Every NBA Team's Worst Trade of the Past Decade
A win-win outcome is the best-case scenario in any NBA exchange, but as 2020 has reminded us time and again, we don't live in a best-case scenario world.
Many trades feature one team getting over another, sometimes to an egregious degree. Those are the ones on our mind.
After running through every team's best trade of the past decade, we're flipping the script to review their worst blunders over the same stretch.
From recklessly handling draft picks to trading a player ahead of his prime or overpaying for one who's already past it, these are the missteps that keep decision-makers up at night—or put them out of a job.
The Trade: Devonte' Graham to Hornets for two second-round picks (June 2018)
No one batted an eye went this deal went down, and it wasn't given much thought as Graham failed to grab a rotation spot as a rookie on a sub-.500 Hornets squad. But when the 6'1" point guard's number was finally called this season, it became clear Atlanta had let go of a legitimate asset for far too little.
While Graham didn't crack the Most Improved Player award finalists, he played his way into that discussion. His scoring average spiked from 4.7 to 18.2, and he nearly tripled his assists from 2.6 to 7.5. After clanging all but 28.1 percent of his triples as a freshman, he splashed 3.5 a night at a 37.3 percent clip as a sophomore.
Granted, it's fair to ask whether Graham could share the floor with Trae Young—they'd have to be awesome on offense to compensate for all the defensive leaks—but Graham could've prevented the pitfalls Atlanta encountered when Young took a seat (7.3 points per 100 possessions worse without him). The Hawks also flipped the first second-rounder (used on the wildly intriguing Bol Bol) to the Miami Heat for cash and a 2024 second-rounder that will only convey if it lands in the 51-55 range.
The Trade: Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and 2012 first-round pick (Feb. 2011)
As active as Danny Ainge has been on the trade market, there aren't many missteps on his resume. Even this swap netted the Celtics a talent upgrade while also delivering a first-round pick primarily for Perkins, who was working his way back from an ACL tear and in need of a new contract.
But Perkins didn't carve out a 14-year NBA career on razor-sharp skills. He was a nightly supplier of toughness and physicality, and he fit seamlessly in the fabric of the franchise. When he left, the Shamrocks lost some of their spirit.
"To me, [chemistry] is everything," Paul Pierce said after the trade, via NBC Sports Boston's Chris Forsberg. "It doesn't matter what type of talent you bring in or what type of talent you have on your ball club; people underrate what chemistry brings."
The Celtics made a second-round appearance that season and the conference finals the next, but their championship core fractured after that.
The Trade: Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, three first-round picks and a first-round pick swap to Celtics for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White (July 2013)
The Nets once traded a top-three protected first-round pick that later became Damian Lillard for one-and-a-half seasons of Gerald Wallace, and still this swap looks worse.
Brooklyn was racing to construct an overnight contender and for some reason deemed a 36-year-old Pierce and 37-year-old Garnett as the missing puzzle pieces. Shockingly (written in sarcasm font), the Nets actually needed more than the aging vets could give them, as the club made just one playoff trip with the pair. Pierce bolted after one season in free agency, and Garnett was traded away the following February.
Then-general manager Billy King later told SI's Chris Mannix that former owner Mikhail Prokhorov wanted to win big and demanded immediate returns. While King didn't skirt responsibility for the trade, he did say he wouldn't have made the trade if he was running a different team.
Brooklyn effectively buried itself and propped up Boston in the same swap. The Celtics used some of their draft haul to land Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and trade for Kyrie Irving. The Nets hit the demolition button, overhauling the roster and front office and even undergoing an ownership change.
The Trade: Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca to Mavericks for Matt Carroll, Erick Dampier, Eduardo Najera and cash (July 2010)
Parting with a first-round pick that eventually became Jusuf Nurkic for Tyrus Thomas, only to eventually axe the latter via the amnesty clause, was less than ideal. But at least you could see the rationale. The then-Bobcats were getting a 23-year-old who was just three-plus seasons removed from being the fourth overall pick.
In this exchange—which took place just five months after the Thomas deal—Charlotte sought nothing more than a blank slate. As Rick Bonnell relayed for the Charlotte Observer, Chandler "couldn't coexist" with then-coach Larry Brown, so the team sent the big man packing "for the right to waive the remaining unguaranteed season on Dampier's contract."
Charlotte waived Dampier that September. Najera played 53 games across two seasons—his last in the NBA. Carroll played his last three seasons there and posted an 8.8 player efficiency rating. That's all Charlotte brought back for Chandler, who helped lead the Mavericks to the 2011 title, inked a $58 million deal with the Knicks that offseason and was named 2011-12's Defensive Player of the Year.
The Trade: Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, 2018 second-round pick to Thunder for Joffrey Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne (Feb. 2017)
Chicago's two worst trades of the last decade both involved McDermott: the one that brought him to the Windy City and this one that sent him out. The Bulls moved up to get him during the 2014 draft at the expense of Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic and a 2015 second-round pick.
That was brutal. This was worse.
The Bulls decided Gibson and McDermott weren't a part of their long-term plans, so they moved them. That's fine. What's not is letting them go in a deal in which they were clearly the top two players in the deal and attaching a pick to them (which became Mitchell Robinson). Morrow and Lauvergne left after the season, and Payne played 67 games across parts of three seasons before the Bulls waived him in January 2019.
The Trade: Kyrie Irving to Celtics for Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, 2018 first-round pick and 2020 second-round pick (Aug. 2017)
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert told the Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto in 2019 this team "killed it" with this trade. Clearly we think otherwise.
Irving wanted out, which limited Cleveland's leverage to a degree. He also had a pathway to 2019 free agency, which he ended up taking by opting out of the last year of his deal before signing with the Nets.
Still, he was a 25-year-old who had already made four All-Star appearances and splashed one of the most clutch buckets in NBA history. His trade value should've been greater than this.
Thomas brought a hip injury to Cleveland, played just 15 inefficient games before being traded away and looks like a shell of his old, All-Star self. Crowder didn't last a full season in Cleveland, either, and was traded with the second-rounder in February. The first-rounder netted Collin Sexton, who has proved he can score but hasn't made an impact as a defender or distributor. Zizic has averaged 13.4 minutes in 113 career games.
The Trade: Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright, 2016 first-round pick and 2016 second-round pick to Celtics for Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell (Dec. 2014)
This is another exchange where the team receiving the most talented player didn't walk away with the win.
Rondo was supposed to be the player who pushed the Mavericks over the top. Instead, he and coach Rick Carlisle went together like oil and water, as Rondo's ball-dominant ways and poor shooting didn't fit Dallas' system. The situation worsened to such a degree that the point guard left the team after Game 2 of its first-round series with the Rockets, purportedly due to a back injury, but really a mutual parting of ways, per ESPN's Tim MacMahon.
"Going back in time, it's a deal we should have shied away from, for the sake of us and for the sake of him," Carlisle told MacMahon.
The Trade: Donovan Mitchell to Jazz for Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon (June 2017)
Nuggets fans might argue this selection and say the team would have never drafted Mitchell had they kept the pick. The team already had its guard rotation mostly set with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Emmanuel Mudiay and Malik Beasley all on the roster.
Still, Denver's willingness to trade out of this spot suggests a realization that its needs didn't match with the top talent on the board. That part is OK, but the Nuggets failed to extract enough value. Obviously, that looks more glaring with hindsight given how Mitchell has developed (and how Lyles and Lydon have not), but even at the time, this swap seemed shaky.
When Rob Mahoney graded the deal for SI.com, he gave the Jazz a B and the Nuggets a C. ESPN's Kevin Pelton also gave Utah a B and dropped Denver's grade to a C-minus. The issue for both was the lack of value for moving down 11 spots (Mitchell went 13th, Lydon was the 24th pick). And the value has exponentially worsened with time as Mitchell is an All-Star, Lyles is out of Denver and Lydon is out of the NBA.
The Trade: Khris Middleton, Brandon Knight and Viacheslav Kravtsov to Bucks for Brandon Jennings (July 2013)
The 2018 trade for Blake Griffin looks all kinds of awful, as the oft-injured 31-year-old doesn't look physically capable of living up to his colossal contract. But at least the motivation was clear. Detroit sensed it was stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity and deemed a monumental change necessary. The Pistons didn't misread that part of the equation, and gambling on an All-Star talent always makes some level of sense.
But this 2013 swap—ostensibly highlighted by Knight and Jennings—saw a star slip out of Detroit's grasp for virtually nothing. Granted, few could envision that kind of future for Middleton ("I thought he might become a good rotation guy," Dee Brown, an assistant on that Pistons staff, told ESPN's Zach Lowe), but the Pistons liked Middleton and still let him go for an inefficient, volume scorer.
Jennings spent two-plus seasons with the Pistons, and both of his full campaigns in the Motor City featured at least 50 losses. Middleton, meanwhile, gradually but perpetually improved, to the point he's now a two-time All-Star and the second-best player on the NBA's best team.
Golden State Warriors
The Trade: Andre Roberson to Thunder Archie Goodwin and cash (June 2013)
The Warriors constructed a three-ring dynasty over the past decade, so unsurprisingly they've gotten a lot more decisions right than wrong. It's possible they'll come to regret the Andrew Wiggins-D'Angelo Russell deadline deal, but we'll reserve judgment until we see how Wiggins fits and how Golden State utilizes its incoming 2021 first-rounder.
So, instead, a seemingly minor series of deals at the back end of the 2013 draft's opening round stands out.
The Warriors traded into the round by acquiring Malcolm Lee and the 26th pick, which is where the Timberwolves took Roberson. But the Dubs traded down with the Thunder, then moved Goodwin and Lee to the Suns for Nemanja Nedovic. While Roberson emerged as one of the league's stingiest stoppers, Nedovic (billed as the European Derrick Rose) was in and out of Golden State and the NBA in less than two seasons.
The Trade: Kyle Lowry to Raptors for Gary Forbes and 2013 first-round pick (July 2012)
The Rockets helped uncover Lowry by stealing him away from the Grizzlies in a three-team trade that cost Houston only Rafer Alston. But Lowry couldn't get on the same page as then-coach Kevin McHale, and the relationship proved irreparable after just one season.
"If things aren't addressed coaching-wide, I guess I have to be moved," Lowry said in May 2012, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
The Rockets sent Lowry packing less than two months later, and while they netted a first-round pick (later included in the James Harden trade and ultimately spent on Steven Adams), Lowry would prove the Rockets sold low. The 34-year-old has become a centerpiece for the Raptors, making six straight All-Star appearances and helping them capture the crown last season.
The Trade: Kawhi Leonard, Davis Bertans and Erazem Lorbek to Spurs for George Hill (June 2011)
Draft-night deals are always tricky to evaluate, since it's often unclear whom the club would've selected if it wasn't trading the pick. That's not the case here. The Pacers, who had been discussing a trade with the Spurs throughout the 2011 draft, were big fans of Leonard and considered backing out of the trade when he was still on the board at the 15th pick.
"When Kawhi ended up being there, we had to think about taking him," former Pacers general manager David Morway told Zach Lowe for a 2013 Grantland article. "But we already had Danny Granger and Paul George. That's what made it a little easier for us."
Hill was a fine fit in the Circle City, but he never rose above the ranks of solid starter. Leonard, meanwhile, put himself on (or at the top) of a short list of the Association's best two-way players, winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards and a pair of Finals MVPs. Coincidentally, he's now contending for a title with George on the Clippers and giving the Pacers a painfully clear view of what they could've had.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Trade: Baron Davis and 2011 first-round pick to Cavaliers for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon (Feb. 2011)
The Clippers wanted out of the final year and $13.9 million of Davis' contract, which makes all the sense in the world. What doesn't, unfortunately, is forgetting to put even the slightest protection on the outgoing pick.
That didn't initially seem disastrous when L.A. finished the campaign with the eighth-worst record in the league, but the Clips' worst fears were realized when that pick hit the draft-lottery jackpot. The Cavs raced to the front of the line and eventually up to the podium to snare now six-time All-Star Kyrie Irving with the first overall selection.
The eventual reach of this deal touched all angles of the hoops world. Since the Clippers didn't have Irving, they later brokered a deal for Chris Paul. Does that still happen if Irving is in L.A. already? Would he have gone to New Orleans, then, and if so, how does that shape Anthony Davis' career? If Irving never makes it to Cleveland, does LeBron James bother returning to Northeast Ohio?
There are so many fascinating what-ifs from this truly terrible trade.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Trade: Two future first-round picks and two future second-round picks to Suns for Steve Nash (July 2012)
As the Lakers loaded up their superteam ahead of the 2012-13 season, they tasked Nash with bringing all the pieces together. Considering he was an eight-time All-Star, five-time assists champion and two-time MVP, it didn't seem an outlandish ask.
Except the floor general was entering his age-38 campaign, and his body couldn't handle the rigors of 82-game marathons anymore. He broke his leg in his second game with the Lakers and battled back problems throughout his tenure. He played just 65 games in L.A. and helped the team to a single playoff trip (which ended in the first round) before retiring in March 2015.
That turned his three-year, $28 million contract into a massive overpay and made this transaction a mismanagement of assets. While only one of the draft picks panned out (Mikal Bridges, the 10th overall pick in 2018), this swap still depleted the asset pool of an organization that was forced into a lengthy rebuild shortly after it went down.
The Trade: Tayshaun Prince and future first-round pick to Celtics, plus Quincy Pondexter and 2015 second-round pick to Pelicans for Jeff Green and Russ Smith (Jan. 2015)
There were times when Green looked really interesting as an NBA player. He was the fifth overall pick in 2007 and immediately used to anchor a trade for Ray Allen. Green could look the part of a difference-maker with his blend of size, athleticism and shooting, but the stat sheet never regarded him as more than a solid starter.
The grit-and-grind Grizzlies felt they might've been just a solid starter away from true contention, though, so they parted with a first-round pick to get Green. While he started 37 of 45 games and averaged 13.1 points in Memphis that season, he had the worst net differential by a significant margin of any of the team's rotation players (11.8 points worse per 100 possessions with him than without).
The Grizzlies won 55 games that season but were knocked out of the second round by the eventual champion Warriors. Green wouldn't make another postseason trip with the team, as the Grizzlies shipped him out at the February 2016 deadline. Memphis still owes the first-rounder to Boston, as it has top-six protection this year and then becomes unprotected next year if it hasn't conveyed.
The Trade: Danny Granger and two first-round picks to Suns, plus Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shawne Williams to Pelicans for Goran Dragic and Zoran Dragic (Feb. 2015)
This will seem harsher toward Goran Dragic than it's intended. He's had a solid five-plus season stay in South Beach and occasionally ranked well above that, like he when he earned his first career All-Star nod in 2018.
But he typically stands a tier (or more) below stardom. Dating back to 2015-16, he sits just 69th in win shares, and that's his most favorable advanced metric. He doesn't land inside the top 100 in player efficiency rating (16.8, 109th) or box plus/minus (0.5, 132nd) among players who logged 1,000-plus minutes over this stretch.
He's a good player, not a great one—and it's tough to stomach the sacrifice of two first-round picks (one unprotected) for anything other than a great player. Saying that, having a trade that delivered a years-long starter rank as your worst of the decade is a good look for the decision-makers.
The Trade: Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, Beno Udrih and cash to Magic for JJ Redick, Ish Smith and Gustavo Ayon (Feb. 2013)
Imagine trying to win big with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings as your centerpieces. Impossible, right? Well, those were the Bucks' scoring leaders in 2013, and this club still deemed itself close enough to competing for something to sacrifice a long-term asset for instant gratification.
The asset was Harris, then just a 20-year-old who has since become a 6'8" scoring machine and received a $180 million contract last summer. The short-term upgrade was Redick, who shot worse in Milwaukee than he has at any other point in his career (40.3 from the field, 31.8 from three). His skills were wasted alongside two ball-dominant scoring guards, and he bolted out of the Badger State just five months after the trade.
"There was some redundancy on the roster," Redick told reporters during his first return to Milwaukee. "... A lot of guys were in their free-agent years. It was a challenging situation for a lot of guys to work through some stuff, and I was no different."
The Trade: Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton to 76ers for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and 2022 second-round pick (Nov. 2018)
The Timberwolves gave up a first-round pick (later spent on Kevin Huerter) to get Adreian Payne in 2015. It's hard to imagine they could broker a worse deal than that.
But their situation with Butler was so poorly handled that it left Minnesota trading away a 29-year-old All-Star for pennies on the dollar. Granted, having him around became untenable, but the return package left so much to be desired. Covington and Saric were already plateauing as solid starters or above-average reserves. Bayless was on his last leg. A second-round pick from a presumed contender could be among the last in the draft.
The Timberwolves were trying to remain competitive, even though their only playoff run in over a decade was guided by Butler. To not bring back more assets for a top two-way talent—the Rockets put four first-rounders on the table, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski—makes this a bungled blockbuster.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Trade: Chris Paul, 2015 second-round pick and cash to Clippers for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and 2012 first-round pick (Dec. 2011)
Trading away a centerpiece is never easy, especially when the deal is preceded by a trade request. But as the Pelicans learned in last summer's Anthony Davis megadeal, it's possible to refill the cupboards with assets in a superstar swap.
That didn't happen in the Paul trade. Gordon was intended to be the centerpiece, but he couldn't stay healthy enough to turn his fleeting flashes of star potential into actual stardom. Kaman was already starting his decline and wouldn't be retained in 2012 free agency. Aminu offered defensive versatility, but he couldn't find an offensive niche. The pick was later spent on Austin Rivers, who was traded out of New Orleans during his third season.
It's a criminally light return for an in-prime, all-time great. It's debatable if it's even a better package than the one offered by the Lakers in the deal nixed by late Commissioner David Stern. That trade would have delivered Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. That still doesn't seem like enough for Paul, but this trade package clearly wasn't.
New York Knicks
The Trade: Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, 2016 first-round pick and two second-round picks to Raptors for Andrea Bargnani (July 2013)
You're probably looking for the rest of the Knicks' return package, but nope—this was it.
By this point, it was already well-established that Bargnani had been grossly overdrafted as the first pick in 2006. He had some interesting skills for a 7-footer, but he also averaged just 12.7 points on 39.9/30.9/84.4 shooting the season prior to the trade. Plus, he was still owed $23 million over the next two years, money the stat sheet seriously doubted he could pay back on the hardwood.
As Mike Prada wrote for SB Nation at the time, "Bargnani was a liability, not an asset."
New York's rationale was hard to follow, outside of the Knicks being the Knicks. The trade proved as bad as it looked on paper. The Knicks were significantly worse with Bargnani than without in both of his two seasons in the Empire State, and he would only play one more NBA season after leaving the team. The Raptors, meanwhile, spent the first-round pick on Jakob Poeltl and later used him to help land Kawhi Leonard.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Trade: Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, two first-round picks and 2013 second-round pick to Rockets for James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward (Oct. 2012)
In NBA economics, $4.5 million feels like little more than loose change. It's roughly what players like Frank Kaminsky, Mike Scott and Rodney McGruder are collecting.
It's also what helped dismantle a potential dynasty. The Thunder, fresh off a 2012 Finals appearance, needed to pony up for Harden's extension before the season started. They put a four-year, $55.5 million offer on the table, Chris Broussard reported for ESPN The Magazine. Harden wanted a four-year, $60 million deal. That seemingly narrow gap somehow proved insurmountable, and OKC shipped out the uber-promising 23-year-old.
"We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement. "Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers."
But OKC never gave Harden what he wanted and the rest, as they say, is history. He's gone on to become a Tier-1 superstar, making eight straight All-Star trips, winning an MVP award and collecting three consecutive scoring titles. Martin spent a single season in Oklahoma City, Lamb stuck around for three, and the only draft pick that panned out was Steven Adams.
The Trade: Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova to Oklahoma City for Serge Ibaka (June 2016)
Zigging against a leaguewide zag can be a sneaky-good way of doing business. But sometimes it's as simple as getting something wrong that everyone else is getting right.
As the NBA was shifting toward a smaller, more perimeter-oriented style, the Magic tried to go a different direction. The plan was to supersize by putting Ibaka in the same frontcourt as Nikola Vucevic (who wasn't really shooting threes yet) and Aaron Gordon (who wasn't making the threes he took), plus bring the offensively challenged Bismack Biyombo off the bench.
It backfired almost immediately. Orlando opened the year with a three-game losing streak, dropped 11 of its first 17 games and dipped further below .500 as the campaign progressed. The Magic finally cut their losses and traded Ibaka (a free agent in 2017) to Toronto for Terrence Ross and a first-round pick Orlando flipped in a later deal. Oladipo and Sabonis, meanwhile, helped the Thunder get Paul George and rose to stardom with the Pacers.
The Trade: No. 3 pick in 2017 and future first-round pick for No. 1 pick in 2017 (June 2017)
The Celtics had the first pick in the 2017 draft and felt Jayson Tatum was the best player in the class. The Sixers had the third pick and feared that wasn't high enough to get them Markelle Fultz.
Philadelphia and Boston swapped picks, with the Sixers parting with a future first-round pick to climb to No. 1. Both teams got the prospects they wanted, but any thoughts of a win-win exchange quickly went out the window.
Tatum's star potential surfaced almost instantly, as he posted a 47.5/43.4/82.6 shooting slash as a rookie, then averaged 18.5 points on 47.1 percent shooting in his first-ever postseason run. He has only upped the ante since, and he seemingly took a superstar turn down this season's final stretch (27.2 points on 47.8/45.7/76.9 shooting over his last 21 contests).
Meanwhile, Fultz never made it off the runway in Philly. He fought against both injuries and a major hitch in his shot, playing a total of 33 games before the Sixers traded him to the Magic in Feb. 2019 for Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-round pick and a top-20 protected 2020 first-rounder.
Making matters worse, Fultz has finally started to get his career going in Orlando.
The Trade: Goran Dragic and 2011 first-round pick for Aaron Brooks (Feb. 2011)
Given that the Suns were once collecting point guards like they were rare coins, it's no surprise they have a few atrocious trades involving the position over the past decade.
It wasn't easy choosing a different deal than the Feb. 2015 trade in which Phoenix traded Isaiah Thomas (on a budget contract, no less) to Boston for Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick later used on Skal Labissiere, only to watch Thomas collect MVP votes for the Shamrocks. But at least the Suns had the sense to snag a first-round pick in that exchange.
In the Dragic deal, Phoenix traded away the better player and gave up a pick in the exchange.
At the time, it wasn't clear that Dragic was the superior talent—though Brooks arrived with a 34.6 field-goal percentage and 28.4 percent mark from three—but any gap didn't seem wide enough for the pick to be part of the trade.
Brooks played 25 games for the Suns, then left for China during the 2011-12 lockout. He signed with Sacramento when he came back stateside. Dragic impressed in Houston to the point Phoenix lured him back with a four-year, $34 million contract in 2012. The first-round pick became Nikola Mirotic, who played a productive five seasons in the league before opting to continue his career in Europe.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Trade: Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson and 2016 first-round pick to Nuggets for Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee (Feb. 2015)
Portland's most infamous missteps have come on draft night (Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, Greg Oden over Kevin Durant), and it hasn't exactly aced free agency ($70 million for Evan Turner—yikes). But its trade history in this sample is mostly clean.
Even the worst trade may only qualify as such due to misfortune.
During the 2014-15 season, the Blazers appeared to be on the cusp of contention. They were fresh off a 54-win campaign, and their starting five—Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez—was a wrecking ball (plus-11.0 points per 100 possessions). Their bench just needed a boost, and this trade should have delivered it.
But the injury bug had other ideas. Not even a month after Afflalo arrived, Matthews suffered a torn Achilles.
Portland's championship dreams were dashed just like that.
The Blazers scuffled to a 10-12 finish after the injury and lost their first-round series 4-1 to the fifth-seeded Grizzlies. Every starter but Lillard left the subsequent summer, as did Afflalo. Meanwhile, Barton blossomed in Denver, and the first-round pick became Malik Beasley.
The Trade: Carl Landry, Nik Staskas, Jason Thompson, future first-round pick and two first-round pick swap rights to 76ers for Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic (July 2015)
This trade reeked of desperation, because that was the driving force behind it.
The Kings were scrambling for cap space, as teams are wont to do during free agency. They needed to get off the money owed to Landry and Thompson to open it up, which still seems reasonable. But given the price tag (one pick and two swaps), that free agent needed to be elite or somewhere near to it.
The thing is, Sacramento wasn't even aiming that high.
The race to open cap space was so the Kings could chase—wait for it—Wesley Matthews (four months removed from an Achilles tear), Monta Ellis (who was out of the NBA by 2017) and Rajon Rondo (fresh off his disastrous run in Dallas), Marc Stein reported for ESPN. Matthews and Ellis never came. Rondo suited up for the 49-loss 2015-16 Kings, then hightailed it to Chicago the next offseason.
The Sixers exercised their swap rights in 2017 to climb from No. 5 to No. 3. That positioned them to take Jayson Tatum, but they flipped that and the future first (later used on Romeo Langford) to obtain the No. 1 overall pick, which they spent on Markelle Fultz.
San Antonio Spurs
The Trade: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and cash to Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick (July 2018)
The Spurs were put in a tough situation by Leonard's trade request, his injury-riddled 2017-18 season and his 2019 free agency. Still, they were shopping a 27-year-old who was a two-time All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and in or leading the conversation as the league's top two-way talent.
Leonard's trade value could've been sky-high even without being at its absolute peak.
When B/R's Dan Favale cobbled together realistic offers the Spurs might receive, they included: two first-round picks (one in the top 10) and Frank Ntilikina from the Knicks; two lottery picks, Tobias Harris and Patrick Beverley from the Clippers; Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and two first-round picks from the Lakers; and Kyrie Irving plus a first-round pick from the Celtics.
To have the final tally consist of only DeRozan, Poeltl and a top-20-protected pick had to be a letdown for San Antonio (especially when Green had to go, too). The Spurs tried to strike a balance between remaining competitive and building for the future, but that left the package lacking on both ends.
A rebuild is coming for San Antonio sooner than later, and this was the franchise's chance to collect a treasure trove of rebuilding tools.
The Trade: Jose Calderon, Ed Davis and 2013 second-round pick for Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi (Jan. 2013)
In terms of name recognition and talent, the Raptors walked away from this exchange with the biggest prize in Gay. Then-general manager Bryan Colangelo attempted to give his team a spark with the scoring forward, who averaged 19.5 points over his 33 games with Toronto to finish out the 2012-13 season.
But this was a square-peg-in-a-round-hole kind of bad fit. Slotting Gay alongside DeMar DeRozan left the Raptors with not enough shooting on the perimeter and not enough touches for Kyle Lowry.
Toronto tabbed Masai Ujiri as its next general manager that summer, and he sent Gay to the Sacramento Kings that December. As Ujiri put it at a press conference after the trade: "It just wasn't working."
The Trade: Thomas Bryant and Josh Hart to Lakers for Tony Bradley (June 2017)
Kudos to the Jazz front office for forcing us to comb through the transaction archives just to find a trade that we kind of don't love. (Granted, last summer's Mike Conley blockbuster hasn't gone according to plan and may not age well if some of the young assets they sacrificed pan out.)
Also, kudos to Bradley for preventing this trade from being the no-brainer selection it would have been had we done this exercise one year ago. The backup big man entered his third season with only 12 career outings under his belt, but he supplanted offseason import Ed Davis to become Rudy Gobert's primary understudy.
Still, if you ranked the three players in this swap on their career projections going forward, Bradley brings up the caboose.
Bryant pairs an enormous 7'6" wingspan with an outside stroke that yielded 35 triples at a 40.2 percent clip this season. Hart boasts three-and-D skills and enough versatility that he has played everywhere but center in his career.
Bradley is a rugged rebounder and capable finisher at the rim, but he is limited athletically and doesn't offer any shooting.
The Trade: Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Suns for Trevor Ariza (Dec. 2018)
Flash back to Dec. 17, 2018. The Wizards don't yet know the trouble that awaits them—namely, John Wall having the remainder of his campaign and all of the next one derailed by heel surgery and a ruptured Achilles.
What they do know—or at least, should have known—is that they were nowhere near championship contention. They were coming off a first-round playoff exit and held a 12-18 record with the NBA's sixth-worst net rating (minus-4.0).
So, naturally, they sensed a major buy-now opportunity.
The Wizards decided that instead of having the 23-year-old Oubre and 26-year-old Rivers, they needed the 33-year-old Ariza, who was shooting 37.9 percent at the time and was only signed through the end of the season.
As it turns out, the Wizards were more than an Ariza away from competitive. They went on to suffer a 50-loss season, and Ariza bounced in the offseason.
Meanwhile, Oubre has thrived with the Suns, positioning himself as a potential building block in the desert.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.