Los Angeles Lakers' 12 Most Fortunate Trades in Team History

Manish NayakContributor IIIAugust 16, 2012

Los Angeles Lakers' 12 Most Fortunate Trades in Team History

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    From the early days in Minneapolis with Elgin Baylor and George Mikan to many of their stars today, the Los Angeles Lakers have a rich tradition of putting competitive teams on the floor year after year. 

    Although many of their greats have come through the draft or free agency, in honor of Dwight Howard's jersey, we count down the top 12 trades that have worked in favor of the Lakers—from Wilt Chamberlain to Dwight Howard and everyone in between.

Frank Brickowski and Peter Gudmundsson for Mychal Thompson

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    Mychal Thompson, the number one selection in the 1978 NBA draft by the Portland Trailblazers, had already spent almost ten seasons in the league before joining the Showtime Lakers in 1987 as a back up to the aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

    While he had spent the previous year and a half with the Spurs as a reserve, he came to the Lakers in return for Frank Brickowski and Peter Gudmundsson—two role players that had not seen any action in the 1987 season.

    Even though Magic Johnson and company were on their way to another successful campaign, the 1986 Boston Celtics—regarded as one of the greatest teams of all time—were still swinging high off their recent NBA Championship.

    The two teams met in the 1987 NBA Finals, and without a doubt, the valuable depth that Thompson brought to the front court to battle the Celtics' Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, and Bill Walton proved to play a great reason that the fierce six game scrap went the Lakers' way. 

    Another championship run would soon follow in 1988.

    Meanwhile, Brickowski had a couple decent seasons with the Spurs and Sonics over the next decade while Gudmundsson went off to the CBA before quietly fading away.

Brian Cook and Maurice Evans Exchanged for Trevor Ariza

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    In another not-so-famous Orlando Magic/Los Angeles Lakers trade, the Lakers received Trevor Ariza in return for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans—two journeymen between five and ten years older than Ariza.

    While Ariza never contributed much in terms of lighting up the scoreboard, what he did do as a 6'8" swingman was control the other team from doing so.

    Heralded as one of the game's best "stoppers," he held the opposition in check to help secure the 2009 NBA Championship. 

    He shined brightest when it mattered most—in the playoffs—making clutch steals in the waning moments of several games. Lifting passes that were intended for Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, he helped fend off the Nuggets in late game situations in Games 1 and 3 of the Western Conference Finals, thereby helping the Lakers win the series in six games. 

    Later, in the NBA Finals, his points-per-game average soared into the double figures with a 3-point field goal percentage over 50.

    Although he left for Houston as a free agent the next season, he was given his ring in front of the Laker fans in an emotional gesture initiated by Kobe Bryant.

Cedric Ceballos in Return for Big Shot Robert Horry

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    It's common knowledge that the only person to own more championship rings than Michael Jordan and did not wear a green jersey while doing so, is Robert Horry.

    Yet he's not on this list for all that extra weight on his fingers.

    Or even his stats for that matter.

    He's here because simply because he did his job. He made shots when the Lakers needed them most, usually when the chips were down with the clock ticking to zero.

    A list of his clutch buckets could fill up a Bleacher Report article on its own, but who did the Lakers give up to grab the man with ice water in his veins?

    It was Cedric Ceballos, who although was a very talented high flying All-Star for the Phoenix Suns, had his best days behind him. After the trade in 1997, Ceballos played more than 47 games only once more till he left the NBA quietly after the 2001 season—after bouncing around with three more teams.

Norm Nixon Switched for Byron Scott

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    One thing that Magic Johnson needed to run the fast break was...well, a fast running mate to throw the ball to and slam it home. While Norm Nixon provided the wheels for the first two championship runs in 1980 and 1982, Showtime really kicked full throttle into a new gear when Byron Scott came to town in 1983.

    Now don't get me wrong, the durable Norm Nixon was a very gifted All-Star who was routinely near the top of league leaders in assists and steals. But as a pure point guard, as opposed to Scott, it made him a second fiddle to a player of Magic's caliber and found it difficult to move well without the ball and score.

    So away he went to the, then, San Diego Clippers with Eddie Jordan and a 1986 Draft Pick (which was later givent to the Suns and became All-Star Jeff Hornacek) for freshly drafted Scott and veteran Swen Nater.

    Eddie Jordan and Swen Nater retired shortly after the trade while Norm Nixon had only one real good season left in him before calling it quits in 1989—after missing the 1987 and 1988 seasons entirely.

    Scott meanwhile lead the Lakers in scoring and steals in 1987—widely considered to be the greatest of the Laker teams—en route to six trips to the NBA Finals with three championships. He followed it up with an encore in 1997 as a mentor on the team to the new dynamic duo of Shaq and Kobe.

Shaquille O'Neal Unloaded for Lamar Odom and Others

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    At the time, the trade after the 2004 NBA Finals was looked to be lop-sided in favor of the Miami Heat.

    Shaquille O'Neal was the big prize and the rest of the pieces on the scale were supposed to at least attempt to balance it out. In return for O'Neal, the Heat parted ways with a future draft pick, Brian Grant, Caron Butler, and Lamar Odom.

    Initially, it seemed as if Heat had pulled a fast one. The Diesel, with Dwyane Wade, quickly shot to the top by coming one win from the NBA Finals in 2005 and won the whole enchilada in 2006.

    Meanwhile, the Lakers completely missed the playoffs, got crushed in the first round, and traded away the enormous potential of Caron Butler in return for Kwame Brown—all within two seasons.

    The fortunes reversed when Odom was paired with the freshly acquired Pau Gasol and settled into his role as a sixth man—a spot where he excelled at. After helping the Lakers win two championships in 2009 and 2010, the All-Star forward was rewarded with the 2011 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and recognized for his reliability having missed only seven games for the Lakers from the 2007-2008 through 2010-2011 seasons.

    By then, O'Neal had become the "Shaqtus" in Phoenix while Miami struggled to make the playoffs each season till "The Decision" in part due to O'Neal not suiting up an average of almost thirty contests per year.

Big Game James Worthy Lands in L.A.

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    In 1980, the Lakers traded Don Ford and a first round pick to Cleveland for Butch Lee and Cleveland's first round pick in 1982.

    Well it so happened that Cleveland had the worst record after the 1982 season. That meant all the Lakers needed to do was win a coin flip (rules at the time) with the San Diego Clippers for the first overall selection.

    Whether or not it was Heads or Tails, the Lakers won the toss and grabbed the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, UNC star James Worthy.

    Worthy fit in seamlessly with the Lakers, helping the team dominate the rest of the 1980's with seven trips to the NBA Finals in his first nine seasons. His three championship rings, seven All-Star game selections, and enshrinement into the NBA Hall of Fame are a testament to his versatile ability.

    The other key components of the deal, Don Ford and Butch Lee didn't have quite as sterling of a résumé: Both were out of the league before Worthy put a Lakers jersey on. After the trade, Ford lasted two more seasons in the NBA while Lee burned out after only eleven games with the Lakers and retired to play in Puerto Rico.

The Man of the Hour: Dwight Howard

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    Dwight Howard is the most dominant big man in the game with a prowess on both ends of the floor and has proven he is one of the few that are capable of changing a game on both ends of floor.

    The only reason his trade is ranked relatively low on this list is because it's a fact that he has yet to step on the court. Of course, common sense says he will be a great fit and dominate the yellow paint but unless one has a crystal ball to know how the trade/team chemistry will work out or if he will end up having a one injury riddled season with the Lakers and then bolt (which, undoubtedly, would be a foolish move).

    But let's assume for simplicity's sake that everything will work out as planned and the pieces from all parties in the trade do their part.

    Let's look at the four team dance that went down between the Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Orlando Magic:

    As reported on Yahoo, in the trade between the teams, the Lakers receive the decorated Dwight Howard—(Three time Defensive Player of the Year, Six time All-Star, among several other accolades)—the consensus best Center of this generation. Along with him, the rest of the shipments include Earl Clark and Chris Duhon, two players in their twenties.

    In return, the Lakers gave Andrew Bynum a one-way ticket to Philadephia and sent some gifts with him in the form of a protected first round draft pick in 2017 and an unprotected draft pick in 2015.

    We have yet to see how the four (Bryant, Gasol, Nash, Howard) future Hall of Famers will work together but if they remain as a strong nucleus, they will be a force to be reckoned with for at least the next 2-3 seasons, helping to determine if we placed Howard correctly on our list.

Gasol for Gasol...and Kwame

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    Before the 2007-2008 campaign, the Lakers were coming off three failed seasons that didn't see them reach the second round. Tensions were at an all time high with Kobe wanting out, but that all changed when the Lakers reached a deal with Memphis to acquire Center Pau Gasol.

    After seven stellar seasons in which he was a multiple time All-Star who had virtually every franchise record in the history of Grizzlies, Pau Gasol was dealt to the Lakers along with a draft pick (Devin Ebanks) for the laughable package of Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, Pau's younger brother Marc Gasol, and two draft picks (Donte Green and Greivis Vazquez).

    Except for the unexpected growth of Marc Gasol's game, the rest of the squad that the Lakers unloaded were a bunch of sub-par role players (if one can even call the bundle that) who had earned the ire of fans.

    Gasol's impact was immediate as the Lakers went straight to the NBA Finals in 2008, won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, and momentarily restored Kobe's faith in the system.

The Big Dipper Wilt Chamberlain

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    The late great Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain was an irresistible force and an immovable object. His scoring accolades and overall prowess on the court are legendary.

    To wrap your mind around just how much of a phenom he was, the NBA had to create rules just to curb his dominance that are still present to this day, such as the width of the lane.

    For all his gladiatorial accomplishments on the court, it never materialized into many championships for his team—the Philadelphia 76ers.

    Bill Russell and his Celtics were the usual foil for the giant but even though it finally clicked for them in the 1966-67 season, things were back to normal the following season and tensions soared between players and management—the behemoth was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.

    For who, mind you?

    Jerry West? Elgin Baylor? Gail Goodrich? Hell, even the Great Western Forum? Surely an asset of at least comparable value, no?

    The answers were: Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark, and Jerry (as close to West as they would get) Chambers.

    The Lakers were back in the NBA Finals in 1969, 1970, 1972 and 1973, winning the grand prize in '72 by riding a record 33-game win streak and setting the then-NBA record for the most wins in a regular season with 69.

    Imhoff and Chambers were out of the league by then after spending a couple of lackluster years at the end of the bench on several teams.

    Clark carved out a niche of his own by making it to a couple of All-Star games and an All-NBA selection although we could bet the 76ers felt they should have gotten more for their stud. 

The Captain: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    After spending six seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks that included winning an NBA championship in 1971, coming within a game of another ring in 1974, and collecting three MVP award among several others pieces of hardware, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade to either New York or Los Angeles for personal reasons.

    The Lakers' offer of Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers, and Junior Bridgeman seemed to be good enough for the Bucks and away he went to the west coast.

    The change of scenery did not disrupt his firmly entrenched position near the top of almost every single major category during his early years with the Lakers—from points, to field goal percentage, to blocks. Similar things cannot be said about the fates of the other four players involved in the swap.

    Elmore Smith, a highly regarded shot blocker that led the league twice while in Los Angeles and found some success in his first year in Milwaukee. However, just like Dave Meyers, he was out of the league by the end of the decade.

    Brian Winters went on to have a decent professional career with a couple trips to the All-Star game, and along with Junior Bridgeman, has his jersey hanging from the rafters in the Bradley Center.

    Although they were talented players in their own right and the Bucks got a lot of good years from Abdul-Jabbar, management could have pined for more.

    Considering Kareem racked up three more MVP's with the Lakers—and we know what happened when some Showtime Magic was sprinkled, it's another fortunate situation that fell into the laps of Jack Kent Cooke and the Lakers.

Hornets Lose a Mamba

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    This isn't going be another "Kobe vs. Michael" debate where I start listing Kobe Bryant's achievements and pit it against other legends.

    Rather, this is to show how fortunate the Lakers were in getting a teenage prodigy for Vlade Divac from the (then) Charlotte Hornets on draft day 1996.

    Kobe has done it all and while Divac was a symbol for hope from a war torn nation and a great ambassador to the sport (who was amazingly gifted considering he is one of only six players in NBA history to rack up 3,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocked shots), Captain Hindsight says a one-for-one deal was foolish.

    Granted, high school players are always a gamble and Divac was a proven player who still had many great years ahead of him with Sacramento, yet something tells us that the Lakers got the better of this one. The eruption of Kobe Bryant's game, will to win, and killer instinct make him the standard bearer for the 21st century who bridged the game from everyone's favorite "NBA on NBC of the 90's to what it is today.

The Gift of Magic

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    Many people forget that the chances of Los Angeles landing Earvin "Magic" Johnson were minuscule.

    Gail Goodrich, a legendary member of the vaunted '72 Lakers team wanted out.
    In 1976, Goodrich stated that he had the right to sign a contract with the then-New Orleans Jazz but back then, when it came to free agency, league rules stated that the Lakers had to receive compensation to make the trade go through. A deal was struck to send the Lakers the top pick of the Jazz from the 1979 NBA draft (among other draft selections in other years).

    As it so happened, by the wave of a wand, the Jazz spent the 1978-79 season as cellar dwellers (Goodrich's last season in the NBA) and the Lakers were in line for one of the top two picks of that draft. Since there was no lottery system in place, the order of selection was based upon a coin flip between the worst team from each conference.

    The Lakers won the coin flip over the Chicago Bulls (who used it to take David Greenwood) and they nabbed the 1979 NCAA Champion, Magic Johnson. He proceeded to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals an astonishing nine times in twelve seasons from 1979-80 to 1990-91, winning the NBA Championship five times. 

    No need to get into the rest of his Hall of Fame credentials because if you don't know who he is, get out from under that rock.