Metrics 101: NBA's Most 1-Sided Trades of the Last 5 Years
- Only win shares earned for the franchise in question are relevant. If a player flopped in his new location but broke out elsewhere, only the original developments matter.
- Subsequent trades are not considered. If a team acquired a 2015 first-round pick but later dealt it for another selection, we're still looking at the original pick (who likely won't have earned any win shares for the team in question).
NBA trades are risky endeavors.
Just to complete one, you have to offer enough value to tempt the other side into parting with something of value. That concept alone sets teams up for failure, when evaluations of players and/or draft picks differ greatly and talent can be realized in drastically disparate manners depending on the situation.
Nevertheless, trades do take place. And they almost always have winners and losers; rare are the swaps in which the two sides stay perfectly even in perpetuity. Some victors are clear in the immediate aftermath, while others don't emerge until plenty of time has transpired.
This hasn't changed over the last five years (generously dating back to the beginning of the 2013 offseason, since the current 2018 offseason hasn't yet drawn to a conclusion). Plenty of misfires have taken place, and we've subjectively singled out the 12 that stand out most for more careful analysis.
To determine an objective hierarchy, we looked at the win shares acquired by each organization involved in the transaction, but with a few important rules:
The featured trades in this article boast the largest gaps between sides.
Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks
Toronto Raptors Get 8.6 Win Shares: 2016 first-round pick that became Jakob Poeltl (7.2), Steve Novak (1.4), Marcus Camby (0), Quentin Richardson (0), 2014 second-round pick that became Xavier Thames (0), 2017 second-round pick that became Jonah Bolden (0)
New York Knicks Get 2.4 Win Shares: Andrea Bargnani (2.4)
It's tough to call this a heist because the Toronto Raptors didn't get anything of extreme value in return for Andrea Bargnani, who flamed out with the New York Knicks and wasn't able to average more than 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists while playing shoddy defense and slashing 44.7/30.2/81.8 during his two Big Apple seasons. But Jakob Poeltl alone was far more valuable before serving as a primary piece in this summer's trade for Kawhi Leonard.
In fact, Bargnani's value was closer to that of Steve Novak, and the veteran sharpshooter spent just 54 games playing for the Canadian franchise during his age-30 season.
Rajon Rondo Disaster
Boston Celtics Get 18.2 Win Shares: Jae Crowder (17.3), 2016 first-round pick that became Guerschon Yabusele (0.6), Brandan Wright (0.2), 2016 second-round pick that became Demetrius Jackson (0.1), Jameer Nelson (0)
Dallas Mavericks Get 15.5 Win Shares: Dwight Powell (14.9), Rajon Rondo (0.6)
We could wax poetic about Jae Crowder's efficacy with the Boston Celtics, which allowed him to function as one of the NBA's best per-dollar values before he was moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the Kyrie Irving swap.
But this is simpler.
Rajon Rondo was an absolute disaster with the Dallas Mavericks, and everything boiled over when he was dismissed from a first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets (sold as a back injury) after disagreements with head coach Rick Carlisle and a poor, borderline contagious attitude, per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. Dwight Powell salvages this trade, but acquiring him was originally intended to be more of a fringe benefit.
DeMarcus Cousins Leaves Sacramento
New Orleans Pelicans Get 6.3 Win Shares: DeMarcus Cousins (6.3), Omri Casspi (0)
Sacramento Kings Get 5.0 Win Shares: Buddy Hield (3.6), Tyreke Evans (0.8), 2017 second-round pick that became Frank Mason II (0.5), Langston Galloway (0.1), 2017 first-round pick that became Zach Collins (0)
This might've looked worse if DeMarcus Cousins had never suffered a ruptured Achilles, setting the stage for increased chemistry alongside Anthony Davis and a possible new pact during the 2018 offseason. But now that he's joining the Golden State Warriors, it'll start trending in the opposite direction if Frank Mason II continues looking like a minor draft steal and Buddy Hield receives an opportunity to break out.
Hield's shooting acumen already makes this palatable for the Sacramento Kings. But they still gave up far more than they got, even with a finger injury limiting Omri Casspi's bayou-based tenure to only a single appearance.
Serge Ibaka Begins Short Orlando Stay
Oklahoma City Thunder Get 4.8 Win Shares: Victor Oladipo (4.0), Domantas Sabonis (0.8), Ersan Ilyasova (0)
Orlando Magic Get 3.8 Win Shares: Serge Ibaka (3.8)
This is a confusing trade because of what's happened to each and every player since they left the organizations to which they were traded in June of 2016.
Serge Ibaka was a horrid fit with the Orlando Magic and was shopped to the Toronto Raptors mere months later, bringing back only the disappointing Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick that became Anzejs Pasecniks. Ersan Ilyasova left the Oklahoma City Thunder in another trade after only three games played, and the Victor Oladipo/Domantas Sabonis combination disappointed before they were parlayed into Paul George the next offseason.
Because of the George addition (and the fact the organization just re-signed him rather than watching him flee to Los Angeles), it's pretty obvious who won this swap. But we're not accounting for those secondary moves in the objective analysis, hence the placement among the honorable mentions.
They'll Get There
Kyrie Irving Blockbuster
Boston Celtics Get 8.9 Win Shares: Kyrie Irving (8.9)
Cleveland Cavaliers Get 2.6 Win Shares: Jae Crowder (1.7), Ante Zizic (1.0), 2018 first-round pick that became Collin Sexton, 2020 second-round pick, Isaiah Thomas (minus-0.1)
Only one year has passed since the Boston Celtics completed a blockbuster deal to acquire this ball-handling wizard, which doesn't allow for the requisite time to climb higher in the objectively determined standings. But that's going to happen as Kyrie Irving continues to rack up minutes for the C's, especially since some of the big-name additions have already moved on from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Isaiah Thomas' brief tenure was disastrous, to the point that he contributed only negative win shares before the organization dumped him off to the Los Angeles Lakers. Jae Crowder struggled to find his shot and was sent to the Utah Jazz in the trade-deadline roster overhaul. Ante Zizic played well in sporadic minutes and Collin Sexton looks promising, but that's simply not enough.
For the package to avoid slipping further behind Boston's side of the deal in subsequent seasons, Sexton and Zizic would need to outperform Irving. Good luck with that.
Donovan Mitchell Draft-Day Theft
Utah Jazz Get 5.2 Win Shares: Donovan Mitchell (5.2)
Denver Nuggets Get 3.9 Win Shares: Trey Lyles (3.9), Tyler Lydon (0)
Yes, Donovan Mitchell was that good during his rookie season. He should only build upon that success moving forward, while Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon are both expected to come off the Denver Nuggets bench in relief of Paul Millsap, attempting to carve out larger roles among the team's glut of 4s.
This may not be too lopsided yet (and it should be noted that Denver only picked Mitchell at the behest of the Jazz front office), but it's going to look awful in a few years.
The Numbers Don't Do Justice
Boston Celtics Get 12.2 Win Shares: 2016 first-round pick that became Jaylen Brown (6.0), Kris Humphries (4.1), Gerald Wallace (1.4), 2014 first-round pick that became James Young (0.7), Keith Bogans (0.1), MarShon Brooks (0), 2017 first-round pick that became Markelle Fultz (0), 2018 first-round pick that became Collin Sexton (0), Kris Joseph (minus-0.1)
Brooklyn Nets Get 8.2 Win Shares: Paul Pierce (5.2), Kevin Garnett (2.8), Jason Terry (0.2), D.J. White (0), 2017 first-round pick that became Kyle Kuzma (0), 2017 second-round pick that became Aleksander Vezenkov (0)
This will go done in the history books as one of the most lopsided trades the Association has ever witnessed. The Brooklyn Nets overpaid significantly for a trio of aging veterans, mortgaging the long-term future of the franchise for a ceiling that never came close to materializing. In fact, they're still trying to recover half a decade later as general manager Sean Marks is forced to absorb overpaid talents into cap space and do his darnedest just to gain a few useful draft picks.
But the numbers don't bear that out.
Though the Boston Celtics crippled the Billy King-era Nets by emptying their draft-day coffers, they misused one on James Young and acquired a handful of past-their-prime veterans and youngsters who'd never pan out. Jaylen Brown is currently the biggest prize, though even that is slightly misleading.
Because we're not accounting for secondary moves, the 2017 first-rounder that became Markelle Fultz remains part of the equation even though Boston subsequently swung it for Jayson Tatum and an additional first-rounder. Moreover, the destruction of a division rival has to count for something, though it isn't factored into this objective analysis.
Rest assured that we're not overlooking the magnitude of this deal despite its inability to earn a featured spot in the actual countdown.
5. Jrue Holiday Joins the New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans Pelicans Get 19.2 Win Shares: Jrue Holiday (19.2), Pierre Jackson (0)
Philadelphia 76ers Get 9.2 Win Shares: Nerlens Noel (9.2), 2014 first-round pick that became Elfrid Payton (0)
If we unfurl the secondary moves, this doesn't look nearly as bad for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Nerlens Noel was still a disappointment, failing to parlay his physical talents into offensive growth or any sort of win-aiding production. By the time he was shipped off to the Dallas Mavericks for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a pair of second-round picks, he'd appeared in 171 games for the franchise but emerged victoriously in just 42—a .246 winning percentage that would translate to a 20-62 record over the course of an 82-game campaign.
At least Elfrid Payton became Dario Saric and a pair of draft picks one year later. His time with the Philadelphia 76ers didn't span even an hour before he, still in the form of an unsigned No. 10 selection, was dealt to the Orlando Magic.
If we included Saric's numbers (7.6 career win shares), this would become significantly more even. But the New Orleans Pelicans would still have the advantage after acquiring Jrue Holiday, who endured an injury-created downswing in recent years but has since blossomed back into the All-Star-caliber floor general of his Philadelphia tenure.
Without including the Payton-Saric trade, this is unbalanced and only getting worse as Holiday plays out the remaining four seasons of his pact with NOLA. But even the more realistic look at the transaction could feature a growing divide. Improved as Saric looked during the 2017-18 campaign, he still can't match the individual exploits of Holiday while serving as a tertiary figure (at best) for the Sixers.
4. Chicago Bulls Overvalue Doug McDermott
Denver Nuggets Get 15.9 Win Shares: Gary Harris (13.4), Jusuf Nurkic (2.5), 2015 second-round pick that became Sir'Dominic Pointer (0)
Chicago Bulls Get 4.7 Win Shares: Doug McDermott (4.7), Anthony Randolph (0)
You can at least understand the appeal.
Doug McDermott was coming off a phenomenal campaign at Creighton, completing his collegiate career by posting 26.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Better still, he did so while shooting 52.6 percent from the field, 44.9 percent from downtown and 86.4 percent from the stripe. Even with legitimate defensive flaws, he was though of as a can't-miss offensive prospect capable of creating his own offense and thriving in spot-up situations.
Except he did miss.
And the Chicago Bulls missed even worse.
By trading up to gain access to his services, they handed the selections that became Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic to the Denver Nuggets. The former has turned into an integral piece in the Mile High City, comfortable serving as a deadly off-ball threat while assuming tough defensive responsibilities on a nightly basis. The latter didn't work alongside Nikola Jokic but still looked promising enough to complete the secondary trade with the Portland Trail Blazers that brought in Mason Plumlee.
Meanwhile, McDermott could only average 8.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.7 assists in the Windy City while slashing 44.5/39.8/84.9. The three-point ability might've been beneficial, but it couldn't outweigh the liabilities he created in other areas before he, Taj Gibson and a second-rounder were sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Joffrey Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne.
3. Tobias Harris Begins Detroit Pistons Tenure
Detroit Pistons Get 14.2 Win Shares: Tobias Harris (14.2)
Orlando Magic Get 1.8 Win Shares: Ersan Ilyasova (1.1), Brandon Jennings (0.7)
Even in the immediate aftermath of this deal, the two sides looked a bit lopsided.
Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney, as one of many examples, gave the Orlando Magic a C-, while the Detroit Pistons received an A for their efforts:
"It’s understandable that a player of Harris’s style would be divisive among talent evaluators. Even still, it’s far less understandable that he would be moved for so little. The trade as currently reported would see the Magic receive no long-term pieces, developmental prospects, or draft picks of value—only a decent, stretchy power forward on a cheap deal and the partial season that Jennings has left under contract. If the market for Harris’s services was indeed this barren, perhaps it would have been wiser for Orlando not to deal him at all. A move of some kind was inevitable given the awkward fit between Harris, Nikola Vucevic, and Aaron Gordon, among others. Yet rarely do NBA teams sell low on 23-year-olds who have shown as much game as Harris."
But let's put this in the simplest terms possible.
Playing a combined 47 games for Orlando, Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings averaged (not individually, but together) 15.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 39.2 percent from the field, 36.9 percent from outside the rainbow and 72.9 percent at the free-throw line. Harris alone suited up 157 times with the Pistons, averaging 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.4 blocks with a 47.0/37.6/85.6 slash line.
If that's not convincing enough, consider this: Harris, after aiding Detroit's playoff pushes for a significant period, was part of the package sent to the Los Angeles Clippers that landed Blake Griffin, while Jennings left Orlando in free agency and Ilyasova was used to acquire Serge Ibaka mere months after this first transaction.
2. Kevin Love Travels to the Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland Cavaliers Get 29.9 Win Shares: Kevin Love (29.9)
Minnesota Timberwolves Get 14.1 Win Shares: Andrew Wiggins (12.4), Thaddeus Young (1.4), Anthony Bennett (0.3)
Philadelphia 76ers Get 3.6 Win Shares: 2016 first-round pick that became Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (1.6), Luc Mbah a Moute (1.1), Alexey Shved (0.9)
First, let's take a step back and marvel at how few players involved in this three-team swap have remained with the squads that landed them. Kevin Love is still logging minutes for the Cleveland Cavaliers (and has re-upped to remain in Northeast Ohio a while longer), while Andrew Wiggins is about to make boatloads of money with the Minnesota Timberwolves. But that's it.
Thaddeus Young is an Indiana Pacer. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will play out 2018-19 for the Oklahoma City Thunder after an offseason trade. Luc Mbah a Moute is a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. Alexey Shved and Anthony Bennett aren't on NBA rosters.
And really, this is an appropriate development. After all, this blockbuster deal always centered around Love and Wiggins—the former a bona fide superstar at the time of the swap, and the latter a No. 1 pick who hadn't yet suited up in the Association but was bubbling over with potential.
But it hasn't been even close to even, despite the gaudy scoring totals posted by Wiggins. While Love has taken a backseat to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and others in recent years, he's remained an effective power forward earning All-Star appearances and a championship, plus a few other Finals appearances. Wiggins, meanwhile, has struggled to develop the non-scoring facets of his game and has had trouble providing objectively positive value to the Minnesota cause; his career score in TPA is minus-563.96, per NBA Math.
Still, this will get better, right?
Not necessarily, even if Wiggins is still young and full of untapped potential. If we turn to FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO model, we can see the projected wins above replacement for each of the two over the next four years:
- 2018-19: 3.3 WAR for Love; 1.4 WAR for Wiggins
- 2019-20: 2.5 WAR for Love; 2.0 WAR for Wiggins
- 2020-21: 1.8 WAR for Love; 1.8 WAR for Wiggins
- 2021-22: 1.8 WAR for Wiggins; 1.2 WAR for Love
- Total: 8.8 WAR for Love; 7.0 WAR for Wiggins
Yikes. As if it weren't lopsided enough already...
1. Utah Jazz Properly Identify Rudy Gobert
Utah Jazz Get 38.5 Win Shares: Rudy Gobert (38.5)
Denver Nuggets Get 0 Win Shares: Erick Green (0), Cash (0)
At the time of the 2013 NBA draft, Rudy Gobert served as a risky selection, acquired by the Utah Jazz after a swap with the Denver Nuggets. Though he was a massive human being boasting Pterodactyl arms, he was also a raw commodity who needed to add muscle and develop his game on both ends of the floor. Here's what I wrote about the French center on the day of the prospect pageant that marked his entrance into the NBA:
"Rudy Gobert is incredibly raw, but he's even longer than he is raw. His 7'9" wingspan is unprecedented, and it's almost unfair for a true seven-footer to have arms that long. He can block shots without even jumping, seeing as his standing reach of 9'7" leaves him only five inches short of the rim.
"The key for Gobert is transitioning from a set of numbers into an actual basketball player.
"His value is currently limited to shot-blocking and finishing in transition, and it'll be a while before he develops an NBA-caliber skill set.
"This pick was all about upside for the Jazz, who have already landed their franchise point guard to go along with the young studs they have at each position. All they had to give up to get Gobert was the No. 46 pick and some cash."
Putting aside that unfortunate reference to Trey Burke as a "franchise point guard" (talk about analysis that didn't age well), it's telling that we already knew Utah wasn't parting with much to acquire this type of upside.
The No. 46 selection became Erick Green for the Nuggets, who played just 46 uneventful games for the franchise before he was waived. To add insult to injury, he then signed with the Jazz and earned the only win shares of his NBA career. Cash, on the other hand, is hardly relevant when evaluating a trade that featured a future Defensive Player of the Year who's now one of the best centers in the world.
But there is a moral to this story. After the Nuggets handed both Gobert and Donovan Mitchell to the Jazz in draft-day heists, they should probably hang up the phone whenever Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey comes calling.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.