Top 11 NBA Trades That Would Have Changed the Game
Somehow we all have learned how to live with regrets. We have all managed to accept that one life-altering moment that has defined us. Yet, it is always fun to go back and say “what if”. What if I stayed with that crazy girl from the car wash, or what if I went to an out-of-state college? Or what if I decided to stay that night?
Life is full of crossroads that ultimately define our lives for better or worse. As much as we would all like to believe our instincts are never wrong, they, like man, are not perfect. So as the NBA trade deadline fast approaches, it is easy to forget the deals that never get done.
These are the deals that fall apart because a player’s wife doesn’t like a particular city, or said player has bad allergies and the proposed destination is not allergy friendly.
They are deals that if done would have changed the NBA landscape and prospective cities forever. So this is a list a verified trades that were documented and headed for consummation, but at the last minute someone changed their mind at the altar. That last-second change of heart would be a tiny cog in the machine that is a player’s career.
So get a gander of some of the greatest trades to never happen.
11) 1986: James Worthy and Byron Scott for Roy Tarpley and Mark Aguirre
Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss knows talent, but Hall-of-Fame General Manager Jerry West knows basketball. On the block, there is a phrase known as “real recognizes real”—well, this was the case in 1986. It was this theory that saved Dr. Buss from one of the biggest blunders in NBA history.
Now, any other year or player, this is a good if not great trade for the Lakers. However, real recognizes real, so Jerry West knew a baller when he saw one and was emphatic that Buss keep Worthy. In fact, West threatened resignation if Dr. Buss did not call Carter and renege.
West may have been aware of the fact Tarpley was known to fly—and no, not with Delta. For all of Tarpley’s talent, he lacked the championship intangibles that Worthy possessed, so West forced Dr. Buss to back out of the deal.
Carter obliged and Worthy remained a Laker and would become a champion. Tarpley would play a total of 280 games over a brief six-year career that would end in banishment from the NBA for repeated drug violations.
10) 1999: Larry Hughes for Tracy McGrady
The 76ers find a way to avoid talent. If you are a betting man and are lost on who to bet will be the next star in the NBA, place your dough on the player drafted directly after the Sixers. Or you could place your hard-earned scrilla on whatever player the team avoids in a trade.
Everybody and their mama knew Tracy McGrady was nice—now, just how nice was debatable. What was not debatable was that Larry Hughes was not as nice.
What was not debatable was that Larry Hughes played the very same position as the 76ers' current franchise player. So it was safe to assume he was not going to help them in the foreseeable future.
It sure would have been nice to have a player who could defend three positions and could be successful offensively moving without the ball. A player who had yet to establish his game and would welcome the opportunity to play in a pressure-filled environment.
Former Sixers General Manager and world-renowned talent evaluator Larry Brown decided AI was better suited to play along George Lynch, Eric Snow and Larry Hughes. They would pass on McGrady, who later led the league in scoring and became one of the game’s best talents.
Imagine what the Sixers could have been with a lineup that included Theo Ratliff, Allen Iverson, Eric Snow, Tracy McGrady and Derrick Coleman, with Tim Thomas coming off the bench.
Hughes was serviceable at best and gave all us 76er fans yet another reason to hate Larry Brown and his effect on the team.
9) 2011: Chris Paul for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom
Several players were supposed to be moved in this proposed trade, but only one mattered. It was the Lakers' acquisition of arguably the best point guard in the game, Chris Paul, which prompted David Stern to put the kibosh on this move.
In Stern’s attempt to keep the league “pure,” he actually saved the Lakers and hurt the Hornets.
The Hornets would have gotten Lamar Odom, who, although permanently disgruntled, would provide cap relief in just two years once his contract expired. They also would have received Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a Rockets draft pick. Those players all would have helped the Hornets remain competitive and the draft pick would have allowed them to rebuild.
Meanwhile, the Lakers would have lost their best role player and their most skilled big man. In addition, they would not have had anyone capable of taking advantage of Paul’s best skill—running the pick and roll.
So Stern actually saved the Lakers and, in the process, put the league on notice that he was still the man in charge, for better or worse.
8) 2000: Allen Iverson for Hot Garbage
This trade was terrible from all angles, and its subsequent veto momentarily saved the 76er brain trust from themselves, though their “genius” would eventually take shape. Rather than discuss and dissect the epic failure of this proposed trade, let us just reflect:
Charlotte Gets: Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and Travis Knight
LA Lakers Get: Anthony Mason, Toni Kukoc and Todd Fuller
Of course, the Lakers would have walked away smelling like roses.
7) 1994: Scottie Pippen for Shawn Kemp
Shawn Kemp was a premier force on the court, and with the abrupt retiring of Michael Jordan, the Bulls were faced with a rebuilding project. Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause took to the phones in an attempt to expedite said process.
Krause was able to secure the up-and-coming Kemp for an in-his-prime Pippen. Also, the deal would have included a draft pick and Ricky Pierce, who was serviceable at that point in his career.
Sonics owner Barry Ackerly decided not to make the move based on perceived fan reaction, and the Bulls moved on. The thought of Pippen teamed up with Gary Payton also may have scarred Ackerly straight.
On the other side, the Bulls would have done well with the Reign Man and Krause at the helm. The big question is whether Jordan would have returned to Chicago when he came back. Nevertheless, the Bulls won three more titles, one of which came against Kemp’s Sonics.
6) 1972: Dr. J to the Atlanta Hawks
This was not a trade, but a nullified transaction worth discussing.
Dr. J was the best finisher in basketball at this point, and he was about to team up with one of the game’s most potent offensive weapons in Pete Maravich. The tandem would have been similar to Jason Kidd and Vince Carter but with much better scoring from Maravich.
The two were set to become unbelievable. The problem was that the Doc “belonged” to another and another.
Dr. J was the star of the ABA, who were caught in a bitter battle with the NBA for professional basketball supremacy. The NBA had money to burn, while the ABA was what some would call a dream deferred.
In short, implied shady deals in the ABA, and the ABA’s short arms and deep pockets when it came to player salaries give Doc the needed gumption to bolt.
So when the good Doctor caught wind of his current ABA employer the Virginia Squires' financial problems, he decided there was no time like the present to jump ship. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Erving in the 1972 NBA draft the very same year the Hawks signed the Doctor and owned his NBA rights.
When it was all done, Erving would not play for any of these teams and would take the floor as a New Jersey Net, thus robbing us all of seeing him and Pistol Pete run up and down NBA hardwoods together.
5) 1997: Scottie Pippen for Tracy McGrady
Again, the genius of Jerry Krause goes unnoticed. Krause tried desperately to keep the Bulls from their horrific slide once Jordan retired. His greatness will forever be ignored.
Krause recognized greatness in a young high school superstar named Tracy Lamar McGrady and attempted to trade established star Scottie Pippen.
Krause secured a deal with the Vancouver Grizzlies, who were selecting fourth overall in the 1997 NBA Draft, McGrady's draft class. The Bulls would send Scottie Pippen to the Grizzs for the fourth pick in the draft and a player to be named later.
Now, yes, it is cold to send someone to Vancouver for whatever the reason, but it's even colder to send them for basketball purposes. However, Pip is from Arkansas and it doesn’t get much worse than that, plus word on the street is Vancouver is a lovely place.
Nevertheless, when the NBA i.e. MJJ found out about the deal, he threatened to retire and take about a scillion dollars in revenue with him, so Krause begrudgingly pulled out.
Few general managers had the keen eye of Krause, and sadly he will never be fully appreciated. As great as Jordan was, Krause put together some amazing talent and never was there a player out of place. He hired two of the NBA’s greatest coaches in Doug Collins and Phil Jackson and built two dynasties.
4) 1992: Charles Barkley for James Worthy
Imagine basketball’s biggest sideshow in a city that appreciates a good show. Well, it almost went down.
Magic Johnson had just retired and the Lakers were in need of a star, while the 76ers were tired of having a star and wanted to be abysmal for a while.
Philadelphia had grown weary of Charles Barkley’s act and wanted desperately to rid themselves of NBA relevance. The Sixers set on a mission to trade Sir Charles, and while Barkley would never make it to LA, just imagine if he did.
The Lakers finished the prior season 43-39 and had a decent lineup. If you add Charles Barkley and the basketball I.Q. of a Jerry West, there is no telling what could have transpired.
Instead, the “Contradiction Wagon” would take his talents to Phoenix and lead the Suns to their second NBA Finals appearance, where they would lose to the Chicago Bulls.
Barkley would never play in the NBA Finals again and would prove to be just another great player voided of the ultimate team accomplishment.
3) 1987: Michael Jordan to the Los Angeles Clippers
This is another example of money trumping all other relevant issues. In 1987, Michael Jordan was not the Jordan all these young cats have come to know and love—or maybe he was. The difference then was that he was called “Money Mike,” and he was not winning titles.
Some in the Bulls organization had grown tired of missing the championship mark and felt they would never hit it with Jordan in tow.
They quietly listened to trade offers, and things took a turn for the peculiar when the Clippers began calling. Somehow LA’s other team had a moment of clarity and decided to pursue Jordan in an attempt to rival the Lakers.
Clippers owner Donald Sterling had grown tired of being schooled by the Lakers and wanted some acclaim for his troops. The Clips back then had their own arena and draw fairly well, but could not compete with the gold standard of the league. So Sterling looked for respectability in a 6’6 shooting guard with a receding hairline.
The Bulls saw an opportunity to build a traditional basketball team and compete for a title. Jordan had taken the league by storm but had also built a conglomerate of naysayers and supporters in the process.
The Clippers were offering two draft choices, which the Bulls could turn into Rik Smits and Mitch Richmond. Chicago also planned on using their own draft choice on Rod Strickland. The Bulls were all too happy to trade Jordan.
Except at the last minute, Bulls owner and check signer Jerry Reinsdorf pulled the plug and deemed his cash cow, aka Michael Jordan, untouchabull.
Wow—and just like that, all was right with the world.
2) 2007: Kobe Bryant to the Chicago Bulls
Bryant wanted Chicago, and Chicago wanted him. Had this been any other player in the world, a trade would have been done and completed within the week.
Yet this was not just any player, and this was not just any franchise. The Lakers don’t give greatness away—they acquire it.
So, faced with the excruciating task of trying to rid their organization of one of the NBA’s all-time greats, the Lakers found a way to keep Bryant. In an effort to keep the decade’s most polarizing player, the Lakers found the player Bryant wanted to keep in Chicago and continued to ask for him.
It is unconscionable to think Luol Deng is the reason Kobe is not a Bull.
The Laker was so Deng (too easy to pass up) close to being a Bull. There are several reasons the great remain great, and two of those reasons were on display in this trade. One is pride—foolish or not—and the other is guts.
Bryant's pride would not allow him to go the Bulls and fail, so he wanted the cupboard as stacked as possible. The opportunity to be successful in his deemed Shogun’s dojo was too good to pass up, but he was not going to go to the Chi and lose. To Bryant, the Bulls had to still be in position to compete with good players after the trade.
The Lakers showed their testicular fortitude once again. They politely let Bryant know he could bounce if he so choosed, but they were going to gut any team he went to so badly that said team would not be able to win for years to come.
That, my friend, is gangster in its purest form. You want out? Well, leave, but until you do right by me, everything you touch will fail.
Bryant backed off his demand, and the Lakers gave him trusted soldier Derek Fisher and then Pau Gasol. The rest is, shall we say, water under the bridge.
1) 1984: Ralph Sampson for Michael Jordan
When an NBA trade doesn’t happen, usually there is a trail to who pulled out, but in this case, there is just an ambiguous comment from then-Portland Trail Blazers bead coach Jack Ramsey. “We would have done it” is all Ramsey would say, which actually says a great deal.
The Blazers are infamous for passing on Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft, but so did the Houston Rockets—twice. The Rockets entered the 1984 draft with the No. 1 pick, and the Portland Trail Blazers had the second overall selection.
A trade that would have sent 1983 Rookie of the Year Ralph Sampson to the Blazers for the second pick in the 1984 draft had been discussed. With the Rockets holding the No. 1 pick and many prognosticators speaking highly of the draft, the Rockets kicked around the idea but for some reason did not make the move.
The Blazers wanted a center and liked Sam Bowie, but they loved Sampson and have gone on record saying they would have taken the trade.
The trade would have put Houston in position to draft not only Hakeem Olajuwon, who they would select first overall, but also Michael Jordan—or even Charles Barkley. The Rockets decided to stand pat and buck history. Sampson’s career would be ravaged by injuries and Jordan’s would be marred by championships.
The Rockets got two rings, but imagine how many they could have had if they rolled with Jordan.
Kwame is the host of the popular sports talk radio Back Page Sports. You can listen to him every Monday 4PM-5:30PM PST on www.wpmd.org
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