Contrary to popular belief, making a trade in the NBA isn't always a zero-sum game. Sometimes, all parties to a particular transaction emerge as immediate winners.
Granted, it doesn't happen very often. Usually, one squad gets screwed over by a savvier partner, or the participant who gets worse does so intentionally, with the benefactor bolstering its playoff potential in the process.
But once in a while, when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, there are no losers. Whether or not there's any intent to get better on the part of those involved is irrelevant. What matters is that everyone with a stake in the swap winds up in a stronger position right away.
At least five such moves in the Association have fit the above criteria over the last two-and-a-half years. Click through to see which ones made the cut!
Date: June 23, 2011
San Antonio Spurs got: Kawhi Leonard, Davis Bertans, Erazem Lorbek
Indiana Pacers got: George Hill
Leave it to the Spurs and Pacers—two of the NBA's model franchises—to establish the blueprint for a mutually beneficial trade in today's NBA.
Well, technically this swap went down nearly six months before the players and owners agreed to the latest collective bargaining agreement.
Yet, the threat of a more restrictive financial structure clearly factored into this transaction. At the time, George Hill was a year out from restricted free agency, wherein he'd eventually earn a significant raise—one that the cap-conscious Spurs could ill afford, especially with an MVP-caliber point guard, in Tony Parker, already on the roster.
Instead, San Antonio opted to squeeze some value out of Hill before he hit the (semi-) open market.
And boy, did San Antonio ever do well. Come draft day 2011, the Spurs sent Hill, one of Gregg Popovich's favorite players, to Indy in exchange for the 15th pick and a pair of foreign players.
Those two overseas guys (Davis Bertans and Erazem Lorbek) have yet to set foot in the Association. As for the pick, Kawhi Leonard filled the massive hole at small forward that had long plagued the Spurs and went so far as to emerge as a possible franchise star of the future with his breakout performance in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Not that the Pacers didn't make out well. All they got was a player, in Hill, who's cemented himself as one of the best defenders at the point guard position.
Leonard probably would've been an asset in Indy, but with Paul George and Lance Stephenson, the team wasn't exactly desperate for another young forward.
“When Kawhi ended up being there, we had to think about taking him,” then-Pacers GM David Morway told Grantland's Zach Lowe last spring. “But we already had Danny Granger and Paul George. That’s what made it a little easier for us.”
Date: July 11, 2012
Brooklyn Nets got: Joe Johnson
Atlanta Hawks got: Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson, Jordan Williams, a 2013 first-rounder, a 2017 second-rounder
Hindsight being what it is, it's easy to poke fun at the Nets for going after Joe Johnson in the summer of 2012. The whole point of bringing Iso Joe to Brooklyn was to satisfy Deron Williams to the extent that he'd sign a five-year, $100 million deal to stay rather than take less money over fewer years to play for his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
GM Billy King's scheme worked, though the Nets now have only an aging Johnson, a hobbled D-Will, a first-round playoff exit last spring and a 16-22 record in 2013-14 to show for all of it.
In addition to the clogged cap sheet (until 2016) and the lack of flexible draft assets (due in large part to a subsequent blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics), that'll make it difficult, if not downright impossible, for Brooklyn to compete for anything meaningful for the foreseeable future.
There's no denying, though, that at the time this trade worked out in the Nets' favor. They put together their best season (49-33) in seven years and, in the process, qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
As for the Hawks, they held serve even after dumping their six-time All-Star on Brooklyn. Johnson's departure freed up all manner of financial flexibility with which GM Danny Ferry could explore different options for transforming the Hawks into a legitimate contender in due course.
Best of all, it didn't cost the Hawks their postseason streak. They won 44 games last season—enough to snag the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Date: July 10, 2013
Los Angeles Clippers got: J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley
Phoenix Suns got: Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler
Milwaukee Bucks got: two second-rounders
Technically, this trade doesn't fit in this particular discussion. The Bucks clearly didn't improve by parting ways with Redick and were widely panned for managing to extract a forgettable bounty of two second-round picks from a player for whom they'd previously sacrificed two useful youngsters (Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb), a veteran guard (Beno Udrih) and cash.
And with the way Eric Bledsoe had performed prior to his latest knee injury (18 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists in 33.5 minutes), you could argue that the Clippers didn't get enough in return for Chris Paul's promising understudy, especially given their current dearth of defensive-minded bigs.
But let's accentuate the positive here—of which there's plenty. In Redick and Dudley, Doc Rivers received a tandem of three-point specialists to help L.A. spread the floor for the dynamic duo of CP3 and Blake Griffin.
If you've been following the NBA this season, I probably don't need to go into too much detail as to why Phoenix came out as a winner. Where once the Suns seemed destined to "tank" their way to a top pick in the 2014 draft, they now find themselves in the midst of the crowded Western Conference playoff picture.
Even after dropping six of nine since the Bled Show went on hiatus.
Date: July 27, 2013
Phoenix Suns got: Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, a 2014 first-rounder
Indiana Pacers got: Luis Scola
Bledsoe may be the biggest reason for the Suns' shocking turnaround, but he's hardly the one to have benefited from the Midas touch of Phoenix's new regime.
Gerald Green has been a revelation unto himself in Jeff Hornacek's uptempo system all season—even more so as Bledsoe's temporary replacement. In 21 starts, Green has averaged 15.3 points, which would easily be his career high were it stretched out over the course of an entire season.
It's possible, though, that Miles Plumlee has been the better find. The eldest Plumlee brother has averaged a sturdy line of 9.8 rebounds, 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks while starting every game for the Suns in 2013-14.
This, after playing a total of 55 minutes across 14 games as a rookie in Indy last season. Throw in the late first-rounder the Pacers owe the Suns this summer, and Phoenix could wind up with three intriguing pieces for the price of a player in Scola, who it picked up off the amnesty waiver wire two summers ago.
That being said, the Pacers didn't exactly get shortchanged here. Green proved a poor fit with the Pacers' plodding approach, Plumlee was never going to be more than another of Roy Hibbert's backups and the pick Indy surrendered might wind up no more valuable than an early second-rounder.
As for Scola, he's done well to fortify a Pacers bench that ranked among the worst in the NBA last season. So far, he's chipped in 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 50.4 percent from the field in 18.1 minutes. With Scola and Danny Granger among the reserves, Indy should have an excellent shot at upending the Miami Heat and competing for the franchise's first NBA championship come spring.
Date: Dec. 9, 2013
Sacramento Kings got: Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy, Aaron Gray
Toronto Raptors got: Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez
For the second time in as many seasons, a team that traded Rudy Gay took off after dumping him. The Toronto Raptors have won 13 of 19 since Gay last suited up for them. The rest of the starters (i.e. DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson) have picked up the slack on the offensive end in Rudy's absence.
But the real surprise has come on the defensive end. According to NBA.com, the Raptors have been the second-most efficient defensive squad in the league since parting ways with Gay.
That makes sense, in some respects. Now that Rudy's no longer in Toronto to soak up a third of the team's possessions (and most of the shot clock therein), the remaining players have all become more involved in the flow of the offense.
And, typically, when guys get touches on one end, they're more motivated to put forth the effort, energy and intensity needed to succeed on the other.
What sets Rudy's latest move apart from the one from Memphis, of which he was a part last season, is that this year's recipient (the Kings) has reaped the benefits of having him around. Sacramento had won four of five prior to Friday's one-point loss to (ironically enough) the Memphis Grizzlies.
The reason for the turnaround, it seems, has something to do with Gay's gravitational pull within an offense. The Raptors suffered on account of Gay's magnetism since they didn't have anyone who could truly counterbalance his presence.
The Kings, though, have two such players, in Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins. That duo needed a third, specifically a wing scorer, to balance out the former's work with the ball at the point and the latter's exploits in the paint.
Now, if only Sacramento's defense didn't still stink...
Any other trades of this kind that come to mind? Let me know on Twitter!