Sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make, goes the saying, and there are plenty of examples from Sonics history. SUPERSONICS.COM looks at the top ten examples in two ways – trades where the Sonics gave up a player who fared better than expected, and trades that didn’t happen for the better.
The Ones Who Got Away
Johnson is still playing for the Warriors at 38.
(to Philadelphia in a three-way deal that sent Eddie Johnson to Charlotte and brought Kendall Gill
to Seattle, 9/1/93)
It wasn’t that the Sonics didn’t know that Barros could play. He led the NBA in three-point percentage (.446) during the 1991-92 season and was an outstanding shooter off the bench during four years with the Sonics after being selected in the first round of the 1990 NBA Draft. However, with Gary Payton
, Nate McMillan
and Ricky Pierce in the backcourt, Barros’ path to minutes was blocked. Barros blossomed in Philadelphia, putting together an amazing 1994-95 season. Barros averaged 20.6 points per game and 7.5 assists and was named to the All-Star team. Barros also joined an elite list of seven players to have combined shooting percentages of 180 or more
while scoring 20 points per game and attempting at least 100 threes.
Bill Hanzlik (to Denver to complete a trade that also sent a 1982 first-round pick to Denver for David Thompson, 7/16/82)
It was current Sonics President and CEO Wally Walker that forced the Sonics to give up Hanzlik, their 1980 first-round pick. No, Walker wasn’t playing GM while he was still an active player – his restricted free agent rights were dealt to Denver with the pick for Thompson. Special Master Kingman Brester ruled that the right of first refusal could not be traded, and Walker was sent back to Seattle and Hanzlik on to Denver in his place. Hanzlik was no superstar, but he played eight seasons with the Nuggets and was one of the most popular players in franchise history, making the All-Defensive second team during the 1985-86 season.
Avery Johnson (to Denver for a conditional 1997 second-round pick, 10/24/90)
During 96 games with the Sonics, averaging just 2.2 points per game, Johnson gave little evidence that he’d develop into a starting point guard for a Championship team. That’s just what he became, though it took a while. After bouncing from team-to-team for several seasons, Johnson found a home in San Antonio and took the Spurs all the way to the top as a starter. Still playing for Golden State at age 38, Johnson has amassed 8709 career points and 5779 career assists. Not bad compared to a conditional pick seven years down the line.
Vinnie Johnson (to Detroit for Greg Kelser, 11/22/81)
“The Microwave” was the second of two Sonics first-round selections in 1979, the year after they took home the NBA Championship. Johnson averaged 13 points per game during his second season, but the Sonics dealt him to Detroit for Kelser, Magic Johnson’s Michigan State teammate and the fourth pick in the 1979 Draft (three picks ahead of Johnson). Kelser played two seasons with the Sonics, while Johnson would go on to play a decade for the Pistons and was a legendary sixth man as they won back-to-back Championships.
Snow has developed into a solid starter.
(to Philadelphia for a second-round pick, 1/18/98)
Like Barros, Snow’s path to playing time in Seattle was blocked by Payton. It didn’t help that Coach George Karl
didn’t trust Snow at the point. Before the 1997-98 season, the Sonics signed Greg Anthony
to back up Payton, burying Snow deep on the bench. He was sent on to the 76ers, where he pushed another All-Star, Allen Iverson
, to shooting guard and has developed into one of the NBA’s most reliable point guards. He was an All-Defense second-team pick during the 2002-03 season.
The Trades That Weren’t Made
Tom Burleson and cash to the Buffalo Braves for Bob McAdoo
McAdoo was one of the best players in the NBA and had been the MVP two years earlier, but the Braves money woes led them to consider dealing him during the 1976-77 season. Then-owner Sam Schulman made a hard push for McAdoo and had an oral agreement with Buffalo to acquire him for Burleson, a player and cash, but McAdoo forced his way to New York. As great as McAdoo was, the Sonics were lucky not to get him. His best days were already behind him, and the Knicks traded McAdoo to Boston after just one full season in New York. Meanwhile, Burleson was the center of a package that landed the Sonics Marvin Webster and Paul Silas
from Denver as the Sonics advanced to the NBA Finals the following season.
Nate McMillan and Xavier McDaniel to Cleveland for John “Hot Rod” Williams
After Lenny Wilkens was hired to coach the New York Knicks, McMillan told the Seattle media how Wilkens tried to get him when he was coaching in Cleveland. McMillan and McDaniel were headed to Cleveland for Williams, who had a big reputation and a contract to match, but never averaged more than 16.8 points per game. Of course, that’s not the real reason the Sonics were better off not doing the trade, nor is the fact that they ended up getting Eddie Johnson and two first-round picks for McDaniel alone when he was traded to Phoenix in 1990. No, the real problem was that it would have robbed the team of “Mr. Sonic”, who played 13 years for the organization and has spent three-plus years as Sonics coach.
Gary Payton and Benoit Benjamin to Houston for Hakeem Olajuwon and Kenny Smith
Originally drafted by the Sonics, Pippen nearly returned in 1994.
Could the Sonics have emerged as the power they became during the 1990s without Payton, the engine of their team? It’s impossible to say, but that would have been reality had the Sonics (and Rockets) pulled the trigger on this blockbuster, rumored during the 1991-92 season, before Payton had established himself. Olajuwon would lead the Rockets to two Championships, but only after re-dedicating himself to the game – something that might not have happened in Seattle. Certainly, this was a deal that would have dramatically changed both teams – and it would have been difficult for either to end up much better.
Shawn Kemp and the 11th pick in the 1994 Draft to Chicago for Scottie Pippen
Speaking of blockbusters, this would have been one of the biggest trades in NBA history. Both Pippen and Kemp were starters in the 1994 All-Star Game, and they were almost dealt for each other. The swap would have changed the faces of two very good teams who would end up meeting in the Finals two years later. Acquiring Pippen would have forced the Sonics to play a small lineup with Detlef Schrempf at power forward. That might have kept them from winning three straight Pacific Division crowns during the late 1990s.
The 32nd selection in the 1998 Draft to Chicago for the 34th selection and cash
This one never made it into the media, but is a reliable story. Then-Chicago GM Jerry Krause desperately wanted to move ahead of the Sonics to take a Houston high-schooler named Rashard Lewis. He offered the Sonics cash to move up just two spots, but the Sonics declined the offer and took Lewis themselves. The rest, as they say, is history. Lewis has become one of the league’s top small forwards. The 34th pick, ironically, was North Carolina guard Shammond Williams, who found his way to the Sonics as a free agent a year later.