Re-Grading the Most Impactful NBA Trades of the Last 10 Years
Grading a trade immediately after it happens is fun, but it's also often highly inaccurate. Like with fine wine, some aging must take place to get a better grasp of the final product.
While some of the biggest NBA trades of the past decade seemed like home runs at the time, how do they look now after one, five or even 10 years?
In fairness to the blockbuster trades that happened less than one year ago (Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul traded for one another), we're going to let those simmer a little longer before producing a final grade.
But for the following 10 deals, here are the teams that truly came away winners.
Carmelo Anthony Joins the Knicks (2011)
Trade Details: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Corey Brewer, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams and 2016 first-round pick to New York Knicks
Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, 2012 second-round pick, 2013 second-round pick, 2014 first-round pick, 2016 first-round pick and right to swap 2016 pick (with Knicks) to Denver Nuggets
Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph, 2015 second-round pick to Minnesota Timberwolves
Landing Anthony was a huge move for a Knicks franchise that had missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and hadn't won a title since 1973. With Amar'e Stoudemire already putting up MVP-caliber numbers, the Knicks assembled a formidable Big Three comprised of Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups.
The Nuggets got an impressive haul of picks and players, while the Wolves ate some salary and collected on a second-round pick.
Anthony's individual numbers in six-and-a-half seasons with the Knicks were undeniably impressive as he averaged 24.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.0 steals in 36.0 minutes per game.
The Knicks as a whole, however, reached the playoffs just three times in seven tries with Anthony, topping out at 54 wins and a second-round exit in 2012-13. He would eventually be traded in 2017 to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick that later became Mitchell Robinson.
The prize of the deal for Denver was drafting Jamal Murray with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, while Gallinari, Chandler and Mozgov were all productive starters for multiple seasons. Mozgov was later traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for two first-round picks.
The Timberwolves got 57 games of mostly backup-level play by Randolph with little else to show from trading Brewer and Koufos.
Updated Grades: C+ for New York, B+ for Denver, D for Minnesota
Clippers Create Lob City with Chris Paul (2011)
Trade Details: Chris Paul, 2015 second-round pick and $350,000 to Los Angeles Clippers
Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, 2012 first-round pick to New Orleans Hornets
Following a failed trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul was shipped to the other side of Staples Center. Only 26 at the time, he was in the prime of his career, already a four-time All-Star who had led the NBA in assists twice and steals three times.
For the Hornets, Gordon was 22 and coming off a season in which he averaged 22.3 points, 4.4 assists and 1.3 steals as a starting shooting guard for the Clippers. Kaman was a capable starting center, and Aminu showed strong defensive promise coming off his rookie season.
The pick turned out to be No. 10 overall, where New Orleans took Austin Rivers to complement the new franchise face, Anthony Davis.
For the Clippers, the trade set off the best era in franchise history. The combination of Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Redick led L.A. to six playoff appearances and 24 postseason victories in six years.
Paul would eventually be traded to the Houston Rockets for a package of seven players and a first-round pick, including Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. All three are key contributors for the current 44-20 squad.
New Orleans only got five injury-plagued seasons from Gordon, who never put up the kind of numbers he did on a rookie contract in Los Angeles. Kaman left in free agency the next summer, and Aminu averaged 6.9 points and 6.3 rebounds as the team's starting small forward for three seasons. Rivers was a bust in New Orleans, lasting just two-and-a-half years before he was traded.
Getting Davis helped save face, but this turned out to be an awful deal for the Hornets.
Updated Grades: A for Los Angeles, D+ for New Orleans
OKC Trades James Harden to Houston (2012)
Trade Details: James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston Rockets
Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, 2013 first-round pick, 2013 second-round pick, 2014 first-round pick to Oklahoma City Thunder
The Rockets were the clear winners at the time, even before we knew Harden would turn into an MVP and the league's best shooting guard. It wasn't completely one-sided, however, given that Martin had scored 20-plus points per game in six of the past seven seasons and Lamb was a lottery pick earlier that summer.
OKC had offered Harden a four-year, $55.5 million extension, refusing to put the whole $60 million on the table after it had already tied up big money in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.
Now in his eighth season with the Rockets, Harden owns averages of 29.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.8 steals in 37.1 minutes per game. He's on pace to lead the league in scoring for the third straight season, and he's also led all players in assists (11.2 in 2016-17) and minutes (38.1 in 2015-16). He's been an All-Star in Houston during all eight seasons, winning MVP in 2017-18.
For Oklahoma City, this trade has actually gotten worse.
While the Thunder took longtime center Steven Adams with the 2013 first-round pick, the other draft selections (Alex Abrines and Mitch McGary) have either played limited bench roles or been waived after failed drug tests.
Martin lasted just one season with the Thunder, and Lamb averaged 7.0 points in three seasons before he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets for Luke Ridnour and a second-round pick.
Adams saves this trade from being a complete "F" for OKC, while Harden has transformed the Rockets.
Updated Grades: A for Houston, D- for Oklahoma City
Dwight Howard to Lakers in Four-Team Trade (2012)
Trade Details: Dwight Howard, Earl Clark and Chris Duhon to Los Angeles Lakers
Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson to Philadelphia 76ers
Andre Iguodala to Denver Nuggets
Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Christian Eyenga, Josh McRoberts, 2013 second-round pick, 2014 first-round pick, 2017 second-round pick, 2018 first-round pick to Orlando Magic
A rare four-team NBA trade finally moved Howard out of Orlando, with 12 players and four total draft picks involved.
The Lakers looked like the biggest winner at the time, landing a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and six-time All-Star in Howard. He joined a Lakers team that looked primed for a championship on paper with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace.
The Nuggets traded a lot of spare parts for a star in Iguodala, and the 76ers were willing to gamble on Bynum's enormous potential. Orlando was fine going into a rebuild headlined by Vucevic, Afflalo, Harkless and the pair of first-round picks.
Coming off back surgery and never fitting in with Bryant's no-nonsense personality, Howard and the Lakers stumbled to a 45-37 regular season before getting swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. Howard signed with the Houston Rockets in free agency during the ensuing offseason.
Luckily for L.A., it wasn't the biggest loser in the deal. Bynum never played a game for the Sixers while nursing a knee injury, and he ended up signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013. Philly had given up one of the best players in franchise history (Iguodala), with nothing but Richardson's 52 games over the following three years to show for it.
Orlando has since developed Vucevic into an All-Star center and one of the best all-around big men in the league, even if none of the other players or picks made a lasting impact.
While Denver only kept Iguodala for one season, the Nuggets jumped to 57 wins and led the NBA in points per game.
Updated Grades: C- for Los Angeles, F for Philadelphia, C+ for Denver, B- for Orlando
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce to Brooklyn Nets (2013)
Trade Details: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, D.J. White, 2017 first-round pick, 2017 second-round pick to Brooklyn Nets
Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, 2014 first-round pick, 2016 first-round pick, 2017 first-round pick swap, 2018 first-round pick to Boston Celtics
This trade was actually hailed as a win for the Nets at the time, putting them near the top of the East with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez as starters alongside Garnett and Pierce. The draft picks weren't thought to be that great moving forward given how competitive the Nets were projected to be. A pick swap didn't seem likely, either, with Boston entering a rebuild.
The Celtics had reached the postseason the year before, but they had lost to the New York Knicks in six games and looked far removed from their 2008 championship days. Trading two franchise icons in Garnett and Pierce was tough, even if both were in their mid-30s by that time.
Garnett lasted just one-and-a-half seasons on the Nets, with age and a big-man revolution leaving him behind. Pierce's time in Brooklyn was even shorter; he spent just one season there before signing with the Washington Wizards in free agency the following summer.
The Nets did use the 2017 first-round pick in a deal to acquire D'Angelo Russell, who made the All-Star Game in 2018-19 and helped spark the franchise's return to the playoffs the same year. Still, this trade has been one of the greatest of all time for Boston.
The Celtics used the 2016 pick (No. 3 overall) to select Jaylen Brown, traded the 2017 pick (No. 1 overall) to get Jayson Tatum and an additional first and dealt the 2018 selection as the major piece to get Kyrie Irving.
Boston is on pace to make its sixth straight playoff appearance, and it has already reached two conference finals behind the play of Tatum and Brown.
Updated Grades: F+ for Brooklyn, A+ for Boston
Kevin Love to Cavs; Andrew Wiggins Runs with Wolves (2014)
Trade Details: Kevin Love to Cleveland Cavaliers
Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota Timberwolves
Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and 2016 first-round pick (from Cavaliers) to Philadelphia 76ers
Love wanted out of Minnesota after six straight seasons missing the playoffs, and a phone call from LeBron James after his return to the Cavs put a trade to Cleveland firmly on the table.
The Cavs had just selected Wiggins at No. 1 overall weeks earlier and initially refused to include him in a trade for Love. Then-ESPN writer Chris Broussard reported Cleveland originally offered Bennett, Dion Waiters and a first-round pick. Bennett had a brutal rookie season (4.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 35.6 percent shooting in 12.8 minutes per game), but he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 and was still a long way from bust status.
When the deal was made, both teams looked like winners.
The Wolves owned the first overall picks from the past two years, with Wiggins receiving more hype coming into the draft than arguably anyone since LeBron James in 2003. It seemed like good value for Love, who only had one year remaining on his contract and would almost certainly have walked in free agency.
Cleveland got a third star to pair with James and Kyrie Irving, one who was just 25 at the time and was likely to re-sign the following summer.
The Cavs got what they needed from Love, making four straight trips to the NBA Finals and winning a title, powered by his averages of 17.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 37.5 percent shooting from three. With James and Irving both gone, Love remains the best player on the team, even if his contract has surpassed his production.
Minnesota waived Bennett after just one lackluster season, and he played briefly for the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets before flaming out of the league.
Wiggins never lived up to his billing as a No. 1 overall pick, averaging 19.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 44.1 percent shooting in 454 games. His max contract made him almost untradeable, and the Wolves had to attach a 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected, unprotected in 2022) and a 2021 second-round pick to acquire D'Angelo Russell from the Golden State Warriors.
Getting Russell to pair with his friend, Karl-Anthony Towns, makes this trade a little better for Minnesota, even if it had to sacrifice draft capital to do so. But with Wiggins never reaching his potential and Bennett busting after one year, this trade has become awfully lopsided over time.
Updated Grades: A- for Cleveland, C- for Minnesota
Paul George Traded for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis (2017)
Trade Details: Paul George to Oklahoma City Thunder
Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana Pacers
The Thunder initially looked like big winners in this deal.
After losing Kevin Durant in free agency the summer before, getting George while keeping Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams and all their draft picks looked like a major victory for OKC, even with the uncertainty of his free agency in 2018.
It certainly seemed on the surface that Indiana could have gotten more. Oladipo had just averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 44.2 percent overall for the Thunder, looking more like a role player than the 2013 No. 2 overall pick.
Sabonis seemed like a work in progress, only averaging 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds as OKC's starting power forward, shooting 39.9 percent overall and 32.1 percent from three as a rookie. With no draft picks or elite young talent attached, this looked like a huge mistake for the Pacers.
George later re-signed with the Thunder on a four-year deal before requesting a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers to play with Kawhi Leonard only a season later. The Thunder received a treasure trove of assets in return, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks and the right to swap an additional two first-rounders.
Oladipo and Sabonis have both gone on to thrive in Indiana.
Making two All-Star Games, Oladipo has averaged 20.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists as a No. 1 option with the Pacers, while Sabonis made the 2020 All-Star Game behind his 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
It's a trade that's ultimately worked out well for both teams, albeit for different reasons.
Updated Grades: A for Oklahoma City, A for Indiana
Kyrie Irving to Celtics; Isaiah Thomas Joins Cavs (2017)
Trade Details: Kyrie Irving to Boston Celtics
Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, 2018 first-round pick and 2020 second-round pick to Cleveland Cavaliers
With Irving asking out of Cleveland, the Celtics took the opportunity to not only add an elite talent but also damage their biggest rival in the East. For Cleveland, this trade meant hoping Thomas could shake off his hip injury as it added what could become the No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 draft (the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected pick).
Instead, Irving battled through two-injury plagued seasons, missing the entire 2018 playoffs as the Celtics lost to his old team in seven games. His second season consisted of calling out younger players, reversing course on his intention to re-sign and eventually leaving for the Brooklyn Nets in free agency. While his production (23.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists) was among the best in the league at his position, he ultimately failed while serving as a No. 1 option on a competitive team for the first time.
Thomas' hip injury was so bad that he didn't even see the court until January for the Cavaliers. The 15 games he did play clearly showed he would never be the same player again. His defense was among the worst in the NBA, and his 36.1 percent shooting ultimately hurt the team.
Thomas and Crowder were both traded at the deadline, not even lasting a whole season in Cleveland as general manager Koby Altman was desperate to find pieces that fit better around LeBron James.
Trading Thomas and Crowder helped lead to Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood, the latter of whom was flipped in 2019 for second-round picks that were packaged together for the right to select Kevin Porter Jr. during the 2019 draft.
While the Nets pick ended up falling to eighth overall, Cleveland selected Collin Sexton, who is leading the team with 20.8 points per game.
Losing Irving meant the fall of the Cavs' championship core—and, ultimately, the departure of James. Getting Sexton, Nance and Porter as part of the fallout helped, but there were ultimately no real winners in this trade.
Updated Grades: C- for Boston, C+ for Cleveland
Blake Griffin Joins the Pistons; Tobias Harris to LA (2018)
Trade Details: Blake Griffin, Willie Reed and Brice Johnson to Detroit Pistons
Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick to Los Angeles Clippers
Just months after signing a five-year, $173 million contract and being pitched on his Clippers jersey as the first to be retired by the franchise, Griffin was traded to the Pistons. For a small-market Detroit team, it was the opportunity to acquire a star player who brought an enormous amount of personality and rim-shattering highlights.
The Clippers not only cleared a ton of future cap room, but getting Harris also provided them with a younger power forward who was averaging 18.1 points per game and shooting 40.9 percent from three. Bradley was still a serviceable starting shooting guard, and the top draft pick was projected to fall somewhere in the middle of the first round.
Griffin had a brilliant 2018-19 campaign for Detroit (24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.5 three-pointers per game on 36.2 percent deep shooting), making the All-Star team and leading Detroit to the playoffs. Unfortunately, his 2019-20 season lasted just 18 games before January knee surgery sidelined him for good.
Now, the two years and $75.6 million left on his contract will be tough to move, especially for a rebuilding Pistons team that's already traded Andre Drummond and waived Reggie Jackson.
For the Clippers, it's what they've done with the pieces from the Griffin trade rather than what those pieces have directly provided the franchise.
In 2019, Harris was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in a move that landed Landry Shamet and four draft picks, including two first-rounders that were later sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder to help acquire Paul George.
The lottery pick was used in a draft-day swap with the Charlotte Hornets, with the Clippers including a pair of second-rounders to move up and select Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who would also be included in the trade for George.
While it was a difficult decision to trade Griffin given how much he meant to the Clippers franchise and the lengths the team had gone to sign him to an extension, it was clearly the best decision L.A. could have made.
Updated Grades: A for Los Angeles, D+ for Detroit
Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan Swap Cities (2018)
Trade Details: Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto Raptors
DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, 2019 first-round pick (top-20 protected), $5 million to San Antonio Spurs
Although he was a two-time All-Star and an NBA Finals MVP, Leonard's stock had dipped slightly after he missed all but nine games the season before this trade. There was also a public dispute between the Spurs, a franchise that had never had such an issue with any of its previous stars, and Leonard over his health.
That, combined with the one year remaining on his contract, might have hurt Leonard's trade value. Still, his ceiling was astronomically high, leading most to believe the Raptors got the better end of the deal, even at the time.
It seemed like a good gamble for the Raptors, who had reached the last five postseasons but never made it beyond the conference finals. DeRozan had already established himself as one of the greatest players in franchise history, but the backcourt combination of him and Kyle Lowry just wasn't enough to make it out of the East.
With the Spurs not interested in a rebuild, DeRozan represented a chance to stay competitive. A four-time All-Star, he had averaged at least 23 points each of the past three seasons.
Of course, Leonard responded with the best year of his career, including a playoff run in which he averaged 30.5 points over 24 games, culminating in the Raptors' first-ever title. Green was also important, serving as the team's starting shooting guard and drilling 45.5 percent of his three-pointers on the season.
Even with both leaving in free agency after the championship, it was still a trade worth making, especially considering how well Toronto has performed with Pascal Siakam as a No. 1 option this season.
For San Antonio, a first-round exit was followed by a 27-36 start to 2019-20, the team's worst in over 22 years. DeRozan can opt out and hit free agency this offseason, while Poeltl is a backup center and Keldon Johnson, who the Spurs selected at No. 29 with the conveyed pick, has seen action in just nine games.
Trading Leonard was the team's only opportunity to stay in the title chase or acquire some premier young talent. The Spurs failed at both.
Updated Grades: A for Toronto, D+ for San Antonio