5 of the Most Awful Trades in NBA History

Updated on October 31, 2018
Jan Michael Ong profile image

I like writing about sports, personal finance, reality tv and video games.

Bad Trades

Teams trade players for a variety of reasons but it is mostly to become a better team. However, there are times that trades are done for financial reasons. Teams get rid of expensive players to save money or to get under the luxury tax.

Whatever the case, there are trades that are so lopsided that one team ends up with a legendary player, while the other ends up with a fringe starter or even some scrubs.

Let us look at five of the worst trades in NBA history.

Brooklyn trades a slew of draft picks and fringe players for the Hall of Fame duo of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Brooklyn trades a slew of draft picks and fringe players for the Hall of Fame duo of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets

This is perhaps one of the greatest robberies in NBA history. While many trades have resulted in a team getting robbed of one superstar, this trade resulted the Nets being robbed of one superstar and two potential stars.

Mikhail Prokorov was a Russian billionaire who was able to acquire a majority stake in the New Jersey Nets in 2010. This was the dawn of a new day for the Nets. The struggling franchise now had a billionaire owner who was not afraid to spend in order to be in championship contention.

Unfortunately, the Russian did not have the patience to do things the right way and decided to take shortcuts. The team was already decent with a core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. They just needed more firepower and veteran leadership.

The team decided to trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. At first glance, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett seemed to fit the bill. However, they were already long in the tooth and were well past their prime. If they would ever be healthy enough to finish their career in Brooklyn, the team was going to have a very small window to win a championship.

The Brooklyn Nets acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph and Keith Bogans. The Nets also gave Boston their first round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 and the right to swap first-rounders in 2017.

The trade did not look that bad at the time. If Brooklyn would win a lot and would contend for the championship, the picks would mean very little as they would be in the high 20's and would just be mostly bench warmers.

This is not what happened. The supposed new superteam did not pan out. Paul Pierce left Brooklyn after one season and joined the Washington Wizards. Kevin Garnett was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves after one and a half seasons as a Net. Jason Terry played only one season and was dealt to the Sacramento Kings the very next season.D.J. White was just included as a salary cap filler and was just waived.

In exchange for this very short window, the Nets mortgaged their entire future.

This was especially enraging for Nets fans as Boston was able to parlay the Nets picks into Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum. Kyrie Irving is one of the most cold blooded assassins in the NBA and is never afraid of taking the big shot. Jaylen brown looks to be a future star. He can defend with his length and is a good three-point shooter. Jayson Tatum idolized Kobe Bryant growing up and shows promise of being the "Green Mamba." In fact, Kobe believed in Tatum so much that he wished the Lakers would have drafted him instead and actually worked out with him to improve his skills.

Fast forward to the present. New Jersey has not benefited from the trade while the Celtics have the deepest team in the league.

When Danny Ainge comes calling you better hang up.

James Harden went from being the sixth man in Oklahoma City to the main man in Houston.
James Harden went from being the sixth man in Oklahoma City to the main man in Houston.

James Harden to the Rockets

James Harden is known today as a perennial MVP candidate. His amazing crossover moves and Eurostep bamboozle the opponents and allow countless scoring opportunities for the Houston guard.

There was a time however that Harden was just a sixth man in an up-and-coming Oklahoma team that had three future MVP's - Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They were all very young and have not yet hit their prime.

The team broke out in 2012 when they vanquished the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs in order to have a showdown with the big three in Miami. They lost the series 1-4 but the future appeared bright for the Thunder.

The Thunder could not keep Harden as they could not come to an agreement. They then traded him, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward for a package that included Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick.

At first glance, the Thunder got a decent haul. Kevin Martin was a prolific scorer who could easily average 20 points a night. Jeremy Lamb was a highly touted prospect. The three picks could end up very valuable as the Thunder have a good draft history. It seemed to be a mutually beneficial trade at the time.

The trade started to look bad when Harden became the main man in Houston and was free to show his full potential. He immediately averaged 25 points and became a star.

The three picks Oklahoma got ended up being Steven Adams, Mitch McGary and Alex Abrines. Steven Adams was a very good pick and is a valuable starter to this very day. Mitch McGary just played with the team for 2 seasons and was out of the league. Alex Abrines is nothing special and is just a bench player in the league.

In the end, the Thunder traded an MVP for Steven Adams and spare parts.

If the Thunder had kept their core of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka, they might have been multiple time champions by now.

As it stands, the Oklahoma City Thunder have zero championships to show for in its current incarnation as the Thunder.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most points in NBA  history with 38,387.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most points in NBA history with 38,387.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a star at UCLA so it would be no surprise that he would later try to get to play for his hometown team - the Los Angeles Lakers.

With Kareem, Milwaukee was able to win a championship. They were however forced into a trade or they would end up with nothing. Milwaukee dealt Kareem along with Walt Wesley to the Lakers for a package of Elmore Smith, Brian Winters Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman .

While the four players Milwaukee acquired were not scrubs, Milwaukee lost out big time as Kareem and Magic propelled the Lakers Showtime teams to 5 titles. Milwaukee never got another championship as soon as Kareem left town.

Junior Bridgeman and Brian Winters had their jerseys retired by the Bucks and were integral for perennial playoff contention. Elmore smith was dealt to the Cavaliers and did not even last 2 seasons with the team. Dave Meyers was a good player but only lasted 4 seasons as he retired to spend more time with his family and his church.

Kareem was the most dominant center of his time and devastated the league with his patented sky hooks. Nobody could stop the shots and only a handful of individuals ever blocked it. He along with Magic Johnson led stacked teams that fielded the likes of James Worthy, Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes and Mychal Thompson into perennial championship contention where they won five titles including a rare back to back championship.

Kobe Bryant was acquired by the Lakers for the small price of Vlade Divac.
Kobe Bryant was acquired by the Lakers for the small price of Vlade Divac.

Kobe Bryant to the Lakers

Vlade Divac was the Lakers' pick in 1989. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was about ready to retire and the Lakers needed a replacement in order to take the Showtime Lakers into the 90's. The Lakers were fortunate enough to be able to draft the Yugoslavian with the 26th pick of the 1989 Draft.

While Vlade did not set the world on fire in his rookie season, he developed into an efficient double-double machine. He was the starting center of the Lakers and was a decent shotblocker and rebounder.

Kobe Bryant showed tremendous potential as a high schooler from Lower Merion. His father Joe Bryant was once a player for the 76ers and made a name for himself overseas.

It took a while for Kobe to adjust to the NBA game but once he did, he was the closest thing to Michael Jordan since Michael Jordan. Kobe has a similar play style to Jordan and had the same mannerisms. He was Michael Jordan lite.

Kobe and Shaq won 3 straight titles and Kobe won 2 straight on his own. He spent 20 years with the Lakers and had a memorable 60 point outing in his final game against the Utah Jazz.

Divac was a good addition to the Hornets but only stayed two seasons.

This was an awful trade because the Hornets essentially traded a legend for a 2-year Divac rental.

Scottie Pippen won 6 championships with Michael Jordan while Polynice never became anything close to a star.
Scottie Pippen won 6 championships with Michael Jordan while Polynice never became anything close to a star.

Scottie Pippen to the Bulls

Sometimes you already made the right choice and do not need to trade the choice anymore. Seattle already drafted a future Hall of Famer in Scottie Pippen but let him go in exchange for a role player in Olden Polynice.

In this convoluted trade, the Bulls ended up with Scottie Pippen and the draft rights to the 1989 Sonics' pick in exchange for Olden Polynice. the Bulls' 2nd round pick and the Bulls' 1989 1st round pick.

The 1989 Sonics pick ended up being Jeff Sanders who lasted 4 seasons in the league. The Bulls' second rounder ended up being Sylvester Grey who spent one season with the Miami Heat. The Bulls' first rounder in 1989 ended up being B.J. Armstrong. Seattle traded the pick that became Armstrong for Brad Sellers. Sellers did not stay long in the team as he was shipped to Minnesota for Steve Johnson.

Here is the aftermath of the whole trade.

Scottie Pippen played 12 seasons for the Chicago Bulls and won 6 championships with Michael Jordan. He was part of two three-peat teams. Jeff Sanders spent an injury filled season in Chicago before being shipped to the Miami Heat for a second rounder. Since Sanders was waived, the pick was never conveyed.

Sylvester Grey never played for the Sonics as the pick got moved around before it ended up with the Miami Heat. Sylvester only played 1 NBA season and played overseas. The pick that became B.J. Armstrong was traded back to Chicago for Brad Sellers. Armstrong was an integral part of the first Chicago three-peat.

After the dust settled, Chicago ended up far ahead with Pippen and Armstrong. Seattle ended up with short term rentals for Polynice and Sellers and the trade never made any positive impact towards Seattle competing.

Bad Trades

Which of the 5 was the worst trade?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jan Michael Ong

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