Cohen: Ranking All-Time NBA Trades

By Josh Cohen
February 15, 2011


ORLANDO -- One of the most universal subjects NBA enthusiasts have when they are not actually watching a game on television or enjoying the fine atmosphere at any of the 30 NBA arenas is that of trade talk.

Conjuring up trade scenarios – realistic ones or not and especially around the trade deadline – keeps us all entertained and involved irrespective of what our rooting interest is.

It always starts with focusing on a specific player, which usually is a big name with a big resume and a big dollar sign attached to him, and then it’s a group of fans and/or analysts trying to figure out what his worth is, what teams could use his talent and whether those teams have the ingredients to swing a rational deal.

In addition, it is always an intricate process negotiating potential deals because of salary cap restrictions. For the most part, when a trade idea is discussed, both sides have to be relinquishing almost equal monetary value to allow for a trade to be approved.

While covering the NBA for the last several years, I have come to learn that most trade ideas that are discussed are imbalanced and unjust.

I remember, for instance, when I was a kid growing up in the New York area, Knicks devotees preached that they should trade some of their generally immaterial role players like Greg Anthony and Charles Smith to Phoenix for one of the greatest power forwards of all time, Charles Barkley. Of course, the Suns, who Barkley played for at the time, were not going to agree to that.

While, certainly, it is fun to brainstorm the "what-ifs" like how awesome it would have been to see Barkley team up with Patrick Ewing in New York, but unfortunately, it's always important to be at least somewhat pragmatic.

Sometimes, however, there are deals that are completed that ultimately turn out to become lopsided deals. Obviously, one side in the negotiations didn’t necessarily realize the transaction they each made was going to transform into unreasonable moves, but because of injuries, financial status and team culture, those deals didn’t pan out.

With the trade deadline approaching, I decided to spend some time analyzing NBA history and rank my most lopsided trades of all time.


Josh Cohen
When resolving which deals deserve to be on this list and in what order, I considered a variety of factors. For example, did one team after the trade/s become significantly better and the other extensively worse; did a specific player suffer a devastating injury that disallowed him from reaching or exceeding his and the respective team’s expectations; did the team move a player that shouldn’t have been dealt at the time based on how he was performing?

I considered trades of most kinds: Draft day, summer and in-season deals. I did not, however, classify sign-and-trade deals as part of this because essentially those players were free agents and were practically heading to the other team regardless of a trade.

In addition, I did not include any deals that involved the ABA. As a result, the Nets selling Julius Erving to the 76ers and Portland trading Moses Malone to Buffalo in the dispersal draft do not count.

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RANK
THE REWARD
THE MISTAKE
YEAR
1 Lakers Get Kobe Bryant Hornets Get Vlade Divac 1996
2 Lakers Get Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Walt Wesley Bucks Get Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers & Junior Bridgeman 1975
3 Lakers Get Pau Gasol Grizzlies Get Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, Marc Gasol, Pair of First Round Picks 2008
4 Bulls Get Scottie Pippen Sonics Get Olden Polynice 1987
5 76ers Get Wilt Chamberlain Warriors Get Paul Neumann, Connie Dierking & Lee Shaffer 1965
6 Mavericks Get Dirk Nowitzki Bucks Get Robert Traylor 1998
7 Celtics Get Kevin Garnett Wolves Get Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green & Theo Ratliff 2007
8 Celtics Get Bill Russell Hawks Get Ed Macauley & Cliff Hagan 1956
9 Suns Get Charles Barkley 76ers Get Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry & Andrew Lang 1992
10 Bucks Get Oscar Robertson Royals Get Flynn Robinson & Charlie Paulk 1970
11 Hawks Get Dominique Wilkins Jazz Get John Drew & Freeman Williams 1982
12 Pacers Get Jermaine O'Neal Blazers Get Dale Davis 2000
13 Nets Get Vince Carter Raptors Get Alonzo Mourning, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Pair of FIrst Round Picks 2004
14 Celtics Get Robert Parish & No. 3 Pick (Kevin McHale) Warriors Get Joe Barry Carroll & No. 13 Pick (Rickey Brown) 1980
15 Pistons Get Rasheed Wallace Hawks & Celtics Combine to Get Chucky Atkins, Lindsay Hunter, Bob Sura,Zeljko Rebraca & Chris Mills 2004
16 Nuggets Get Chauncey Billups Pistons Get Allen Iverson 2008
17 Blazers Get LaMarcus Aldridge Bulls Get Tyrus Thomas 2006
18 Kings Get Chris Webber Wizards Get Mitch Richmond 1998
19 Warriors Get Baron Davis Hornets Get Speedy Claxton & Dale Davis 2005
20 Nuggets Get Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson & Nene Knicks Get Antonio McDyess 2002
21 Celtics Get Dennis Johnson Suns Get Rick Robey 1980
22 Mavericks Get Steve Nash Suns Get Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells, Pat Garrity & First Round Pick 1998


Which trade do you think was the most lopsided in NBA history?
Which trade do you think was the most lopsided in NBA history?
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