Ranking the Biggest NBA Midseason Shakeups in the Past Decade

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2022

Ranking the Biggest NBA Midseason Shakeups in the Past Decade

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    When an NBA team realizes a long-term plan isn't working, the only option is to embrace some level of change.

    Typically, the transformations happen in the offseason as contracts expire, draft picks are made and free agents are signed. Over the past decade, though, a handful of seasons have included some franchises making drastic moves, especially around the trade deadline.

    Now, this is not simply a ranking of blockbuster trades, such as when the Sacramento Kings shipped DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017.

    Rather, it's a collection of organizations that basically blew up the roster during the regular season. The ranking is subjective, but it focuses on the number of marquee moves, production of the players included and the immediate implications of the transactions.

8. 2017-18 Pistons Try to Build Around Griffin

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    At least the Detroit Pistons took a chance, right?

    Following a tremendous decade to begin the 2000s, the Pistons descended into mediocrity. They missed the playoffs for six straight years, mustered a first-round exit in 2015-16 and missed again in 2016-17. The roster needed a jolt, and Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin looked like an answer.

    Detroit acquired Griffin in exchange for key starters Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley, along with backup big Boban Marjanovic and two future draft picks. Ten days later, the Pistons sent a second-round pick for each of Jameer Nelson and James Ennis to replenish their perimeter depth.

    Unfortunately for Detroit, the trades didn't really pay off. Still, they upended the rotation in pursuit of something better.

7. 2020-21 Rockets Blow It Up

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    As if swapping Russell Westbrook and John Wall before the offseason wasn't enough, the Houston Rockets moved a disgruntled James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

    The trade brought Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum and Rodions Kurucs to town, but two of them headed elsewhere soon.

    After dealing a second-rounder for Cleveland wing Kevin Porter Jr. and releasing DeMarcus Cousins in February, the Rockets made two notable trades in March. They shipped P.J. Tucker and Kurucs to the Milwaukee Bucks for D.J. Augustin, D.J. Wilson and draft picks, and Oladipo went to the Miami Heat for Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and more picks.

    In total, 30 different players appeared in a game for Houston, which posted an NBA-worst 17-55 record in 2020-21.

6. 2020-21 Nets Acquire an All-Star and More

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    Early in the 2020-21 campaign, the Nets went all-in for a superstar. They landed Harden in a four-team megadeal that moved Caris Levert to the Indiana Pacers, Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince to the Cleveland Cavaliers and a whole bunch of draft picks (and Kurucs) to the Rockets.

    Brooklyn wanted to build around Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for a championship run, so the team wasn't finished.

    Though the Nets didn't make another trade, they scoured the market for castaways and slotted them into the lineup. Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridgedespite a health-shortened seasonand Mike James all averaged 18-plus minutes in their varying action.

    Brooklyn made the second round of the playoffs before falling to the eventual-champion Bucks.

5. 2014-15 Thunder Make an Ill-Timed Renovation

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    The core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Andre Roberson remained intact. But the Oklahoma City Thunder revamped their complementary piecesand hardly could've had worse timing in doing it.

    Although foot and ankle injuries sidelined Durant for 23 of OKC's first 32 games, he returned and thrived in January. That month, the Thunder added Dion Waiters from Cleveland and sent Lance Thomas to the New York Knicks in a three-team trade.

    Expecting a deep playoff run with a healthy lineup, the Thunder saw an opportunity to further strengthen the roster in February.

    At the deadline, OKC offloaded an unhappy Reggie Jackson to Detroit, moved Kendrick Perkins to the Utah Jazz and conveyed several draft picks to secure Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler.

    That day, however, also marked the last appearance for Durant that season. He missed the next 28 games because of a foot injury and subsequent surgery, and the Thunder ended up losing a tiebreaker to the New Orleans Pelicans for the final playoff spot.

4. 2014-15 Suns Detonate the Backcourt

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    We need to mention the January trades for notable backup Brandan Wright and a three-team agreement moving part-time reserves Shavlik Randolph out and Reggie Bullock in. But the story of the Phoenix Suns comes down to deadline day in 2015.

    During the offseason, the Suns had traded for Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe. They shared the backcourt with Goran Dragic, who assembled a career-best campaign in the previous year.

    And on Feb. 19 specifically, Phoenix ended the experiment.

    That single day sent Dragic to Miami for Danny Granger and two first-round picks, moved Thomas to the Celtics for Marcus Thornton and another first-rounder and fetched Brandon Knight from Milwaukee for Tyler Ennis, Miles Plumlee and a first-rounder.

    Phoenix had a 29-25 recordtied with OKC at No. 8 in the Western Conferenceat the time. But the new-look Suns tumbled down the stretch, finishing 39-43 and missing the playoffs.

3. 2017-18 Cavaliers Revamp the Roster for Finals Run

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    In the previous offseason, Cleveland dealt an discontented Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics. In return, the Cavs acquired Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and two draft picks. They also signed free agents Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade.

    And, friends, it didn't last long.

    February's trade deadline arrived, and Cleveland executed three separate trades in hopes of winning a championship and keeping LeBron James in town. Crowder and Rose headed to Utah in a three-team deal, which also sent Iman Shumpert to the Sacramento Kings and brought back George Hill and Rodney Hood.

    Thomas, Channing Frye and a first-round pick went to the Los Angeles Lakers for Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. And lastly, Wade returned to the Heat.

    Hill started alongside LeBron through the playoffs, while Hood, Nance and Clarkson all played key backup roles. But the Cavaliers still lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, and LeBron bolted for the Lakers in the offseason.

2. 2020-21 Magic Embrace a Rebuild

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    Similar to Phoenix's teardown at the 2015 deadline, the Magic held a fire sale in March of 2021.

    All-Star center Nikola Vucevic headed to the Chicago Bulls, while forward Aaron Gordon and wing Evan Fournier went to the Denver Nuggets and Celtics, respectively. They'd shared the floor in Orlando since the 2014-15 season and each hold top-12 rankings in career points for the franchise.

    And the Magic traded them all within hours.

    In return, Orlando added Wendell Carter Jr., R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris and three first-round selectionsultimately using the first on Franz Wagner in the 2021 draft.

    The payoff, or potentially lack thereof, will be determined down the road. But in the past decade, no NBA team has undergone such a franchise-altering, in-season day as the Magic.

1. 2018-19 76ers Go All-in

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    Finally, it was time for The Process to produce.

    From the 2013-14 campaign through 2015-16, the Philadelphia 76ers totaled just 47 wins. They executed one of the most brilliant and controversial teardowns, waited for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to recover from injuries, improved to 28-54 in 2016-17 and broke through with a 52-30 record in 2017-18.

    Just 14 games into the year, the Sixers struck a deal for Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler. They moved starters Robert Covington and Dario Saric with backup Jerryd Bayless to Minnesota.

    Philly resurfaced around the trade deadline in a big way.

    Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Marjanovic arrived from the Clippers in a package for starter Wilson Chandler and key reserves Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala. Plus, the Sixers ended the Markelle Fultz saga and acquired Jonathon Simmons from the Magic, as well as dealing a second-rounder to Houston for James Ennis.

    Philadelphia exited the playoffs in heart-breaking fashion, losing to the Toronto Raptors on Kawhi Leonard's rim-rattling buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.