Throughout NBA history, championship teams have been assembled by the victors of lopsided trades. Some such deals are clearly uneven when consummated, like the Los Angeles Lakers' acquisitions of Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in exchange for a bunch of spare parts.
More commonly, one-sided trades appear to be beneficial for both sides when they are made. It is not until years later that it becomes apparent that one team was taken for a ride.
There are various reasons why a seemingly fair deal may end up being lopsided. Some players don't fulfill their potential, while others exceed expectations. Injuries can play a role. In some instances, a coaching change or additional personnel moves can influence the outcome of the deal.
Regardless of the reason, coming out on the wrong end of a lopsided deal can set a franchise back several years. Fans and owners of that team do not take consolation in the rationale for the trade, and the general manager responsible for the deal rarely sticks around to make another.
In 2004, Ron Artest was selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team and named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Less than two years later, the Indiana Pacers traded the forward, in the prime of his career, to the Sacramento Kings for a one-dimensional player in Peja Stojakovic.
Stojakovic averaged 19.5 points in 40 games for the Pacers that season. In the summer of 2006, he re-signed with Indiana, only to be traded to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets for the draft rights to Andrew Betts.
Stojakovic had a couple of productive seasons with New Orleans before back problems curtailed his career. Artest, on the other hand, resurrected his career in Sacramento before becoming a key member of the Houston Rockets and eventually helping the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA championship in 2010. Now known as Metta World Peace, he is still the Lakers' starting small forward.
What ended up being a lopsided deal must be considered within context. Artest was suspended for the final 75 games of the 2004-05 season and the playoffs after he attacked a fan in the stands during the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl at The Palace at Auburn Hills. Early in the 2005-06 season, he requested a trade, and the Pacers placed him on the inactive list.
Artest was perceived as emotionally unstable, and executives around the league knew the Pacers were desperate to trade him. His value was at an all-time low. It is remarkable Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird was able to acquire Stojakovic, a three-time All-Star in his prime, in return.
It is hard to believe that the 2001 trade between the Phoenix Suns and New Jersey Nets, which sent Stephon Marbury to Phoenix and Jason Kidd to New Jersey, was precipitated by Kidd's off-court issues.
In January 2001, Kidd was arrested and pleaded guilty to a domestic abuse charge for assaulting his wife. The Suns' owner at the time, Jerry Colangelo, was known for his no-nonsense approach to negative publicity and shipped his point guard off to New Jersey that summer.
The trade was perceived as a relatively even swap of All-Star point guards. Kidd had the better track record. The Suns went to the playoffs in each of his five seasons in Phoenix and won 51 games in 2000-01, whereas the Nets were 57-107 in Marbury's two full seasons in New Jersey.
Marbury earned his first All-Star nod in 2000-01, when he averaged 23.9 points and 7.6 assists per game. At 24 years old, he was entering his prime and was four years younger than the 28-year-old Kidd.
The point guards' careers could not have taken more divergent paths after the trade. Kidd led the Nets to the NBA Finals during each of his first two seasons in New Jersey and finished second in MVP voting for 2002. He eventually won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Marbury was traded to the New York Knicks after two-and-a-half uninspiring seasons with the Suns. Phoenix won 62 games the year after his departure, and he feuded with successive Knicks coaches before flaming out in his early 30s.
Joe Dumars, the Detroit Pistons’ president of basketball operations, broke up the nucleus of a Pistons team that had advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the previous six seasons when he traded Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheikh Samb to the Denver Nuggets before the start of the 2008-09 season.
The outcome was a disaster for Detroit. Iverson feuded with coach Michael Curry and was sidelined in April for the rest of the season for what was officially declared a back injury, though there was speculation that it was due to his refusal to come off the bench.
Detroit barely made the playoffs as the eighth seed and was swept in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was the beginning of rapid decline for the proud franchise. Meanwhile, Billups and the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals.
It is easy to forget that the trade was part of a bigger plan by Dumars. Despite their string of trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, Detroit was four years removed from their 2004 championship and had not made it the finals since 2005. Ben Wallace had bolted for Chicago and the remainder of the team’s nucleus was aging. Their championship window had closed.
Iverson brought offensive firepower to a team that lacked a go-to scorer. Of equal importance, he was entering the final year of his contract. If he clicked with his new teammates, the Pistons would be title contenders once again. If not, Dumars could use his expiring contract to retool in the offseason.
Unfortunately for Pistons fans, that plan fell apart when he blew the team’s cap space on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
Don Nelson's fast-paced Golden State Warriors lit up the scoreboard, but the trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin, known as Run TMC, went 81-83 in their two seasons together. Nellie's team struggled on the boards, so early in the 1991-92 season, the Warriors traded Richmond to the Sacramento Kings for rookie holdout Billy Owens.
Richmond was Rookie of the Year in 1988-89 and averaged over 22 points per game in each of his first three seasons. Owens was projected to be an All-Star-caliber player, and his offensive versatility appeared to be a nice fit for Nellie's system. At 6'8'', he provided the Warriors with the size they desperately needed.
Owens had three solid seasons with the Warriors, in which he contributed over 15 points and nearly eight rebounds per game, though he never blossomed into the star many scouts expected. He played 10 seasons in the league, during which he averaged 11.7 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Richmond was an All-Star six times as a member of the Kings. His No. 2 jersey hangs from the rafters in the Kings arena, and he is a finalist for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
In retrospect, the Charlotte Hornets' deal to send the rights to Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac on draft night in 1996 was one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history. However, at the time, the Hornets had several good reasons for making the deal.
Charlotte felt compelled to trade Kobe because his agent made it clear that he did not want to play for the Hornets. Divac was an above-average center, at 28 years old, in what was still a big-man-dominated league. The Serbian averaged 14.2 points and 10.8 rebounds in 1993-94 and 16 and 10.4 in 1994-95 for the Lakers.
Bryant was an unproven commodity. Only two players, Shawn Kemp and Kevin Garnett, had made the leap from high school to the NBA in recent years, and they were both big men. The jury was still out on whether athletes, no matter how talented, could succeed in the NBA without playing college ball.
It was not as if Kobe was the biggest prospect in the draft. He slid to the Hornets at 13. Of the 20 players selected with the 13th pick in the 10 years before and after the 1996 draft, only one made an All-Star team, Dale Davis in 2000. Very few of them had careers comparable to that of Divac.