Los Angeles Lakers: Ranking the Five Worst Trades in Team History
The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a full-fledged rebuilding stage, and they will have little room for error as they try to compile talent in the upcoming years.
Despite their decorated achievements throughout NBA history, the Lakers have not always made the right decisions when it comes to personnel. A few examples, such shipping off Eddie Jones for Glen Rice or Caron Butler for Kwame Brown, illustrate the occasion lapse in judgement of Lakers brass. This is not to detract from their remarkable success over the years, but it serves as a reminder that a single decision can alter a franchise for years to come.
With that in mind let's take a look at the five worst trades in Lakers history.
While some of these poor decisions were followed ultimately by success, we rank each one by its feasibility at the time and its immediate impact on the team. Trades like Sam Perkins for Benoit Benjamin and Doug Christie in 1993 certainly meet the criteria, but these next five transactions top the list of worst trades in Lakers franchise history.
5. Eddie Jones for Glen Rice (1999)
Jones was an All-Star in 1998 and a standout perimeter defender at shooting guard. However, with Kobe Bryant quickly maturing into an NBA superstar, the Lakers opted to use Jones as a trade asset instead of re-signing him once he hit free agency the following year.
After leaving Los Angeles for the Charlotte Hornets in 1999, Jones averaged 20 points and a league-leading 2.7 steals per game. In return for Jones, the Lakers received Glen Rice, J.R. Reid and B.J. Armstrong. Although Rice was part of the Lakers 2000 title run, none of those players returned the following season; only Rice was still in the league by the 2002-03 season.
Yet, considering the career trajectory of Kobe, the unnecessary swap of Jones for a trio of unremarkable Lakers can easily be overlooked. As far as mistakes go, this one is rather forgivable.
4. Nick Van Exel for Tony Battie and Tyronn Lue (1998)
Known for his shooting streaks and flashy passing, Nick Van Exel was a staple in Los Angeles during the mid-1990s. After averaging 15 points and seven assists in a productive 1995-96 season, Van Exel continued to produce with the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal a year later.
Yet, Van Exel had fallen out of favor with his teammates and was eventually seen out of Los Angeles in 1998. The Lakers traded Van Exel to Denver—where he proceeded to put up career-high numbers for the Nuggets—and received Tony Battie and Tyronn Lue in return.
While Van Exel's behavior issues on and off the court provided ample reason for a trade, the Lakers were clearly underpaid for a legitimate NBA point guard. Like Jones, Van Exel’s scoring ability was worth far more than what the Lakers received in the long run.
Nonetheless, Derek Fisher proved to be a formidable replacement, and Van Exel began to decline just a few years later.
Four Future Draft Picks for Steve Nash (2012)
When news broke in summer 2012 that Steve Nash was headed to Lakers, many began labeling them as potential title contenders. Nash, although suffering from nagging injuries, was still a top NBA point guard entering the 2012-13 season. He averaged more than 10.5 assists per game for seven of his final eight years in Phoenix and was an All-Star for six of those seasons.
However, injuries debilitated Nash as soon as he arrived in Los Angeles, and his price tag—two future first-round picks and two future second-rounders—was nowhere near worth the mere 65 games he played in a Lakers uniform.
Nash has had an astounding career and is struggling with injury by no fault of his own, but the Lakers gambled and lost when they decided to sacrifice their future for an aging star. With the Lakers in a painful transitional stage, those missing draft assets could seriously hurt them over the next several years.
Unlike the previous two transactions, the acquisition of Nash did not come about as a means to create balance throughout the Lakers roster. Instead it was a risky attempt to propel the Lakers to title contention with their current stock of veteran talent. It’s too early to tell just how detrimental this trade was, which is why it is ranked only third, but a prolonged playoff drought over the next several years might strengthen its case as one of the worst trades in Lakers history.
Caron Butler for Kwame Brown (2005)
After a 2004 Finals defeat to the Detroit Pistons, the Kobe-Shaq era ended abruptly as Shaquille O’Neal was dealt to Miami for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler. During the 2004-05 season, Butler was a bright spot on an otherwise frustrating Lakers team led by an even more frustrated Kobe Bryant.
Despite putting up impressive numbers alongside Bryant, Butler was sent to Washington that summer for floundering 2001 first-overall pick Kwame Brown. Brown was brought in to address the Lakers’ dilapidated frontcourt but proved to be wholly ineffective. Kwame did many head-scratching Kwame things during his time in Los Angeles while averaging less than eight points and seven rebounds per game.
Butler, however, elevated his game in a big way on the Wizards, averaging 19.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and almost two steals per game during his time in Washington. He was selected as an All-Star for consecutive seasons from 2006 to 2008.
Butler was only 24 when he was sent to Washington, which makes this trade much less understandable than the hurried decision to pair an older Nash with an aging Kobe. The Lakers seriously miscalculated on this one.
Adrian Dantley for Spencer Haywood (1979)
After a terrific career at Notre Dame, Adrian Dantley was a force in the NBA as soon as he entered the league. The Lakers acquired the young star in 1977 from the Indiana Pacers, where Dantley averaged 26.5 points and over nine rebounds per game.
Playing with legends Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the years leading up to the Showtime era, Dantley predictably saw his production drop. Despite his huge potential, the Lakers opted to trade him to the Utah Jazz in 1979 for Spencer Haywood.
Dantley went on to have a Hall of Fame career in Utah, where he was named to six All-Star games. He averaged more than 30 points for four consecutive years and led the league in scoring during the 1981 and 1984 seasons.
Haywood, on the other hand, struggled with cocaine addiction until his departure from Los Angeles a year later.
Oh, and he also claimed to have considered hiring a hit man to kill Lakers coach Paul Westhead in 1980 in an interview with People magazine (h/t Philly.com), though he was talked out of it by his mother.
So there’s that..