A decade filled with transactions that tweaked, shifted and sometimes shook the NBA earth is best viewed through the lens of history. Hindsight allows for a perspective that the moment simply does not.
So instead of judging trades instantly, the end of the decade allows us an opportunity to look back and judge in hindsight the biggest trades of the decade and how they altered the NBA landscape in the moment, and for years to come.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat
MIA received: James and Bosh in sign-and-trade deals
CLE received: Two future 1st-round Draft picks, two future 2nd-round picks
TOR received: Two future 1st-round picks
The Heat clearing the space to sign both James and Bosh while also keeping Wade (all at a discount, mind you) when each could have maxed out in free agency elsewhere, remains the greatest game-changing summer haul in league history. There have been busier total offseasons and huge names (Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, etc.) relocating in recent years, but nothing in the modern era compares to the Miami power move.
This totally reset the course of league history for the Heat’s three future Hall of Famers, as well as the rest of the league that had to deal with their combined efforts for four seasons. The Heat went 2-2 in The Finals during the Big 3 era, winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. James won back-to-back Finals MVPs during the run; both Wade and Bosh saw their superstardom rise to another level. But the lasting effect would be the player empowerment movement it fueled in the years to come, a wave still going strong into the next decade.
Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks
NYK received: Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Sheldon Williams from Denver, as well as Corey Brewer from Minnesota
DEN received:Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov, as well as Kosta Koufos from Minnesota, along with a 1st-round pick, two 2nd-round picks and $3 million cash
MIN received: Eddy Curry from New York, as well as Anthony Randolph from Minnesota and a 2nd-round pick
That Anthony and the Knicks couldn’t wait until free agency to unite remains a sore subject for some Knicks fans. The need to make sure they got him in what turned out to be a transformative period in free agency might have played a role, as did the presence of then-Nuggets coach George Karl. But there’s no doubt the Knicks are still dealing with the fallout of having to portage so much of the roster to get Anthony to Madison Square Garden, where he spent seven seasons but never saw the sort of team success desired during his tenure. The Nuggets sustained and eventually rebuilt themselves with some of the assets gained in the deal (a 2016 pick-swap notably turned into Jamal Murray). The Minnesota portion of the deal was essentially a salary dump.
Chris Paul to the LA Clippers
LAC received: Paul
NOH received: Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and a 1st-round pick
The big loser here was the Los Angeles Lakers, who had a deal ready to pair CP3 and Kobe Bryant in a superstar backcourt, only to see the deal spiked. The league owned the Hornets at the time and the original three-team deal was squashed for “basketball reasons.” The Lob City Clippers were born in that moment. Paul joining a team that already featured Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan toying with the opposition above the rim proved an immediate hit. The Clippers went from a perennial doormat to a must-see outfit with an extremely bright future.
With Paul at the controls, the Clippers made six straight playoff appearances and changed the culture of the organization along the way. They never reached the championship heights envisioned early on, but this era led the Clippers out of the darkness.
James Harden to the Houston Rockets
HOU received: Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward
OKC received: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two 1st-round picks and a 2nd-round pick
When the Oklahoma City Thunder broke up their budding Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden just after the trio led the Thunder to The Finals in 2012, no one was certain exactly what they’d surrendered. Harden was a talent, but wasn’t yet an All-Star. Instead, he was a player more known for his beard and Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award than anything else.
But maybe Rockets GM Daryl Morey knew. Because by engineering a trade for Harden, he set the Rockets on a course for Western Conference contention for years to come. Harden has blossomed into one of the greatest scorers of this -- or any -- generation and the face of a franchise that was in desperate need of a new identity. The Thunder still had two future Kia MVPs to work with, but we’ll never know what might have been had they stayed together.
Brooklyn Nets go all-in for Garnett, Pierce
BOS received: Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, and Kris Joseph, along with three 1st-round picks and one 1st-round pick swap
BKN received: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, D.J. White
This looks even worse in retrospect, with the Nets gambling away their immediate future Draft capital on aging champions Garnett, Pierce and Terry as the mayor components of a quick-fix title kit. Even with Joe Johnson and Deron Williams already in the fold, the Nets couldn’t find the magic needed to be a true contender in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, Danny Ainge and his crew pulled of the heist for assets that would turn out to include Jaylen Brown (2016), Jayson Tatum (2017) and other youngsters who have allowed Ainge and the Celtics to not only become an Eastern Conference power, but also power broker in every Draft and trade season since the original deal was done. Ainge had the courage and the mastery of the craft to pull the trigger on a deal that changed the future of the franchise for the better.
Kevin Love to Cleveland Cavaliers
CLE received: Kevin Love
MIN received: Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young, $6.3 million trade exception
The lesson learned with this deal is that whatever LeBron James wanted, he was going to get in his return to his native northeast Ohio. Love was the piece he felt he needed to go along with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to lift the Cavaliers out of the lottery and back into contention in the Eastern Conference. And in the end, he was right. The Cavaliers knew then that former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett was a bust. And for all of the hype surrounding Wiggins heading into the Draft that summer, Love was seen as a much better fit alongside LeBron given his experience and ability to stretch the floor and rebound at an elite level.
For whatever drama that occurred during their time together, and there was plenty, the lasting images of the era will be of the Cavaliers going to four straight Finals and ending the city of Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought. That 2016 title also came at the expense of the 73-win Golden State Warriors, which adds an extra source of pride for Cavaliers fans who suffered three other Finals defeats to the Warriors.
Luka Doncic for Trae Young
DAL received: Doncic
ATL received: Young and protected 1st-round pick
The third pick in the Draft, Doncic has already shown himself to be the best player in his class. He’s midway through his sophomore season and is already a top three Kia MVP candidate and the heir to the throne Dirk Nowitzki occupied for years in Dallas. If his early returns are an accurate indication of what’s to come, the Mavericks are in store for years of Doncic being one of the league’s truly elite players for the foreseeable future. Young has been spectacular in his own right in Atlanta. And it remains to be seen what type of team the Hawks can build around him; Doncic joined a much sturdier group that he did.
But the kicker in this deal for the Hawks was the additional top five pick they cashed in on in the 2019 Draft. Cam Reddish is having an up-and-down rookie season, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. The ultimate grade for this deal won’t be known for years, but it will rest mostly on the way Doncic and Young continue to evolve as stars on their respective sides of the conference divide.
Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors
TOR received: Leonard, Danny Green
SAS received: DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, protected 1st round pick
This has to go down as one of the all-time great short-term gambles in league history. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri moved a franchise pillar in DeRozan to bring Leonard to The North for what turned out to be one magical, championship season with the Raptors. Leonard bounced in free agency, choosing the LA Clippers in the summer. But he was everything the Raptors needed and more in terms of an anchor star for their title season.
Leonard was already a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a Finals MVP, but his load management requirements during the regular season didn’t provide a clear picture of just how good he and the Raptors would be when it mattered most. It’s still hard to say what the deal has produced for the Spurs other than proof that they were right all along about Leonard, whom they traded George Hill to acquire in 2011.
Anthony Davis (finally) goes to Hollywood
LAL received: Anthony Davis
NOP received: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, as well as three 1st-round picks, a future 1st-round pick swap and cash considerations
WAS received: Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, 1st round Draft pick
Clearly the Lakers went into the offseason with the "AD by any means necessary" approach, because they gave up everything but the towels at the practice facility (and Kyle Kuzma) to acquire him. They shipped every other young asset procured during the Magic Johnson-Rob Pelinka administration to make it happen. AD with LeBron James meant an inset shift up in the Lakers’ championship viability. Time will tell if they can finish the deal before Father Time catches up to LeBron.
The Pelicans, already in possession of the No. 1 overall pick that would become Zion Williamson, had no choice but to deal Davis after he requested a trade earlier in the season. The fact that the deal was discussed for months took some of the shock out of it. But the magnitude of the deal for both sides will be felt for years to come, both the good and bad. Washington’s service as the third team will be cashed in by the Wizards with that 1st round pick they picked up.
Paul George to the Clippers along with Kawhi Leonard
LAC received: George
OKC received: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, three unprotected 1st-round Draft picks, a protected 1st-round pick and two 1st-round pick swaps.
The record-setting package of Draft picks and players helped relocate the epicenter of power in the league from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. The Clippers made this deal at the request of Kawhi Leonard, who assumed his position as the most powerful man in a colossal free agent summer on the heels of his Finals MVP turn. The Clippers had to fight off their Staples Center roommates to secure Leonard’s commitment, which came attached to their ability to manufacture and then maneuver a deal that would also bring George into the fold.
With everything in place the Clippers assumed an unprecedented position in franchise history, entering the 2019-20 season as the favorites to win it all. With the deepest bench in the league, a championship coach in Doc Rivers, the richest owner in the league and now two superstars as headliners, the Clippers are in win-it-all-now mode until further notice.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.