference.
While Boston fans will be loving McDonough for the trade, Suns supporters still have reason to be worried. Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe have developed into a potent guard combination, so it won't be long until one of the two are traded away by McDonough.
8 Sam Presti - James Harden to the Rockets
Probably the most memorable trade in recent memory was also the most one-sided. The Oklahoma City Thunder had opted to re-sign Serge Ibaka as opposed to Harden who had just won Sixth Man of the Year. This led to the Thunder sending Harden to Houston for Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin and three draft picks which worked out to be Steven Adams, Alex Abrines, and Mitch McGary.
Harden was averaging 16.8 points per game in just over 31 minutes but exploded when he arrived in Houston, dropping 82 points in his first two games alone. While both Harden and Westbrook are now in the running to win the MVP, GM Sam Presti can only imagine if he still had the two explosive guards on his team.
In the five years since the trade, Harden has been scoring at least 25 points per game and leads the league in assists this year with 11.2 per game. His transformation as a player under Mike D'Antoni has been remarkable, making the pieces that the Thunder got in return even more insignificant.
Kevin Martin has since retired, Jeremy Lamb was traded away after three seasons and outside of Steven Adams, the players who were drafted haven't been substantial contributors for the team.
Presti will undoubtedly be shaking his head following the trade, especially considering that the Thunder traded away Serge Ibaka just four years later anyway. Presti decided that Oklahoma City wasn't big enough for Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka, but ended up with just one of the four.
7 Rob Hennigan - Signing Serge Ibaka
Sticking with abysmal trades involving Serge Ibaka, the Magic initially looked to have made one of the better trades of the year when they picked up the stretch forward. In exchange for Ibaka, they sent Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and first round draft pick Domantas Sabonis to the Thunder.
As aforementioned, Ibaka would spend less than a season with the Magic before being shipped out to Toronto. And while Ibaka certainly wasn't a productive as he was with the Thunder, he was still a significant contributor on an Orlando team that needed someone to be a leader on a young squad.
But Rob Hennigan's decision to trade one of the most promising young players in Victor Oladipo was certainly questionable. In his last season with the Magic, he averaged 16 points and just under five rebounds. But more importantly, Oladipo was a significant part of the young core that looked to grow together moving forward. In addition to Oladipo, the Magic also surrendered Domantas Sabonis, who has the potential to become a decent player in a league that now favors stretch forwards.
Hennigan's decision to throw away young assets and then trade Ibaka less than a season into his tenure could eventually cost him his job. A rebuilding effort takes time and patience, and Hennigan's effort to speed the process up only ended up making it longer.
6 Dennis Lindsey - Enes Kanter to the Thunder
Trades that involves three teams immediately become substantially more complicated than any normal trade. But that's no excuse for the Utah Jazz as they shipped Enes Kanter to the Oklahoma City Thunder and received an assortment of players who are no longer in the league. Grant Jerrett, Kendrick Perkins, and Tibor Pleiss, along with two draft picks, were all the Jazz got in exchange for the versatile big man.
In the same trade, Reggie Jackson was sent to the Pistons and remains a stalwart in Detroit alongside Andre Drummond. But it seems absurd that GM Dennis Lindsey would give up one of his best players to get next to nothing in return. The Jazz were struggling to juggle Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Kanter and ultimately it was the Turkish big man who was cut from the team.
The trade is somewhat justified as Kanter was set to become a restricted free agent and almost ended up in Portland before the Thunder matched the $70 million contract offer. But to lose someone who averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds for essentially nothing is a disgrace. While the Thunder continue to push ahead without Kevin Durant, Kanter has maintained his production and is in constant contention for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
5 Bryan Colangelo - Drafting Ben Simmons
For the longest of times, the Philadelphia 76ers were the butt of many jokes and generally weren't taken seriously as an NBA team. After drafting Joel Embiid in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Kansas big man sat out two entire seasons and stepped onto an NBA court for the first time this season.
With this in the back of his mind, Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo looked to the future and drafted Ben Simmons from Louisiana State. The Australian had an impressive college career and had shown the versatility needed in the NBA to develop into a great player. Unfortunately, a Jones fracture in his foot prior to the beginning of the season would rule him out indefinitely.
While Embiid was able to successfully return to the court, albeit on a minutes restriction, he suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee which also sidelined him indefinitely. Many are hoping that Simmons can make a similar return to the court however if he suffers another significant injury, it could spell the end of Bryan Colangelo's career as Sixers GM. Many will insist that they should continue to trust the rebuilding process, but it becomes difficult when the team continuously drafts injury-prone players.
4 Donn Nelson - Signing Harrison Barnes
With Golden State upping their pursuit of Kevin Durant in free agency, they were forced to let go of swingman Harrison Barnes. The 24-year-old was looking to join a team where he would be one of the primary scorers and he found a new home in the Dallas Mavericks. GM Donn Nelson was more than happy to give Barnes the keys to the kingdom, offering him a four-year, $94 million contract.
The move from the Mavs is a clear indication that Barnes is going to be the cornerstone of the franchise in the post-Dirk Nowitzki era. However, there are certainly doubts over whether he is actually good enough to lead a team by himself. During his time with the Warriors, nearly 30 percent of all of Barnes' shots were three-pointers, largely due to the system that was being run alongside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Barnes hasn't necessarily been bad for the Mavs; he leads the team in scoring with 19.5 points per game. But Dallas are still a sub-.500 team, and currently rank dead last in scoring. While there have been a number of injuries that have hampered the Mavericks this season, this if anything supports the argument that Barnes isn't capable of being the first option on a playoff contender.
3 Pat Riley - Letting Dwyane Wade Go
It is incredibly rare to see players retire with the team that they were initially drafted by, and Dwyane Wade was meant to be an exception to the rule. Unfortunately, the three-time NBA champion couldn't agree to terms with the Heat and opted to go to his hometown Bulls.
Reports suggest that Wade was looking for $50 million over two years, but Pat Riley refused to offer any more than $40 million over the same time period. First world problems, right? Wade's production had been declining for a number of years and Riley seemingly didn't want to tie himself down despite the new CBA agreement granting teams more money than ever before. The Denver Nuggets were reportedly one of the many teams who were willing to give Wade the money he was after but it was the Bulls who would eventually secure his services.
Wade maintained his level of production with the Bulls, averaging 18.6 points and 4.5 rebounds while serving as an invaluable mentor to Jimmy Butler. While the loss of Wade hasn't had a substantial impact on the Heat in regards to the standings, it was an incredible shock to see him in any other jersey. Regardless, Pat Riley should've swallowed his pride and thrown the business acumen out the door, because a player like Dwyane Wade deserves to retire with the team who drafted him.
2 Phil Jackson - Landing Derrick Rose
The degeneration of Derrick Rose is one of the saddest stories in the modern NBA. After becoming the youngest ever player to win MVP at 22 years old, Rose's career began a downward spiral like no other. He tore the ACL in his left knee in April 2012 then tore the meniscus in his right knee in November of 2012, essentially robbing him of two full seasons with the Bulls.
Following these injuries, Rose never returned to the same level of production, yet New York Knicks GM Phil Jackson still believed that Rose could contribute on what he hoped would be a playoff team. And the Chicago native has been decent for the Knicks, averaging 18 points per game but also importantly starting 64 games. That was until he tore the meniscus in his left knee.
Yet another significant injury for Rose that will sideline him for quite some time and take away whatever athleticism he had left. He has been okay, not great, for the Knicks, but Jackson should have been wary when looking to trade for him, considering his history.
1 Larry Bird - Kawhi Leonard to the Spurs
A common misconception with Kawhi Leonard has been that he was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs. Not many people remember that he was actually the 15th overall pick from Indiana and traded before he ever stepped on the court for the Pacers.
Coming off two relatively mediocre years at San Diego State, not many expected Leonard to become the immensely gifted player that he is today. One of Leonard's doubters was Pacers GM Larry Bird who traded him to the Spurs in exchange for George Hill.
There's no doubt that Bird regrets the decision to let go of one of the best players in the NBA. This season, Leonard ranks inside the top ten in three-point field goal percentage, free throw percentage, points, steals, player efficiency rating, defensive rating, offensive and defensive win shares, win shares per 48 minutes and finally plus-minus totals.
And let's not forget that Leonard was named Defensive Player of the Year in two consecutive seasons, has won an NBA title and an NBA Finals MVP. While Larry Bird did take a one-year hiatus away from the GM position after drafting Leonard, his time away from the front office could become permanent as this trade will undoubtedly come back to haunt him.
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