What Were They Thinking?! The 15 Worst NBA Trades Ever

For those who are unaware a trade in the NBA is a transaction between two or more teams that involve the exchange of players along with their contracts, draft picks, and cash. Trades can radically alter a team for better or worse. When a trade follows through correctly it can aid a team in capturing that coveted NBA Championship. A recent example of this was when in 2007 the Celtics traded for both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen resulting in an NBA Championship in 2008. However, as the past has shown the impact of a bad trade can cripple a team.The list below consists of the worst trades in NBA history. For the sake of relevance, trades that occurred before 1990 are disqualified from making this list, thus making trades such as the St. Louis Hawks trade of Bill Russell to the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks trade of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Los Angeles Lakers, however bad they may be, absent from this list. The ranking of this list is based on factors that include the trade's negative impact on the NBA team, the amount of time it took the NBA team to recover from the trade, and the trade's benefit to other parties involved.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

15 Arenas And The Magic

via wikipedia.org

In 2010, the Magic decided to trade their good but not great power forward Richard Lewis for one-time NBA all-star Gilbert Arenas. In the exchange, the Magic hoped that Arenas would return to all-star form and lift the team to a new level. Sadly, this did not come to be. Gilbert would go on to play only 49 games with the Magic, averaging a mediocre 9 points per game. The Magic decided in the winter of 2011 to waive Arenas but he was under the amnesty clause, which meant that they would continue to pay him his contracted salary which was estimated at $20 million for the 2013 and 2014 season. To put that in perspective, Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks was paid an estimated $22 million in 2013.

14 The Celtics Neglect the Future

via fusion.net

The disadvantage to putting all your efforts towards making a team succeed for the current day is that you may neglect the future. In the case of the 2002 Celtics, they did just that when they traded Joe Johnson whom the Celtics had drafted in the offseason to the Phoenix Suns for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers. The trade aided the Celtics in claiming the second best record in the Eastern Conference and making a run for the Championship that season, ultimately making it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals. However, Tony Delk would leave the Celtics after the season and Rodney would follow suit one year later. As for Joe Johnson, who was in his first season in the NBA when traded to Phoenix, he developed into an all-star caliber player who looking back would have been a perfect complement to Paul Pierce, the turn of the century Celtic all-star.

13 Denver Sends Nick Van Exel to Dallas

via alchetron.com

In the 2003 western conference semifinals, Nick Van Exel of the Denver Nuggets erupted against the Sacramento Kings averaging an outstanding 25.3 points per game in what ended up being a seven game series. What makes his performance in the series even more impressive is that he did it coming off the bench. In the midst of seeing Van Excel’s glorious performance, many started to wonder what the Mavericks had to give up to get one of the NBA’s best bench players from the Denver Nuggets before the start of the season. The answer is Juwan Howard and Donnell Harvey, who both sadly only stayed in Denver for a mere one season. In that season the Denver Nuggets finished with 17 wins and 65 losses, one of the franchise's worst records.

12 The Bulls Lose the Texas Standout

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

With the second overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft, the Chicago Bulls selected the University of Texas standout, LaMarcus Aldridge. Sadly, the Chicago Bulls, in an attempt to get the most value for the pick, traded Aldridge to the Portland Trail Blazers for Viktor Khryapa and Tyrus Thomas. Viktor Khryapa would play less than fifty games in two seasons with the Bulls averaging less than five points per game in both seasons. Tyrus Thomas, the fourth overall pick of the 2006 draft would stay with the Bulls for four seasons never living up to the potential they hope he would. As for Aldridge, he would become one of the best power forwards in the NBA, averaging 19 points and 8 rebounds per game for his entire career. Looking back, the Chicago Bulls could have definitely used Alridge to make an impact in the east in the years after his trade.

11 Dallas Sends Kidd to Phoenix

via baltimore.cbslocal.com

Jason Kidd, in his first two seasons in the NBA after being drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, was named “Rookie of the Year” and started in the 1996 all-star game. His star was rising and it was clear he was well on his way to becoming a premier player in the NBA. However, that wasn't enough for the Dallas Mavericks to keep Kidd after frustrations between Kidd and the Mavericks coaching staff started to raise dramatically. The trade landed Jason Kidd in Phoenix while the Mavericks got A.C.Green, Sam Cassell, and Michael Finley in return. Though two of the three players the Mavericks got in return for Kidd would go on to become key role players, none would perform at the caliber that Kidd would continue to play on throughout his career. The future Hall of Famer would go on to compete in ten NBA All-Star games and accumulate 107 triple-double performances.

10 The Suns Lose Pace

via wikipedia.org

Prior to the 2008 season, the Phoenix Suns were amongst the best teams in the entire league. Led by their fast-paced pick and roll style that was dubbed “seven second or less” they had four consecutive fifty win seasons from 2003 to 2007. Also during that run, the Suns made it to the Western Conference finals twice in the 2005 and 2006 playoffs respectively. In a move to finally take the team over the hump and finally capture that elusive NBA championship, the Suns traded key role players Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O'Neal. Besides the fact that the injury-riddled 36-year-old O'Neal was on the brink of retirement, his style didn't mesh well with the fast- paced style of the Suns. His acquisition led to the Suns taking a drastic step backward in their performance to the extent that the once very good team didn't even make the playoffs. To further solidify how bad this trade was, the very next season, without O'Neal, the team made it to the Western Conference Finals.

9 The Two Losing Sides

via kobesystemfans.com

The only thing worse than one team losing in a trade is two teams losing in a trade. This was the case in the four-team trade that landed the Lakers a top five player in Dwight Howard and sent all-star Andrew Bynum packing to Philly. With a lineup that already consisted of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, the addition of Howard seemed to be just what the Lakers needed to secure a Championship. However, from the moment Howard arrived it was evident that the trade was not a good one for the Lakers. Howard would be rumoured to have multiple disputes with Kobe Bryant while also under-performing on the court. While Philly got in Andrew Bynum a player who was in the prime of his career at age 24, he was bitten by the injury bug shortly after his arrival. Before the season started Bynum suffered a knee injury causing him to miss the entire season. Philly midway through the season decided to give up on, Bynum releasing him to free agency.

8 The Bucks Lose Out On Dirk

via mavsmoneyball.com

As the 1998 NBA draft wound down into the 9th pick, the Milwaukee Bucks were forced to make a decision on which promising young basketball prospect to pick. Still yet to be selected by a team were future all-stars such as Paul Pierce and Richard Lewis. Surprisingly as their pick, the Bucks selected a promising power forward with an unorthodox skill set from Germany named Dirk Nowitzki. The pick was surprising, not because of the talent of the German native, but for the foresight the club showed for selecting him even though he was an international player. Previously, most international players didn't fare too well in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Bucks did not have the wherewithal to hold onto Nowitzki. The Bucks would go on to trade Nowitzki to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Robert Traylor, who, in a seven-season career would go on to average 4 points and 3 rebounds per game in the NBA, while Dirk Nowitzki would accumulate a Hall of Fame caliber career.

7 The 76ers Trade For Mutombo

via marca.com

When the Atlanta Hawks traded Dikembe Mutombo to the Philadelphia 76ers, fans were left scratching their heads wondering what exactly the team got for the center who lead the team to more than 50 wins in two straight seasons while simultaneously winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards. What the Hawks acquired from the trade was Toni Kukoc, Nazr Mohammed, Theo Ratliff, Pepe Sanchez, and seven straight years of not making the playoffs. In the case of the 76ers, they obtained the person who would be a perfect compliment to their star Allen Iverson and the piece they would need to make a mark in the league. In 2001 with Mutombo, the 76ers found themselves with the best record in the Eastern Conference. In that very same season, they would also make a playoff run, making to the NBA Finals.

6 The Hornets Lose Kobe

via insidehoops.com

Before the 1996 draft, the then-Charlotte Hornets struck a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, agreeing to pick Kobe Bryant with their 13th overall pick and trade him for Serbian center Vlade Divac. The trade at the time seemed to benefit the Hornets who obtain a well established NBA center but as the year's wind down it clearly was a lopsided trade in the Lakers favor. The Serbian center Vlade Divac did go on to have a good career in the NBA having his jersey retired by the Sacramento Kings while Kobe Bryant, on the other hand, would go on to have a prolific career with the Lakers. The stats and records he would go on to accumulate are endless. Bryant would also, more importantly, lead the Lakers to five NBA championships making him one of the most influential players in Lakers history.

5 The Grizzlies Send Gasol to Los Angeles

via bleacherreport.com

In one of the biggest trade steals of the century, the Memphis Grizzlies shipped Pau Gasol to the Lakers for Kwame Brown, rookie Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, and the draft rights to Marc Gasol. There are several reasons why this trade was considered such a steal for the Lakers that Coach of the San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich stated “What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension. There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense” when remarking on the trade. The most important and crucial factor of this trade was that the Memphis Grizzlies essentially made the Lakers the best team in the NBA. With the addition of Pau Gasol to a Lakers lineup that already included Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers were able to claim to straight titles in 2009 and 2010. The trade over the years has begun to not look as bad for Memphis because of the development of Marc Gasol into an all-star but nothing beats championships.

4 Francis Bankrupts the Knicks

via rantsports.com

After finishing with a 33–49 record and missing the playoffs the prior season the Knicks in a move to improve the team obtained Steve Francis via trade in early 2006. As a result of the hefty amount owed to Francis per season in his contact the trade pushed the Knicks payroll well past their salary cap consequently putting the team above the luxury tax by an estimated $40 million. What did the Knicks get in return for spending so much on the move? A lowly 11 points per game in Francis’s tenure with the Knicks. To make matters worse Francis would catch the injury bug in the form of a recurring knee injury causing him to continuously miss games in his time in New York. In the summer of 2007, the Knicks decided to wash their hands of Francis trading him.

3 Thunder Refuse to Pay Harden

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The 2011 NBA season turned out to be a good season for James Harden with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden finish the season averaging 16.8 points per game off the bench leading the league and was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year. After the season Harden’s contract was up but rather than pay Harden more the thunder decided to send him to the Houston Rockets in a trade that got them, Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. Since his departure from the Thunder, James Harden has evolved into an all-star on the Rockets. Sadly after Harden’s departure, the Thunder have yet to return to the finals. To make matters worse for the Thunder the team recently lost its best player Kevin Durant to free agency primarily as a result of the team's inability to win a Championship. One wonders how much Harden could have helped the Thunder capture that coveted NBA Championship.

2 Barkley Gets His Way

via qimais2.com

There are cases when a player is able to twist a team’s arm so hard that the are able to get their way despite how much doing so hurts the team. This was the case when the Sixers traded all-star Charles Barkley to Phoenix after he publicly made his opinion known repeatedly that he wanted out of Philadelphia. In return for the all-star, the Sixers acquired Andrew Lang, Tim Perry, and Jeff Hornacek. Andrew Lang and Tim Perry would go on to play satisfactory roles for the Sixers however nowhere near Barkley’s output. The Sixers would make another bad decision trading Jeff Hornacek the following season to the Utah Jazz where he would flourish alongside John Stockton. As for Charles Barkley, he would lead the Suns to the Finals the very next season after being traded while also being awarded the NBA’s “Most Valuable Player”. He would also continue to forge a Hall of Fame career.

1 The Crippling Trade

via sbnation.com

In the summer of 2004, the Indiana Pacers traded Al Harrington for Atlanta Hawks’ Stephen Jackson. The trade, coming from a strict skill comparison, was a fair one, especially when factoring in that Al Harrington suffered multiple injuries during his time with the Pacers. However, the Stephen Jackson trade ended up being one of the biggest regrets in Pacers franchise history. A few months after being traded to the Pacers, Jackson would ignite the infamous “Malice at the Palace”, an incident that would involve a scuffle between several Pacers players and several Pistons Fans. The impact of the incident crippled the Pacers who were at the time among the best teams in the Eastern Conference. In one night the Pacers lost several of their starters to very lengthy suspensions.

More in NBA