The Biggest Trade-Deadline Heists in NBA History
Every year in the NBA, right around Valentine's Day, front offices fall in love with the idea of making a trade. Some executives are seduced into deals that alter the course of their franchises for years.
These heists happen quite often, with a team seemingly approaching the bargaining table with one hand tied behind its back.
There were many reasons for these deals, including players who wanted out of their situations, teams that were strapped for cash and the thought that certain guys were over the hill.
But as history proved, many of the factors that led to the trades were misrepresented. And one team in each of the 10 deals made out like a bandit.
10. Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets
The Heist: Feb. 23, 2011: Deron Williams was traded by the Utah Jazz to the New Jersey Nets for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, cash, a 2011 first-round draft pick (Enes Kanter) and a 2013 first-round draft pick (Gorgui Dieng).
This is one of the rare cases in which the team that gave up the star won the deal.
The then-New Jersey Nets may not have known they were getting a system-dependent and injury-prone point guard, but that's what they got.
Williams, who was in his mid-20s at the time of the deal, missed an average of 16 games per season after he was traded to the Nets. His per-game averages for points and assists both dropped in New Jersey (and later Brooklyn), and his field-goal percentage took a big hit.
Williams' run with the Nets ended unceremoniously in the summer of 2015 when Brooklyn agreed to buy out the remaining two years of his contract.
On the other end of the deal, the Utah Jazz picked up the No. 3 pick in the 2010 draft, then-19-year-old Derrick Favors. Over the last five years, Favors has developed into one of the cornerstones of a young Jazz team that's currently in the Western Conference playoff picture.
This season, he's averaging 16.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and is 17th in the league in player efficiency rating among those who've played at least 1,000 minutes.
9. Baron Davis to the Cleveland Cavaliers
Yes, that's right. Baron Davis with a first-round pick. The Los Angeles Clippers had to attach that asset to Davis to get anyone to take on his salary. The Cleveland Cavaliers bit, and it paid off.
Just 10 months later, the Cavs used the amnesty provision to waive Davis. They had to pay him eight figures over each of the next two seasons even though he wasn't on the team. But the hefty price tag was still worth it, as that first-round pick turned into Kyrie Irving.
Irving is now a three-time All-Star who's averaged 20.8 points and 5.5 assists per game during his career. And his presence, along with that of other young talent, was among the reasons cited by LeBron James in a 2014 letter that detailed why he was returning to Cleveland.
Jamario Moon and Mo Williams, meanwhile, did little to move the needle for the Clippers.
Moon averaged 3.5 points per game in 19 appearances with L.A. Williams fared much better, averaging 13.8 points per contest in 74 games, but he still turned out to be a transient sixth man; he was with the Utah Jazz by the 2012-13 season.
8. Steve Francis to the New York Knicks
The Heist: Feb. 22, 2006: Steve Francis was traded by the Orlando Magic to the New York Knicks for Trevor Ariza and Anfernee Hardaway.
The Orlando Magic got out from under Steve Francis' contract right before his career took a sudden turn toward irrelevance. He was just 29 at the time of the deal but appeared in only 78 games after the New York Knicks acquired him. Over that stretch, he averaged 10.4 points per game and shot 41.2 percent from the field.
Francis was out of the league by early 2009.
The Magic didn't get an immediate return out of the deal, either.
They waived Anfernee Hardaway two days later and traded Trevor Ariza less than a year later, but this was still a steal for Orlando in the long run. The salary-cap space created by this traded aided in the acquisition of Rashard Lewis, who was a key cog on the 2009 Eastern Conference championship team.
7. Baron Davis to the Golden State Warriors
The Heist: Feb. 24, 2005: Baron Davis was traded by the New Orleans Hornets to the Golden State Warriors for Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis.
Baron Davis' second appearance on this list comes thanks to the minuscule return the New Orleans Hornets got for him.
Davis, fresh off averaging 22.9 points and a league-leading 2.4 steals per game in 2003-04, was shipped to the Golden State Warriors for Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis.
Claxton was solid for the Hornets but was a backup for the entirety of his season-and-a-half with the team. Dale Davis was waived a week after he arrived in New Orleans.
Baron Davis, on the other hand, went on to have perhaps the best stretch of his career as the Warriors' starting point guard from 2005 to 2008.
He averaged 20.1 points, 8.1 assists and two steals per game with Golden State and was one of the driving forces behind the Warriors' stunning first-round upset of the top-seed Dallas Mavericks in 2007.
6. Kevin Johnson to the Phoenix Suns
The Heist: Feb. 25, 1988: Kevin Johnson was traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers with Tyrone Corbin, Mark West, a 1988 first-round draft pick (Dan Majerle), a 1988 second-round draft pick (Dean Garrett) and a 1989 second-round draft pick (Greg Grant) to the Phoenix Suns for Larry Nance, Mike Sanders and a 1988 first-round draft pick (Randolph Keys).
Halfway through his rookie campaign, Kevin Johnson—who was averaging just 7.3 points per game for the Cleveland Cavaliers—was shipped to the Phoenix Suns. There, he became one of the most productive point guards of the 1990s.
In his first four full seasons in Phoenix, Johnson averaged 21.2 points and 11.1 assists per game. Shortly thereafter, Charles Barkley arrived, and the team made it to the 1993 NBA Finals, where it fell to—guess who?—Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.
The other steal in this trade was the draft pick that eventually became Dan Majerle, who was a three-time All-Star as a member of the Suns.
This trade could have finished higher on the list if not for Larry Nance's successful run with the Cavaliers. He averaged 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game over six-plus seasons in Cleveland.
5. Tim Hardaway to the Miami Heat
The Heist: Feb. 22, 1996: Tim Hardaway was traded by the Golden State Warriors with Chris Gatling to the Miami Heat for Bimbo Coles and Kevin Willis.
This one was inevitable. Two weeks before he was traded, Tim Hardaway had this to say, per Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune): "Yeah, I hope it happens. I wish that (bleep) would happen, I tell you that. Every day is not a fun day if I'm not enthused."
Even still, it's hard to imagine the Golden State Warriors not finding a better return for a three-time All-Star who was still on the right side of 30.
The Miami Heat sent Bimbo Coles and Kevin Willis back to Golden State. Coles averaged 7.8 points and 4.1 assists per game over three-plus seasons with the Warriors. Willis was released in the summer of 1996, just five months after the trade.
The Heat got significantly more on their end of this bargain. Hardaway was named an All-Star twice with Miami and averaged 17.3 points and 7.8 assists per game over five-plus seasons.
The Heat made the playoffs all six years Hardaway was with the team, including a run that ended with a loss to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997.
4. Jeff Hornacek to the Utah Jazz
The Heist: Feb. 24, 1994: Jeff Hornacek was traded by the Philadelphia 76ers with Sean Green and a 1995 second-round draft pick (Junior Burrough) to the Utah Jazz for Jeff Malone and a 1994 first-round draft pick (B.J. Tyler).
Speaking of players victimized by Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, we move now to Jeff Hornacek, who was acquired by the Utah Jazz in 1994.
Hornacek was past his days of averaging 20 points per game by the time he arrived in Utah, but he still became a critical second scoring option behind Karl Malone. As a member of the Jazz, Hornacek averaged 14.4 points and four assists per game while shooting 42.8 percent from three-point land.
And to top it all off, he helped the team reach the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998—only to lose to the Bulls both times.
Jeff Malone, a solid scorer in his own right, was productive with the Philadelphia 76ers but was out of the league by the end of the 1995-96 season.
3. Clyde Drexler to the Houston Rockets
The Heist: Feb. 14, 1995: Clyde Drexler was traded by the Portland Trail Blazers with Tracy Murray to the Houston Rockets for Otis Thorpe, Marcelo Nicola and a 1995 first-round draft pick (Randolph Childress).
Even after winning the NBA title in 1994, the Houston Rockets weren't content to sit around at the 1995 trade deadline. That's why they traded for eight-time All-Star Clyde Drexler, a move plenty were skeptical about at the time.
Tim Povtak of the Orlando Sentinel relayed Phoenix Suns guard Dan Majerle's thoughts on the deal:
It looks good to us. You never know, of course. But I was kind of glad it happened, because Otis [Thorpe] always gave us a lot of problems, with his rebounding, scoring and defense. Now, I just know if Hakeem [Olajuwon] gets in foul trouble, it'll be another guy who is out, and the big forwards and small forwards will have trouble guarding Charles (Barkley).
I think Clyde is going to play great, because he's back home. That'll probably get him going, especially on offense. He'll be an energized player. But I think it hurts their defense. Clyde is not the greatest defensive player.
As it turned out, Houston's defense was just fine with Clyde the Glide. The Rockets finished third in the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage that season, and Drexler helped put them over the top in their quest for a repeat.
In addition to winning the championship in '95, Drexler made two more All-Star teams as a member of the Rockets. In his three-plus seasons with Houston, he averaged 19 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.
The Portland Trail Blazers' return in this deal wasn't quite as fruitful. Thorpe played just 34 games in Portland, and Marcelo Nicola never suited up for an NBA game. Randolph Childress, the product of the draft pick Houston sent to the Blazers in the trade, played 51 games in a two-season career.
2. Rasheed Wallace to the Detroit Pistons
The Heist: Feb. 19, 2004: As part of a three-team trade, Rasheed Wallace was traded by the Atlanta Hawks to the Detroit Pistons. The Boston Celtics traded Chris Mills to the Hawks and Mike James to the Pistons. The Pistons traded Zeljko Rebraca, Bob Sura and a 2004 first-round draft pick (Josh Smith) to the Hawks. The Pistons traded Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter and a 2004 first-round draft pick (Tony Allen) to the Celtics.
This trade was an unwieldy beast with tons of moving parts. But at the heart of it all was Rasheed Wallace, who went on to be an anchor for one of the best defenses in league history with the Detroit Pistons.
Wallace had been traded 10 days earlier by the Portland Trail Blazers to the Atlanta Hawks, who might've been kicking themselves after they watched Wallace help the Pistons win the title in 2004.
The Hawks got Josh Smith (by way of one of the picks involved) out of the deal but never sniffed title contention.
Wallace, however, remained in the title picture for most of the next five-and-a-half seasons with Detroit. He averaged 13.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and one steal per game, and his defensive box plus-minus of 2.3 ranks sixth in franchise history.
1. Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers
The Heist: Feb. 1, 2008: Paul Gasol was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies with a 2010 second-round draft pick (Devin Ebanks) to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol, Aaron McKie, a 2008 first-round draft pick (Donte Greene) and a 2010 first-round draft pick (Greivis Vasquez).
The biggest trade-deadline coup of all goes to the Los Angeles Lakers, who acquired one of the league's best big men for what appeared to be half of their scrap heap.
Some will say that time and the development of Marc Gasol have made this a decent trade for the Memphis Grizzlies, but in the short term, L.A. won this in a landslide.
Pau Gasol was averaging 18.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, three assists and 1.4 blocks per game for Memphis during the 2007-08 season. The Lakers got him for Marc Gasol, Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie and a couple of first-round picks. Brown and Crittenton were the only players in the deal who'd even suited up for L.A. that season.
On the day the deal went down, ESPN.com's Marc Stein relayed the sentiments of the rest of the league:
The reaction was thus widespread shock (and disgust) when word began to circulate that the Lakers, without warning, were able to add Gasol for seemingly nothing. "There's not a lot of happy campers out here," said one West exec, echoing the sort of surprise I heard from pretty much every team I spoke to Friday night.
After the deal, both Brown and Crittenton spiraled toward forced retirements from the NBA. And though Marc Gasol wound up being one of the league's best centers, he wasn't ready to help L.A. win titles during the back end of Kobe Bryant's prime.
His older brother was. Pau Gasol was named an All-Star three times with the Lakers. In six-and-a-half seasons in L.A., he averaged 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 blocks per game.
And most importantly, he was the second wheel on two championship teams.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.
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