NBA: The 50 Worst Decisions in League History

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2011

NBA: The 50 Worst Decisions in League History

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    Last summer, ESPN aired a 60-minute special entitled "The Decision" that will go down in sports infamy. Ironically, the decision to produce and air "The Decision" was one of the worst in NBA history.

    Obviously, it wasn't the only time organizations, executives or players within the league have shown poor judgment.

    Here are the 50 worst decisions in NBA history.

    You can follow Andy Bailey on Twitter @_Andy_Bailey

50. Michael Jordan Tries Baseball

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    In the prime of his career, the greatest player in league history stepped away to try his hand at professional baseball.

    In 127 minor league games, Jordan batted .202, drove in 51 runs and hit three home runs.

    If Jordan hadn't stepped away, there's a chance he could have more than his already impressive six NBA championships.

49. The Vancouver Grizzlies Uniforms

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    I'll let the picture do the explaining for me on this one.

48. Letting David Kahn Run a Team

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    David Kahn's run as the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves has been a wild one—from his great admiration for Darko Milicic (he calls him manna from heaven) to awfully inexplicable draft-day trades and selections that cannot be explained nor defended.

    His most recent flub was the way he handled the firing of Kurt Rambis.

47. Orlando Hires Billy Donovan

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    After winning back-to-back NCAA championships, Florida head coach Billy Donovan agreed to coach the NBA's Orlando Magic.

    He reneged on the deal days later.

    It's hard to blame Orlando for this decision because I'm sure Donovan said all the right things. At the same time, it's hard to say the Magic made the right decision in this coaching search.

46. Jordan's Comeback

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    Jordan wasn't a bad player with the Wizards, but he could have been one of the few superstar athletes to go out on top.

    In 1998, he retired after winning his 10th scoring title, fifth league MVP, sixth Finals MVP and sixth NBA title.

    He was a shell of the player he once was during his two seasons in Washington. On the other hand, you could look at the fact that he averaged over 20 points a game as a 39-year-old, which is really impressive.

45. LeBron James Chooses Miami over New York and Chicago

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    LeBron could have been in a better situation than the one he chose in Miami.  

    Both Chicago (the best choice if he wanted titles right away) and New York (the best choice if he wanted to grow his brand) made more sense. Heck, even Dallas would have been a better choice (they could have made a compelling sign-and-trade offer with Rodrigue Beaubois and Caron Butler).

    Chicago and New York had the money to sign more than one big-name free agent. Can you imagine a starting lineup of Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah? 

    Even as a diehard Mavs fan, it's hard for me to see them beating that squad in the finals.

44. The Trail Blazers Go with Greg Oden

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    Some say the Blazers didn't go with Kevin Durant because they already had a wing in Brandon Roy (and size is always intriguing).

    Chicago's small forward/shooting guard combo in the '90s worked pretty well. Durant and Roy may not have been Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, but the team would have been much better than it is (barring injuries, of course).

43. Ben Wallace Pushes Ron Artest

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    Ben Wallace has never gotten enough credit for the "Malice in the Palace."  

    He started the worst on-court fight in NBA (and possibly all sports) history when he allowed his hot head to get the better of him and pushed Ron Artest.

42. The Mavericks Sign Antoine Walker

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    The Mavericks brought in a pair of forwards with the same first name in the 2003 offseason (one spelled it Antoine, the other Antawn).

    One made sense (Antawn Jamison), the other didn't (Antoine Walker).

    Dallas would have been much better off signing a role player who was more concerned with the team than himself (and was willing to play some defense).

41. The Nuggets Sign-and-Trade for Kenyon Martin

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    Kenyon Martin had a history of injuries in college and with New Jersey and was never extremely productive even when he was healthy.

    So the Nuggets paying him $92.5 million over a lengthy seven years made little to no sense.

40. The Age Limit

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    The age limit was supposed to increase the emotional maturity of the players in the league.  

    Instead, it's brought some negative attention, as plenty of "one-and-dones" have been involved in some serious recruiting scandals (including the two pictured here).

39. Switching the Ball

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    In 2006, the league ditched the genuine leather ball in favor of a microfiber composite one.

    Mere months later, the complaints of the players won out, and it switched back.

38. The Lakers Trade Caron Butler for Kwame Brown

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    During the 2004-05 season, Kwame Brown played in 42 games and averaged seven points and five rebounds a game.  

    During the same season, Caron Butler played 77 games and averaged 16 points and six rebounds a game in his only campaign with the Lakers.

    I guess Kwame did eventually help them land Pau Gasol, though.

37. The Celtics Select Len Bias with the No. 2 Pick

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    The Boston Celtics took Len Bias with the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft. He was loaded with talent and potential and could have been a great addition to a team that already had Larry Bird.

    Unfortunately, Bias died of a drug overdose the night after he was drafted. His death was a great tragedy, and there were signs that Bias may have led a troubled life before Boston decided to draft him.

    As a result of his death, the NBA instituted a drug awareness program for young players.

36. The Cavs Bring Larry Hughes in as LeBron's No. 2 for $70 Million

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    For years, the Cavaliers organization searched high and low for a solid No. 2 for LeBron James. They gave Larry Hughes a five-year deal worth $70 million to fill that role.

    He was a stat stuffer in Washington who got exposed in Cleveland. The team traded him halfway through the deal.

    Obviously, the Cavaliers never found a No. 2 that satisfied His Royal Highness.

35. The Lakers Sign Gary Payton

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    In the 2003 offseason, the Lakers added two living legends to the nucleus of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Adding Karl Malone alone would have been fine. Adding Gary Payton was the straw that broke the camel's back.

    With Payton on board, the team had one too many "me-first" attitudes, and the Lakers were taken down by a complete team in the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals.

34. The Suns Trade for Shaquille O'Neal

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    For years, Shaquille O'Neal was the most physically dominant basketball player in the world. But by the time he was playing for his third team (the Miami Heat), he was clearly slowing down.

    The only Shaq that would have fit the style the late 2000s Suns played was the Shaq who spent his first few years in Orlando.

    By the time Phoenix traded for him, he was too old and too slow to keep up with the way it played. For a while, the team tried to adapt to him. The results were awful.

33. Dallas Signs Raef LaFrentz, Erick Dampier, DeSagana Diop and Brendan Haywood

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    I have no reason to hate on my Mavericks right now, but that front office has severely frustrated me in the past.

    For years, they seemed determined to sign below-average (and in some cases awful) centers for way more money than they deserved.  

    In 2004, they signed Erick Dampier to a seven-year, $73 million deal. The $7 million DeSagana Diop will be paid by Charlotte next year is a result of a contract he signed in Dallas.

    While Brendan Haywood is a solid player, the Mavs overpaid for him as well.

32. Trading for Allen Iverson

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    Iverson always played hard, but he never exactly fostered team chemistry on any of the teams he played for. In many seasons, you could argue he was his team's chemistry killer.

    Acquiring Iverson didn't make much (if any) sense for a young Denver team that already had the ball-stopping Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets must have been jubilant when they learned another team would be willing to take Iverson in a trade.

    The Pistons defended the trade by saying Iverson was on an expiring contract. Unfortunately, this guy has a personality big enough to disrupt (or destroy) chemistry in a matter of months.

31. Rick Pitino Brings the Full-Court Press to Boston

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    Rick Pitino is a great college coach, but he tried to bring everything he did in college to the pro game. NBA players can break a full-court press, Coach.

30. The 76ers Trade Charles Barkley

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    The primary pieces in this deal were Jeff Hornacek and Charles Barkley. Hornacek may be one of the most underrated players in NBA history but certainly wasn't worth an all-time great in Barkley.

    Sir Charles had four dominant years with the Suns, took the team to the finals and won league MVP in 1993.

29. The Bulls Sign Ben Wallace for Four Years and $60 Million

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    Ben Wallace was a great defensive player for several years in Detroit, but the Bulls paying him $60 million over four years seemed insane to just about everyone.

    Chicago traded him a season-and-a-half later.

28. The Lakers Trade Shaquille O'Neal

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    Sure, there was some bad blood between Shaq and Kobe, but trading the big man made very little sense.

    The Lakers didn't give into Kobe's demands a few years later when he wanted to be traded himself; they shouldn't have given in here either.

    Yeah, the team got back on top a few years later, but Kobe could have had his fourth and fifth titles sooner if he would have worked things out with Shaq. He would have eventually become "the man" in that duo as well (and we all know how important that is to him).

27. Isiah Thomas Hires Larry Brown

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    I know Larry Brown is a good coach, but his style only works with a certain type of player, and young or immature doesn't fit that mold.

    On top of the stylistic issues, the amount of money was pretty crazy. Isiah Thomas signed him to a five-year, $50 million deal.

    He went 23-59 in his only season with the Knicks. He and the team came to a mutual agreement worth $18.5 million for him to leave.

    That means he was paid nearly $30 million for one season.

26. Connie Hawkins Point Shaving

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    This wouldn't have been that big of a deal if Connie Hawkins hadn't filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league.

    Hawkins played for the Globetrotters and in the ABA before the lawsuit helped him finally get past a ban prohibiting him from competing in the NBA.

    Why was he banned? Point shaving.

25. The Nuggets Select Nikoloz Tskitishvili with the No. 5 Pick in 2002

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    In a pretty weak draft, the Nuggets still managed to find one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.

    No. 5 pick Nikoloz Tskitishvili averaged 2.9 points and 1.8 rebounds over 172 career games.

    They could have had Amar'e Stoudemire the year before they drafted Melo (of course, they may not have had the No. 3 pick in 2003 had they picked Stoudemire up).

24. The Washington Wizards Take Kwame Brown with a No. 1 Pick

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    Arguably the worst No. 1 pick in NBA history.

    At least half the players taken in the first round of that draft (2001) have had better careers than Brown.

23. Completely Guaranteed Contracts

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    Right now, the league is packed with players on contracts that are insanely richer than their production suggests they deserve.

    Fully guaranteed deals are a big part of why the NBA is in the financial mess it currently finds itself in.

22. Kermit Washington Punches Rudy Tomjanovich

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    The result of this one was the worst injury from any of the NBA's on-court fights.

    The Lakers' Kermit Washington blasted incoming Rudy Tomjanovich with a punch that he certainly could not have seen coming.

    The blow shattered bones in Tomjanovich's jaw and face, and it took him five months to fully recover.

    The Punch

21. Any Team Signing or Trading for Stephon Marbury

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    There aren't many players with career averages as solid as Marbury's 19 points and eight assists a game that played for five different teams.

    His attitude is clearly team- and chemistry-killing, but organizations kept taking a chance on him because he was so productive for so many years.

20. The Pistons Use Their No. 2 Pick on Darko Milicic

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    The 2003 NBA draft class was one of the most talented in history, but the No. 2 pick has not lived up to the lofty expectations that come with that high a selection.

    Detroit said it didn't take Carmelo Anthony because it already had a small forward, and Pistons fans now say that the team may not have won a title had they taken Melo.

    I say there's a good chance they would have won multiple titles had they drafted Anthony at No. 2. Going to a veteran team like Detroit may not have given him as much of an opportunity to shine individually, but Melo would have been a much more emotionally mature player under the tutelage of the people in that organization.

    He's a much more talented player than Tayshaun Prince (the small forward the Pistons already had), and Detroit could have had a nucleus that would have competed for NBA championships for years (not just Eastern Conference championships).

    And don't tell me Melo can't play defense like Prince. He has the physical tools, and Larry Brown and the Pistons players would have made him play on that end of the floor.

19. The Warriors Trade Robert Parish and Kevin McHale for Joe Barry Carroll

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    Joe Barry Carroll had a solid NBA career, but Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were integral components (along with Larry Bird) of arguably the greatest frontcourt of all time.

18. Latrell Sprewell Chokes His Coach

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    Anyone who has played a few years of organized basketball knows about coaches who try the "break you down to build you up" method of coaching.

    I've had plenty. But I've never choked any of them for 15 to 20 seconds and then returned to practice 20 minutes later to throw some punches. 

17. Dennis Rodman's Plethora of Bad Choices

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    He's made plenty of bad decisions when it comes to his wardrobe. He kicked a sideline cameraman. He's had run-ins with the law and has struggled with substance abuse.

    Dennis Rodman has made plenty of bad decisions in his day.

16. The Clippers Take Michael Olowokandi No. 1

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    This pick was worse than Kwame Brown because of all the sure things available behind him.  

    Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Antawn Jamison were all on the board.

15. Bucks Trade Dirk Nowitzki

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    On draft night back in 1998, the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks swapped the rights to picks No. 6 and 9.

    The Mavericks got Dirk Nowitzki (No. 9). The Bucks got Robert "Tractor" Traylor (No. 6). Traylor played for four teams over seven seasons and averaged less than five points and four rebounds a game for his career.

    Dirk is an all-time top-20 player who just led the only team he's ever played for to an NBA championship.

14. The 76ers Trade Wilt Chamberlain

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    The Lakers have made their fair share of trade pilfers.

    In this one, they got Wilt Chamberlain for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff.

    Have any of you heard of any of those three?

13. Moving a Great Franchise from Seattle

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    The Sonics were a great team and organization with a long and rich history. Moving the team to Oklahoma City didn't feel right to anyone outside Oklahoma.

12. Hornets Trade Kobe Bryant

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    The Charlotte Hornets selected Kobe Bryant with the No. 13 pick of the 1996 draft but traded his rights to the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Kobe has won five titles with the Lakers since that night. The Hornets have never won a title, and since that night, the organization has changed cities and is now owned by the league.

11. The Blazers, Kings, Pacers, Knicks and Warriors All Pass on Larry Bird

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    All five of the teams listed in this slide's title passed on Larry Bird.

    Red Auerbach had the sense to take a kid who averaged 30 points and 13 rebounds a game during college.

    Looks like people were doubting small conference players long before Jimmer Fredette.

10. The Decision

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    Most people's problem with LeBron stems not from the fact that he left Cleveland, but how he did it.

    He and his man Maverick Carter spearheaded the production of an all-eyes-on-me special on ESPN, and LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh all participated in a premature victory celebration in Miami in which they guaranteed no less than seven titles.

9. The Trail Blazers Go with Sam Bowie

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    Once again, the Blazers take a big man over a wing because they already had one (Clyde Drexler this time).

    I think Michael Jordan may have been a better decision.

8. Charles Barkley Throws a Bar Patron Through a Window

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    During his career and after it, Charles Barkley has been arrested several times.

    This particular mugshot was the result of a bar fight in which Barkley threw a fellow patron through a window. Barkley was playing for the Rockets at the time.

    He pleaded guilty to charges of assault and resisting arrest.

7. The Knicks Hire Isiah Thomas

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    Isiah Thomas was one of the worst coaches and executives in the history of the NBA. It took the franchise years to undo the damage he inflicted.

    During the time in which Isiah was employed by the Knicks, the team didn't have a single winning season, and their overall record was 151-259.

    Plus, there was the whole sexual harassment thing.

6. Ron Artest Heads into the Stands

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    I think you all remember what went down on Nov. 19, 2004 at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, Mich.

    I'll never forget watching hours of coverage of this unbelievable night on ESPNEWS.

    Ben Wallace started the fight that Ron Artest initially reacted to with relative maturity. After Wallace shoved him in the face, Artest removed himself from the situation and lay on the scorer's table.

    When a fan decided to throw a beer at Indiana's ticking time bomb, all hell broke loose. Artest charged into the stands, followed by Stephen Jackson.

    Total chaos ensued as fights between fans and players spilled onto the floor.

    Artest was suspended for 73 games, Stephen Jackson for 30, Jermaine O'Neal for 25, Ben Wallace for six (he deserved a much harsher punishment) and Anthony Johnson for five.

    Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman were all suspended one game apiece.

    Malice in the Palace

5. Tim Donaghy Cheats

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    Tim Donaghy gambled on and attempted to fix NBA games while he was employed by the league as a referee.

    Included in the games he alleged were fixed was Game 6 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals between the Kings and Lakers. David Stern denied the allegations.

    Donaghy served 15 months in federal prisons and a halfway house for his offenses.

    This is, without a doubt, the worst NBA scandal to date.

4. Kobe Bryant in Colorado

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    Back in 2003, when Kobe Bryant was the face of the league and widely regarded as the best basketball player in the world, the Lakers superstar was accused of rape.

    The case was dismissed the next year, but the damage to Kobe's reputation had already been done. To this day, Kobe haters call him a rapist in conversations having nothing to do with his off-the-court past.

    He admitted to having consensual sex with the woman who made the accusations. Therein lies the awful decision.

    Professional athletes put themselves in terrible situations all the time.

3. Tony Parker Cheats with His Teammate's Wife

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    There have been plenty of NBA players who have cheated on their wives. What makes this one more significant is the girl who's being cheated on happens to be Eva Longoria.

    On top of that, Tony Parker was reportedly messing with the wife of teammate Brent Barry. The two couples were supposedly pretty good friends at one time.

2. Gilbert Arenas Brings Guns to the Locker Room

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    During an argument over a debt stemming from a game of cards, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton drew guns on each other the Washington Wizards locker room.

    Having guns in the locker room would be bad enough, but Arenas insisted on making matters worse for himself by laughing and firing air pistols towards the rafters prior to the start of the Wizards' next game.

1. Jayson Williams Brandishes a Gun While Drunk

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    In 2002, Jayson Williams shot his driver Costas Christofi while entertaining several people in his New Jersey home.

    He insisted it was an accident and eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in 2010.


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