How can I call this trade the worst in Seattle history in comparison to the other dogs we just mentioned? Because this trade ruined the chemistry on TWO former contending teams, not just one.
The balance which had worked so well in both Seattle and Phoenix no longer worked as well in either city, although both teams did do well the year following the trade. But with the exchange of these two All-Star players in this straight-up trade, neither found the dominating form that had made both teams the elite they had been during the previous years. Part of that was obviously due to the Lakers drafting sensational rookie Magic Johnson and vaulting the Lakers to heights previously unknown, but the impact Dennis Johnson’s defense had for the Sonics is unmeasured.
Dennis Johnson was a 6-foot-4 guard and five-time NBA All-Star who averaged 14.1 points, 5.0 assists and 3.9 rebounds over his 14-year career. When Johnson retired in 1990, he was just the 11th player in history to have 15,000 points and 5,000 assists. He was named to nine straight All-Defensive Teams. He was a member of three NBA championship squads, two after leaving Seattle.
In what could be the best draft pick the Sonics ever made, Seattle selected Johnson in the second round of the 1976 NBA Draft with the 29th pick and was given a four-year contract which started with a salary of $45,000 in year one and ended with $90,000 in the last year.
He had grown up on the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, one of 16 children. He didn't make varsity until his senior year of high school and went to work driving a forklift in a tape warehouse after he got his diploma. He played ball in local leagues and was "discovered" by Jim White, coach of Los Angeles Harbor College. From there, Johnson went to Pepperdine. The Seattle SuperSonics drafted him as a "junior eligible" in 1976
Four years later Johnson and teammate Gus Williams were both named to the All-NBA Second Team, and Johnson was also named to the All-NBA First Defensive Team for the second consecutive year. After the Sonics made it to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight season, it would be the last time that the backcourt of Williams and Johnson would play together in SuperSonics uniforms. Dennis Johnson was traded to the Phoenix Suns before the start of the 1980–81 season.
Wilkens felt Johnson was too moody and erratic, too immature and a “cancer” on an otherwise championship team.
Paul Westphal was no slough either. Drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1972 out of USC, Westphal played three seasons and earned a ring in 1974, and then was traded to the Phoenix Suns where he earned another in 1976. He was a prolific scorer if not a bit soft on defense, yet defensive plays may be what he is best known for three decades later after his role in the triple-overtime win game 5 Phoenix win at Boston. He spent one year in Seattle before being shipped off to the Knicks the following year, eventually going back to Boston and then ending his career back in Phoenix.
Meanwhile Dennis Johnson was shipped off to Boston after several years in Phoenix, in another Red Auerbach fleecing for Celtic and former Kentucky lumbering big man Rick Robey, and Johnson went on to be a centerpiece in the legendary Lakers / Celtics rivalry on the 1980’s. In Sports Illustrated, teammate Larry Bird, who was not known for lightly tossing around compliments, called Johnson "the best I've ever played with." Meanwhile in Seattle the Sonics were never quite the same and eventually declined into mediocrity following Gus William’s season long contract hold-out, the Sonics change in ownership and consequent move to the Kingdome.