Metrics 101: Biggest NBA Trade-Deadline Heists in History

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2017

Metrics 101: Biggest NBA Trade-Deadline Heists in History

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    The New Orleans Pelicans fleeced the Sacramento Kings, trading a pair of mediocre players (Langston Galloway and Tyreke Evans), semi-promising rookie Buddy Hield and a pair of draft picks for DeMarcus Cousins in a move made official Monday.

    It's undoubtedly a steal for the Pelicans, who now get to see what two of the league's most talented bigs can do when working in harmony. But was it the biggest robbery we've ever seen committed at the NBA trade deadline? 

    To determine the answer in wholly objective fashion, we're turning to NBA Math's total points added (TPA) calculations. Looking back at each deadline deal in the modern history of the Association (i.e. all February trades since the ABA-NBA merger), we can calculate how many points all players involved in the trades added to their new teams. 

    Only the remainders of the seasons during which they're traded matter, since what happens beyond those points are influenced by separate moves. That does mitigate the impact of acquiring draft picks, but teams pulling the wool over other organizations' eyes typically do so with the intent of improving their fortunes during the campaign in question. 

    Earning the top spot in this countdown is simple: produce the widest TPA margin between incoming and outgoing players. 

10. Clyde Drexler to the Houston Rockets (February 14, 1995)

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    Houston Rockets Get: Clyde Drexler (145.42 TPA), Tracy Murray (minus-25.5 TPA)

    Portland Trail Blazers Get: Otis Thorpe (26.62 TPA), Marcelo Nicola (played abroad), 1995 first-round pick (Randolph Childress)

    TPA Difference: 93.3

    Clyde Drexler enjoys the unique distinction of becoming the best player to work for multiple teams in the same season during the modern NBA era. He accumulated a staggering 145.42 TPA after the midseason move to the Houston Rockets, which narrowly edges out 2002-03 Ray Allen (140.45). 

    But Drexler's story isn't just one of individual success. 

    He helped lead the Rockets to the 1995 title, even averaging 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals during a postseason run that culminated in a 4-0 beatdown of Shaquille O'Neal's Orlando Magic on the sport's biggest stage. 

    However, his prowess and the success that followed this move aren't enough to cancel out the other factors. When talking about heists, what was given up most be taken into account.

    Houston's willingness to part with Otis Thorpe was rather significant, even if the 32-year-old big man was past his prime and would never replicate his All-Star campaign from 1991-92. Plus, the Rockets had to absorb Tracy Murray's salary and figure out how to mitigate his porous defense. 

9. Baron Davis to the Golden State Warriors (February 24, 2005)

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    Golden State Warriors Get: Baron Davis (71.06 TPA)

    New Orleans Hornets Get: Speedy Claxton (minus-25.98 TPA), Dale Davis (waived)

    TPA Difference: 97.04

    During the 28 games after Baron Davis was traded to the Golden State Warriors, he averaged 19.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 8.3 assists while shooting 40.1 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from downtown. It took him a little while to move into the starting lineup, but he excelled offensively when he did so and wasn't too much of a defensive liability. 

    Team success also followed, though a playoff appearance wasn't in the cards. 

    The 2004-05 Warriors could only muster a 34-48 record on the year, but it's hard to pin the blame on Davis. They went 18-10 with him on the roster, including a surprising eight-game streak of unbeaten play. It was his teammates who weren't up to the task for most of the campaign, preventing the Dubs from earning even the Western Conference's No. 8 seed.

    Also helping this trade's heist score is the putrid return the New Orleans Hornets received for his services. Speedy Claxton was a net negative who couldn't overcome his shooting woes (37.3 percent from the field and 11.1 percent from downtown), while New Orleans waived a 35-year-old Dale Davis before he could put on the teal uniform.   

8. Ray Allen to the Seattle SuperSonics (February 20, 2003)

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    Seattle SuperSonics Get: Ray Allen (140.45 TPA), Ronald Murray (minus-5.61 TPA), Kevin Ollie (minus-18.35 TPA), 2003 first-round pick (Luke Ridnour)

    Milwaukee Bucks Get: Desmond Mason (minus-10.76 TPA), Gary Payton (20.43 TPA)

    TPA Difference: 106.82

    This was supposed to be an even swap. 

    "It was an All-Star point guard [Gary Patyon] for an All-Star 2-guard [Ray Allen]. Both players are great,'' former New Jersey Nets vice president Rod Thorn told the Associated Press, via, after the 2003 exchange between the Seattle SuperSonics and Milwaukee Bucks. "Gary was in the last year with Seattle. They felt they got a quality player in Ray. That's a trade that could be real good for both teams.''

    In the end, it was a bit more lopsided, even if we remove the filler pieces and the 2003 first-round pick that would turn into Luke Ridnour. While Allen blossomed in Seattle, Payton wasn't able to reach his previous levels before the end of the campaign. Just take a look at how differently they performed: 

    Ray Allen (Seattle)
    Gary Payton (Milwaukee)

    Payton's per-game numbers give the illusion that he remained at an All-Star level. But he played poor defense for the Bucks, struggled with his perimeter shot and couldn't steer them past the Nets in the playoffs' opening round. 

    Allen, meanwhile, was an unabashed offensive genius, even if he couldn't lift Seattle into the postseason. At least he helped a below .500 team go 17-12 after the trade was completed. 

    And though it doesn't play into our analysis here, it's also worth noting that while Allen would go on to make four consecutive All-Star squads in the Pacific Northwest, Payton signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a high-profile free agent the summer following the trade. 

7. Jeff Hornacek to the Utah Jazz (February 24, 1994)

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    Utah Jazz Get: Jeff Hornacek (44.86 TPA), Sean Green (minus-1.0 TPA), 1995 second-round pick (Junior Burrough)

    Philadelphia 76ers Get: Jeff Malone (minus-63.01 TPA), 1994 first-round pick (B.J. Tyler)

    TPA Difference: 106.87

    Without using a time machine, it's hard to know exactly what the Philadelphia 76ers were thinking. 

    Perhaps they bought into the idea that Jeff Hornacek was declining. He was on the cusp of celebrating his 31st birthday and shooting just 31.3 percent from beyond the arc. Without the marksmanship that made him an All-Star two seasons prior, he didn't offer enough to be worth big bucks. 

    But even still, they should've gotten more from him than a first-round pick (from a team perennially in the playoff picture) and a washed-up version of Jeff Malone. The shooting guard had enjoyed a solid career, but his move to the City of Brotherly Love began a descent into constant injuries and defensive ineffectiveness, which opened with his serving as one of the league's least valuable players during the tail end of the 1993-94 campaign. 

    Even if Hornacek had never bounced back, this would've been a bad deal. But he did exactly that, shooting 42.9 percent from downtown following this midseason swap and then following that up by hitting at a 42.8 percent clip over his next six seasons with the Utah Jazz. 

    Adding an extra layer to the insult, the downward-spiraling Sixers had to watch as Hornacek immediately teamed up with John Stockton and Karl Malone in a run to the 1994 Western Conference Finals, (where they'd be outmatched by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets). 

6. Gerald Wallace to the Portland Trail Blazers (February 24, 2011)

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Portland Trail Blazers Get: Gerald Wallace (60.14 TPA)

    Charlotte Bobcats Get: Dante Cunningham (minus-31.6 TPA), Sean Marks (0.0 TPA), Joel Przybilla (minus-19.47 TPA), 2011 first-round pick (Tobias Harris), 2014 first-round pick (Shabazz Napier)

    TPA Difference: 111.21

    In the interest of not solely relying on revisionist history, let's turn to some grades from 2011. The results, after all, were mixed. 

    "Really? That's it? They get an All-Star for two firsts and an expiring contract?"'s John Hollinger wrote while giving the Portland Trail Blazers a B+. "... It's not a perfect fit, but considering it cost them only two draft picks—one of which they won't owe until at least 2013, the other a pick from the New Orleans Hornets that they acquired for little-used Jerryd Bayless earlier this season—it's about as good as they could have possibly hoped to do."

    SB Nation's Mike Prada gave Rip City a C and allotted a higher grade (B+) to the Charlotte Bobcats: "The other thing is that Wallace isn't the player he once was, at least this season. His rebounding is down. His shot attempts at the rim are down. His scoring efficiency is way down. Maybe it's a one-year trend, or maybe, after years of throwing his body around and suffering a number of injuries, Wallace is finally starting to decline. If so, the price tag acquired to get him—a couple mid-first round picks and two important frontcourt reserves—suddenly looks a lot worse."

    As it turns out, everyone was too pessimistic about the Blazers—and that's without accounting for the disappointing returns on Charlotte's new first-round picks. 

    Wallace thrived during his initial time in Portland and helped steer his new team into the playoffs—it was 32-25 before the deal and 16-9 after. And though it would only be a little more than a year before the Blazers dealt him to the New Jersey Nets, he did bring back a 2012 first-round pick that would turn into Damian Lillard

5. Marcus Camby to the Portland Trail Blazers (February 16, 2010)

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    Portland Trail Blazers Get: Marcus Camby (59.03 TPA)

    Los Angeles Clippers Get: Steve Blake (minus-54.39 TPA), Travis Outlaw (minus-25.03 TPA)

    TPA Difference: 138.45

    See if you can figure out which player fared best after this 2010 deal between the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers:

    Marcus Camby (Portland)7.01.511.
    Steve Blake (Los Angeles) minus-54.39
    Travis Outlaw (Los Angeles)

    Unless you fall victim to the glamour associated with scoring numbers, Marcus Camby is the easy choice. 

    He was still fewer than three seasons removed from winning Defensive Player of the Year, and his rim-protecting and board-clearing chops made an immediate impact on the Blazers. Without him, they allowed 107.9 points per 100 possessions and produced a 2.0 net rating. With him, those numbers morphed to 103.9 and 12.7, respectively. 

    While Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw dragged Los Angeles toward the bottom of the Western Conference, Portland earned the No. 6 seed.

4. DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans (February 20, 2017)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    New Orleans Pelicans Get: DeMarcus Cousins (120.15 TPA), Omri Casspi (minus-32.86 TPA)

    Sacramento Kings Get: Buddy Hield (minus-39.51 TPA), Tyreke Evans (minus -1.86 TPA), Langston Galloway (minus-20.78 TPA), 2017 first-round pick (top three protected), 2017 second-round pick

    Projected TPA Difference: 149.44

    If DeMarcus Cousins continues to play at the exact level he reached for the Sacramento Kings, he'll become the No. 3 finisher in post-trade TPA, trailing only 1994-95 Clyde Drexler and 2002-03 Ray Allen. And if he immediately meshes with Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, he's talented enough to surpass even those Hall of Fame names, though our projection doesn't allow for that improvement. 

    The deal, as first reported by The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, is nearly as lopsided as it gets, even if we assume the Kings will buck their own history and capitalize on their two new draft selections.

    Buddy Hield has struggled immensely during his rookie season, looking like a below-average player on both ends. That's not likely to change in a new location, especially because he'll be relied upon for even more offensive production with no stars to protect him from increased defensive attention. Langston Galloway and Tyreke Evans were only included to make salaries match, and there's a strong possibility they don't even stick on the SacTown roster. 

    Meanwhile, New Orleans' haul could make the disparity grow. Omri Casspi enjoyed a strong 2015-16 campaign, but the Kings buried him on the depth chart for inexplicable reasons. If the Pelicans properly showcase his floor-spacing ability, that minus-32.86 TPA projection could sell him quite short. 

    Sure, there are reasons for concern. Cousins' mental game has been notoriously weak, and there's no guarantee an ultra-big lineup with him and Davis can work. He may even flee in free agency after next season. 

    But judging this based purely on talent? Allow this tweet from NBA Math to show you just how uneven this swap looks from the get-go. Better still, listen to Kings general manager Vlade Divac admit he had a better offer on the table two days prior to pulling the trigger. 

3. Jason Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks (February 19, 2008)

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    Dallas Mavericks Get: Jason Kidd (96.89 TPA), Malik Allen (minus-6.88 TPA), Antoine Wright (minus-8.6 TPA)

    New Jersey Nets Get: Maurice Ager (minus-16.44 TPA), DeSagana Diop (minus-18.35 TPA), Devin Harris (1.6 TPA), Trenton Hassell (minus-39.0 TPA), Keith Van Horn (no longer playing), 2008 first-round pick (Ryan Anderson), 2010 first-round pick (Jordan Crawford)

    TPA Difference: 153.6

    Don't mistake volume for quality. 

    The Dallas Mavericks gave up plenty for Jason Kidd, Malik Allen and Antoine Wright—the latter two only played a total of 509 minutes in their new digs. But none of the individual pieces were too special, headlined by a pair of late first-round picks and a young version of Devin Harris who wouldn't break out until his first full season with the New Jersey Nets. Harris was the only player to earn a positive TPA score in New Jersey, but his defensive inabilities still nearly negated his offensive prowess. 

    Kidd, however, was special. 

    After arriving in Dallaswhere he'd begun his NBA career over a decade priorhe averaged 9.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists while shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 46.1 percent from downtown. His floor-spacing ability, knack for high-level distribution and defensive chops helped the Mavericks finish with a 51-31 record, though they'd sputter in the playoffs' opening round.

    And though we're only concerned with what took place during the year of the initial trade, anecdotal evidence boosts his standing even further. Kidd would stick with the Mavericks for a few more years and played a crucial part in their 2011 championship run.

2. Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers (February 1, 2008)

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Los Angeles Lakers Get: Pau Gasol (93.24 TPA), 2010 second-round pick (Devin Ebanks)

    Memphis Grizzlies Get: Kwame Brown (minus-9.72 TPA), Javaris Crittenton (minus-54.46 TPA), Marc Gasol (playing abroad), Aaron McKie (never played), 2008 first-round pick (Donte Greene), 2010 first-round pick (Greivis Vasquez)

    TPA Difference: 157.42

    Marc Gasol's rise to prominence would allow the Memphis Grizzlies to save some face from this deal. He's still making All-Star squads nearly a decade later, and his presence has allowed the organization to enjoy one playoff berth after another—though those haven't resulted in much postseason success. 

    But this was a coup for the Los Angeles Lakers at the time

    They gave up a plodding one-way center in Kwame Brown, a soon-to-be backcourt bust in Javaris Crittenton, a 35-year-old version of Aaron McKie who never played another minute of NBA basketball and two first-round picks that resulted in meager returns. And in exchange for their generosity, they received one of the sport's biggest frontcourt stars and—because apparently, that wasn't already enough—a second-round pick. 

    Pau Gasol was an immediately imposing presence in the paint for the Purple and Gold, and he helped propel the historic organization into a Finals battle with the Boston Celtics. They'd lose during his initial season but earn redemption with titles in each of the next two campaigns. 

    Without this trade, Kobe Bryant probably retires with "only" three rings. 

1. Tim Hardaway to the Miami Heat (February 22, 1996)

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    Miami Heat Get: Tim Hardaway (61.6 TPA), Chris Gatling (10.72 TPA)

    Golden State Warriors Get: Bimbo Coles (minus-35.66 TPA), Kevin Willis (minus-99.91 TPA)

    TPA Difference: 207.89

    The names in this trade might not indicate the largest trade-deadline heist we've ever seen. The values, though, tell a different story. 

    Tim Hardaway didn't find quite as much success with the Miami Heat as he did earlier in his career with the Golden State Warriors. But he was still excellent during his first half-season at South Beach (and would go on to make the All-Star squad each of the next two campaigns).

    And even that's not the only reason this trade fares so well from a purely objective standpoint. 

    The Heat also received the second-best player in the trade by securing Chris Gatling, who would average 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 59.8 percent from the field in his new home. The big man was a slight defensive negative, but his efficient offense more than cancelled that out, setting the stage for him to break out with an All-Star appearance the next season. Sure, that came after he signed with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent, but it still indicates he wasn't just an anonymous throw-in. 

    Meanwhile, the Warriors' acquisitions were awful. Bimbo Coles forgot how to score efficiently and wouldn't rediscover his stroke for a few seasons, while Kevin Willis' 47.2 true shooting percentage and volume-shooting tendencies made him a sizable negative. 

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from or NBA Math and accurate through the All-Star break.