The 10 Worst NBA Trades of the Last Decade
When a trade is agreed to and executed, both NBA front offices believe they are making a positive move for their respective franchises. Sometimes, though, the deal proves dramatically one-sided.
Perhaps one franchise gave up on a player too soon and he became a quality contributor at his next stop. Maybe management overvalued veterans or attached too many draft picks.
Or, if you're the Brooklyn Nets, you did both of the latter.
The NBA world has watched many transactions turn ugly, and we're remembering—and probably laughing at—the worst moves since the 2008-09 season began.
2012: Houston Gives Up on Lowry
The Rockets moved Kyle Lowry soon after a disagreement with then-coach Kevin McHale. Since joining the Toronto Raptors, he's set career-high marks and is a four-time All-Star. Gary Forbes, whom the Rockets received in return, never played a minute for Houston. But what keeps the transaction from holding a top-10 spot is the first-round pick the Rockets acquired that helped them land James Harden in 2013.
2011: Pacers Deal Kawhi
At the time, San Antonio's draft-day deal popped a few eyeballs. The Spurs traded George Hill, a favorite of Gregg Popovich, for an unproven wing in Kawhi Leonard. Well, that unrefined forward turned into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time first-team All-NBA and Finals MVP. Sure, Leonard recently forced a trade, but his six healthy seasons were hugely memorable.
2014: Mavericks Whiff on Rondo
A double-double machine for the Celtics, Rajon Rondo didn't have the same success in Dallas. He clashed with head coach Rick Carlisle, who benched Rondo in the playoffs. The Mavs went on to let him walk in free agency. Boston, meanwhile, unlocked the potential of Jae Crowder and later packaged him with Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving.
2008: Pistons Crumble After Iverson, Billups Swap
In each of the previous seven years before this deal, the Pistons won at least 50 games. They reached the Eastern Conference Finals six straight times.
But mere days into the 2008-09 campaign, Detroit surprisingly moved on from longtime point guard Chauncey Billups in favor of then-Denver Nuggets guard Allen Iverson.
"Once Chauncey was traded, everything went downhill from there," Rodney Stuckey said, per Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. "Chauncey was the glue who held everything together. Once he was traded, it was a domino effect."
The Pistons limped into the postseason at 39-43 before being swept out by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Iverson's contract expired, and Detroit failed to win more than 32 games—let alone reach the playoffs—for seven years.
2011: Knicks, Nuggets, T-Wolves and the No-Win Carmelo Trade
If you're feeling generous, you could give the Nuggets a slight edge in this transaction. Jamal Murray—then merely a future draft pick—might become a key performer on a perennial playoff team.
But this is a near-total disaster.
Carmelo Anthony forced a trade out of Denver to the New York Knicks, who also acquired Billups and a 2016 first-round pick. They later traded that in the abysmal Andrea Bargnani deal.
The Nuggets brought in Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov and future picks, with Murray the most notable selection. The Minnesota Timberwolves facilitated the trade by adding Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph.
I need to go wash my hands.
2011: Clippers Trade Unprotected Pick, Which Becomes Kyrie Irving
Despite being 16 games under .500 at the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Clippers thought a 28-year-old Mo Williams and 30-year old Jamario Moon were more valuable than an unprotected first-round pick.
Los Angeles finished with the NBA's seventh-worst record, yet the ping-pong balls bounced the right way for Cleveland. The Cavs took Irving at No. 1 overall. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 2011-12 and drilled the game-winning shot in the 2016 NBA Finals.
2012: Nets Gift the Blazers Damian Lillard
Even if the Brooklyn Nets wouldn't have selected Damian Lillard, they missed the chance to even entertain the discussion. Shortly before the 2012 deadline, the 15-29 Nets sent an unprotected first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace.
Why? Brooklyn didn't view the draft class highly.
According to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN, the Nets were focused on Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson. Essentially, they liked Wallace more than any draft prospect outside those three.
Brooklyn stumbled to the finish at 22-44 and the sixth-worst mark in the league. Portland used the corresponding pick to grab Lillard, who's become a three-time All-Star.
2012: Thunder Duck Luxury Tax, Ship Harden to Rockets
Sure, the Miami Heat rolled to the 2012 NBA title over this roster, but the Oklahoma City Thunder had a core built to contend for championships. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka formed a tremendous quartet.
However, both Harden and Ibaka were approaching contract years. Rather than give Harden a max deal of $60 million over four years, OKC played hardball and only offered him $55.5 million in order to avoid paying as much luxury tax as possible.
When he didn't accept, the Thunder traded Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a package of picks that ultimately netted a top prize of Steven Adams.
Oklahoma City didn't fade into oblivion, as other teams on this list did. But since it decided against ponying up for Harden, the franchise lost Durant in free agency and hasn't returned to the NBA Finals.
2013: Knicks Go All-In on Bargnani
One year after averaging 19.5 points per game, Andrea Bargnani struggled to only 12.7 per game during 2012-13. For some reason, the Knicks decided that meant he was a must-have centerpiece.
New York shipped Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson and three draft choices to Toronto for Bargnani. He would appear in just 71 games over the next two seasons, missing time due to elbow and calf injuries. The Knicks did not re-sign him in 2015.
Toronto didn't receive much—though a future pick turned into Jakob Poeltl, a piece of the trade to acquire Kawhi Leonard—but it had the chance to commit to a roster led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
2013: Nets Mortgage Future for KG, Pierce
Breathe easy, Nets fans. This trade can't hurt you anymore.
In 2013, the franchise jumped on an offer to acquire aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (plus Jason Terry!) for the measly price of three future first-round picks—2014, 2016 and 2018—and swap rights in 2017. Oh, and five players, but whatever.
Brooklyn posted a 44-38 record in 2013-14 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. And by the end of the following season, neither player remained on the roster.
The Celtics turned the draft picks into Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and a piece of the Kyrie Irving trade. They won 55 games in 2017-18. Brooklyn has 69 wins over the past three years.
2015: Celtics Steal Isaiah Thomas from Suns
Less than eight months after the Sacramento Kings dealt him to the Phoenix Suns for Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception, Isaiah Thomas found his way to the Celtics.
Phoenix had a crammed backcourt, so the move wasn't ridiculous. However, the Suns accepted a return of Marcus Thornton and a future first-round pick—one that via another trade ended in the draft rights for Marquese Chriss—in a three-way trade with the Pistons.
Thomas soon blossomed into an All-Star and finished fifth in 2016-17 MVP voting. Thornton appeared in nine games for the Suns.
2015: Kings Clear Cap Space, Shovel Picks at Sixers
During the summer of 2015, the Sacramento Kings were desperate to improve. They had a disgruntled superstar in DeMarcus Cousins and wanted to surround him with veteran free agents.
The Kings shipped Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, a future first-round pick—which will convey in 2019—and rights to swap first-round choices in 2016 and 2017 to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for draft rights to two international players.
However, the primary player Sacramento created cap space to chase in free agency—Wesley Matthews—chose the Dallas Mavericks anyway. The Kings settled for Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos, among others.
2017: Cavs Send Kyrie to Celtics
One season after providing the championship-winning shot, Irving wanted out of Cleveland. Boston took advantage of the chance to acquire the All-Star, sending Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn's 2018 first-round pick to the Cavs.
But nothing went well for Cleveland. Injuries limited Thomas, who headed to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a midseason shake-up. The Cavs traded Crowder to Utah too.
During an interview with ESPN's Rachel Nichols in May, LeBron James said he felt "it was just bad" that the franchise traded away a superstar point guard. Considering the troubles that followed and how quickly Cleveland moved on from the main returns, it's hard to disagree.