Trading is a huge part of the NBA and all that happens there, as the best players in the world wind up right whey they should be, proving that they can perform at the highest of levels on better teams and that they can be trusted to do their job even if they’re no longer the team’s go-to-guy.
In order to stay competitive or to turn things around, team’s execs are constantly looking to move some pieces in exchange for other assets that better fit their plans for the present or the future, parting ways with other great players in the meantime.
Over the course of history, we’ve seen some quite transcendent moves that have had a huge impact on the basketball world as we know it right now. Today, we’re going to talk about the top 15 trades in NBA history.
15. James Harden to the Rockets (2012)
James Harden was coming off a terrific season once again as the Thunder’s sixth man, showing some offensive outbursts that made everybody believe they were witnessing one of the league’s rising stars, but that wasn’t enough for Sam Presti to keep him on board.
Presti thought it was better for the Thunder to keep Serge Ibaka to have a lockdown defender and rim protector, parting ways with Harden as he would be unable to match his contract demands. So, he sent the Beard to Houston alongside Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward; landing Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin and a couple of 1st rounders with a 2nd round pick in return.
14. Kyrie Irving to the Cavs (2011)
Well, Kyrie Irving was always a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but this trade is quite relevant considering he could’ve been a member of the Los Angeles Clippers and with Chris Paul in town, perhaps he never would’ve become the player we all know right now.
See, the Los Angeles Clippers were dumb enough to trade their 2011 first round pick and Baron Davis to the Cavs in exchange of Jamario Moon and Mo Williams. Needless to say, that pick wound up being the 1st overall and therefore, Uncle Drew.
13. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Celtics (2007)
This one is by far one of the most interesting deals that have ever happened in the Association, as the Celtics would land a couple of All-Stars that weren’t happy on their respective sides in exchange of pretty much spare parts, with Garnett finally having the chance to compete for an NBA Championship and Ray Allen being the perfect complement for Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce.
In order to orchestrate this deal, three teams would have to get involved, with Boston landing Garnett, Glen Davis and Allen; Minnesota landing Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff and the Sonics getting Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and Jeff Green. Eventually, Boston would win one Championship and kickstart the big 3 eras once again in the NBA.
12. Kawhi Leonard to the Spurs (2011)
Back in 2011, Gregg Popovich wasn’t quite sure Kawhi Leonard would end up being nearly half as good as he is right now, but he followed his hunch and decided to really risk a lot in order to land the San Diego State defensive standout.
Kawhi Leonard was originally drafted by the Indiana Pacers at the 15th overall spot of the 2011 draft, but the Spurs didn’t hesitate to send George Hill there in order to land him. Also, they got Bertans and Erazem Lorbek. Nowadays, Kawhi is the best two way player in the league, a one time NBA Champion and the Finals MVP on the Spurs last title run.
11. Chris Paul to the Clippers (2011)
For a very long time, it seemed like Chris Paul had overstayed his welcome at New Orleans, not because the team or the fans didn’t want him there, but because he had outgrown the entire organization almost since day one and the franchise was going through mayhem at the time, so his departure was pretty much a lock.
Paul was pretty clear to becoming a Laker but the league eventually vetoed that move. Nonetheless, CP3 still ended up in LA to play for the Clippers (alongside a couple of future 2nd rounders), with Los Angeles sending Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and a 1st round pick to New Orleans.
10. Dirk Nowitzki to the Mavericks (1998)
Dirk Nowitzki was drafted 9th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and considering how rough the unathletic German big man looked back in the day, we wouldn’t be so hard on them for their decision to trade him alongside Pat Garrity for Robert Traylor, a physical specimen that was better suited for that kind of basketball.
Needless to say, this would be a terrible mistake for the Bucks, with Nowitzki growing to be perhaps the best foreigner in the history of the league, one of the greatest scorers basketball has ever seen, a Champion, an MVP and a reference for what stretch fours should be like.
9. Dennis Rodman to the Bulls (1995)
Dennis Rodman was already an established defender and rebounder and he had also won the title before, so he looked like just the perfect piece to complement Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen after their first threepeat and Horace Grant’s departure.
The Bulls sent Will Purdue and cash considerations to the San Antonio Spurs in order to land the Worm, and that move would instantly pay off, with Rodman posting averages of 14.9, 15 and 16.1 boards during the three years he spent at the United Center, as well as taking home a ring on every one of those seasons as well.
8. Charles Barkley to the Suns (1992)
Charles Barkley was already playing at an MVP level for the Philadelphia 76ers ever since entering the league and he was an instant fan favorite, but Philadelphia was struggling and Barkley was desperate to get the hell out of the City of Brotherly Love ASAP to try and compete for a Championship.
So, after a failed move to the Los Angeles Lakers, Barkley was eventually dealt away to the Phoenix Suns, where he’d have the best passage of his career and would go on to win his lone MVP award. For this trade to happen, Phoenix sent Tim Perry, Jeff Hornacek and Andrew Lang to Philly.
7. Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to the Celtics (1980)
As usual, the rich get richer, and the Celtics Front Office landed a huge bargain when they traded just a couple of first-round picks to the Warriors in exchange for Robert Parish and the pick that would end up being Kevin McHale, as the duo was one of the most successful and dominant frontcourts in NBA history.
Boston would eventually win 3 Championships (1981, 1984 and 1986) with this standout duo down low, and both players will go down as two of the greatest glories in Boston Celtics history, with their jerseys hanging forever in the rafters of the mythical TD Garden.
6. Scottie Pippen to the Bulls (1987)
Scottie Pippen was one of the main reasons why the Chicago Bulls were so successful during those amazing runs, and even though Michael Jordan gets most of the credit, the GOAT himself has always recognized that Scottie’s two-way impact made it quite easy for him at times.
Pippen was drafted 5th overall by the Seattle Supersonics, but Chicago didn’t miss a beat to send Olden Polynice, one of the most interesting prospects back in the day. Eventually, Pippen would go on to become one of the best defenders in NBA history and win 6 Championships with the Bulls, while the other is a guy you have to google to know who the hell he was.
5. Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers (1968)
After spending his entire career at Philadelphia, with the Warriors and the 76ers, Wilt Chamberlain was growing sick and tired of town and wanted to play for a major market with a lifestyle suited for stars, forcing a move out of the team with threats of just walking away from the team and change leagues.
Obviously, the Sixers were forced to deal the best player in franchise history, receiving Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark, and Darrall Imhoff in return. Eventually, Chamberlain would go on to win one Championship and one MVP with the Lakers.
4. LeBron James to the Heat (2010)
After a lot of unnecessary drama, LeBron James pretty much orchestrated an ESPN special just to announce his free agency decision, stating that he was ready to “take his talents” to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat, something that obviously translated into rage and tears from betrayed Cavaliers fans.
Even though most people think this was just a free agency deal, it was actually a sign and trade that got the Cavs a trade exception, 2 first round picks, 2 second round picks and the rights to trade picks in 2015. LeBron would go on to win a couple of Rings at Miami before heading back home.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers (1975)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was definitely the best player in the world during his time with the Milwaukee Bucks, and he sure as hell knew it. Kareem had outgrown that small market and seemed ready for a bigger challenge, demanding to be traded immediately before the Lakers making a push for him.
Milwaukee would end up getting Brian Winters, Elmore Smith, Junior Bridgeman, and Dave Meyers, while the Lakers would get Wilt Chamberlain’s successor and one of the greatest ballers in NBA history. Alongside Magic, he won 5 rings, 3 MVPs and became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
2. Kobe Bryant to the Lakers (1996)
Kobe Bryant was yet another masterpiece by Jerry West, as he really gambled in order to land the standout shooting guard the Charlotte Hornets had taken 13th overall, sending Vlade Divac to Charlotte just to get an unproven youngster straight out of high school that had spent several time overseas.
Needless to say, the move truly paid off, and even though Divac was a fan favorite, Bryant would go on to become the greatest player to ever wear the purple and gold. Winner of 1 MVP and 5 NBA Championships, this deal really changed the course of NBA history as we know it.
1. Bill Russell to the Celtics (1956)
This one has to be the most influential deal that has ever taken place in the basketball world, as Bill Russell is considered to be the greatest winner in the history of the game, and the lone player that’s ever won (and probably ever win) eleven NBA Championships.
Russell headed to the Boston Celtics because the Saint Louis Hawks couldn’t afford to sign him after drafting him second overall, with the league forcing them to trade him to a team that could actually pay him. For that matter, they got Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan, while the Celtics would land the most dominant player of his era, and a 5 time MVP who would win 11 titles in 13 years.