There are a lot of factors to be taken into consideration when trying to understand why a team traded like they did. Some teams want to trade away expiring contracts in order to not lose valuable assets to nothing in the free agency. Other teams are forced to trade a player that requests to be traded, while others are forced by the coach.
Whether it is a problem in the team chemistry, or strictly business, sometimes the trades look much worse after some time has passed. Let's now take a look at some trades that were good for one team, but horrible for the other :
5. Pau Gasol to the Lakers
Date: February 1st, 2008
Grizzlies got: Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the draft rights to Marc Gasol, a 2008 first round pick (Donte Greene), and a 2010 first round pick (Greivis Vasquez)
Lakers got: Pau Gasol and a 2010 first round pick (Devin Ebanks)
Who won: Los Angeles Lakers (2 Championships)
The Grizzlies actually wanted Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum to be involved in the deal, but they eventually settled for Kwame Brown. The Grizzlies traded a young Pau Gasol who went on to win two titles in the Lakers alongside Kobe Bryant but got Marc Gasol who turned out to be a more all-around player. The Grizzlies were widely criticized for that move, as they gave up an All-Star big man for virtually nothing in return.
Kwame Brown never made an impact with the Grizzlies, and neither did any of the other players they received. While the deal seemed ridiculous at the time, the Grizzlies used the cap space to bring in Zach Randolph and numerous other players that helped them reach the playoffs. But the Lakers got two rings out of it, so they were the clear winners.
4. James Harden to the Rockets
Date: October 27th, 2012
Rockets got: James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward
OKC got: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two future first-round picks (Steven Adams and Mitch McGary) and a second-round pick (Alex Abrines)
Who won: The Rockets, no doubt
The Oklahoma City Thunder had already given big contracts to Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook and Serge Ibaka that year. James Harden was coming off a strong year, having also won the best 6th Man of the Year Award, and he would surely demand more money after his contract was set to expire at the end of that season. So the Thunder felt that they had to flip him, and what they got seemed pretty incredible at that point.
Since then, James Harden went on to become an MVP-caliber player, appearing in five All-Star games and is a three-time first-team All-NBA member. It was a punch in the mouth for OKC, and even more so last season, where they were eliminated in five games against the Houston Rockets. The Thunder got very few pieces in return, with the best being Steven Adams, which goes to show how lopsided that trade was.
3. DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans
Date: February 20th, 2017
Pelicans got: DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi
Kings got: Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a first-round pick and a second-round pick
Who won: The Pelicans at first glance
DeMarcus Cousins was not at all happy in Sacramento, and his talent was hindered by the friction between him and the team. His talent is undeniable, he is one of the best, if not the best, big man in the NBA, but his eccentric personality can be quite a handful. The Kings were receiving offers for him, and even though GM Vlade Divac said that they had a couple of better offers, they chose to send him to the Pelicans during the All-Star weekend last season, for a bunch of players and a couple of draft picks.
The Pelicans straight-out won in this trade, as they paired Cousins with Davis, creating a Twin-Tower duo the NBA hasn't seen in years. They lost very few pieces in order to make that happen, and this could be the steal of the decade. The Kings' front-office was criticized for that move, as Tyreke Evans and Galloway are no longer in the team. They traded that first-round pick for Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, while the second-round pick turned out to be Frank Mason III. While the Kings might have improved the overall balance in their roster with such a move, handing out Cousins for players who will make an impact in at least two or three years has pushed the Sacramento franchise back into non-existence.
2. Baron Davis to the Cavaliers
Date: February 24, 2011
Cavaliers got: Baron Davis and a 2011 first-round pick (Kyrie Irving)
Clippers got: Mo Williams and Jamario Moon
Who won: The Cavaliers by far
Following the departure of LeBron James at the end of the 2010 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers knew that they would soon go to full re-build mode. The following season they managed to cut a deal with the Clippers that would send Mo Williams and Jamario Moon, in exchange for Baron Davis and a first-round pick. While most people thought that the Cavaliers did this trade to get Baron Davis, they in fact did that primarily for the draft pick.
They specifically asked for players with expiring contracts, as they had the cap space to take them in. However, they also had one condition - that they would come with first-round draft picks. The Clippers were keen to off-load Davis' contract in order to have more flexibility for better contracts to Griffin, Jordan, Bledsoe, Aminu, so the trade happened. Fast forward into the present, and that draft pick turned out to be Kyrie Irving, which was received in exchange for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. Not too shabby.
1. Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics
Date: February 19, 2015
Celtics got: Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome
Pistons got: Tayshaun Prince
Suns got: Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick
Who won: The Celtics grabbed an MVP candidate for next to nothing
Isaiah Thomas has been really underestimated throughout his whole life, and there are some teams in the NBA that also didn't believe in him. Besides the Sacramento Kings, Isaiah Thomas was also underestimated by the Phoenix Suns, who flipped him in exchange for Marcus Thornton and a first-round pick.
The Suns were keen on off-loading their crowded frontcourt, so they traded Goran Dragic to Miami and Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics. What a horrible decision for a franchise that is now begging for a playmaker of that caliber. However, the Celtics were greatly improved by that move, as they got a potential MVP candidate, while Thornton only played nine matches for the Suns. The Celtics did eventually flip Thomas in the Kyrie Irving trade, which goes to reinforce the fact that the Suns made a tragic deal for Thomas.