Around the Association: The Offseason (6/15)

Around the Association: The Offseason's Josh Cohen offers his perspective of the NBA offseason throughout the summer. In this edition, Cohen analyzes the most fascinating and unbalanced trades in draft day history, including Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac and Pau Gasol for Shareef Abdur-Rahim.


Some NBA spectators define it as the most lopsided trade in league history. Others, on the other hand, identify it as the beginning of the end to the Hornets franchise in Charlotte and the reemergence of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nobody, however, thought it was that big of a deal at the time the trade was made. At the 1996 NBA Draft, the Hornets dealt away the 13th pick, Kobe Bryant, to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.

The trade allowed the Lakers to free up enough cap space to sign Shaquille O’Neal and permitted the franchise to build around a young, but zealous, core of talent. L.A. eventually captured three consecutive NBA championships with Shaq and Kobe.

But what if Charlotte had kept Bryant?

That year in 1996, the Hornets decided to trade fan favorite Larry Johnson to the New York Knicks for Anthony Mason and Brad Lohaus. A year earlier, they dealt away their other superstar, Alonzo Mourning, to the Miami Heat for Glen Rice.

The franchise, although still very competitive on the court for the remainder of the decade, just didn’t have the star power to remain a national interest for NBA enthusiasts. As a result, Charlotte became invisible and the team eventually relocated to New Orleans in 2002.


In 1998 when the Mavericks and Bucks completed a draft-day trade that sent profoundly recognized Robert “The Tractor” Traylor to Milwaukee for the very mysterious Dirk Nowitzki, many NBA critics suggested this deal would ultimately be remembered as one of the most unbalanced trades in NBA history.

They were right. Sort of.

Traylor, the sixth overall pick who was highly praised while playing at Michigan in college for his massive size and strength, was projected to be a steal for the Bucks. Joining standouts Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell, Traylor was expected to be the missing piece on a team that had eventual championship aspirations.

But instead, it was the Mavericks who ultimately made the best decision possible. The German sensation, selected ninth overall, revolutionized the Dallas organization, transformed into a nine-time All-Star and league MVP and guided Dallas to the NBA Finals in 2006.

Traylor, meanwhile, never panned out and has played for nine different professional teams throughout the world.

One can only imagine the possibilities if Nowitzki united with Robinson, Allen and Cassell in Milwaukee.


Sometimes it is just too difficult to refuse acquiring an already proven All-Star player for blurred talent and shadowy potential.

This was exactly the predicament the Atlanta Hawks were in at the time of the 2001 NBA Draft. The Memphis Grizzlies (technically still Vancouver before its relocation shortly after) proposed a deal to the Hawks that seemed too good, too tantalizing to rebuff.

The Grizzlies offered Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who had averaged better than 20 points per game in the previous four seasons, to the Hawks for the No. 3 pick. The two teams approved the deal.

Memphis landed Pau Gasol, a relatively unknown international prodigy, in the arrangement. While Abdur-Rahim enjoyed a few quality seasons in Atlanta, the team never materialized into a title contender.

For Gasol, on the other hand, he quickly shocked the basketball universe – earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2002, leading the Grizzlies to three straight postseason appearances and, following a trade to L.A., became an NBA champion.

Although his career is far from over, the Spaniard may ultimately be regarded as a top five power forward in NBA history.


Swapping back-to-back picks in the NBA Draft seems so innocent and non-threatening to an NBA franchise. It’s happened several times in the league’s history.

College teammates Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter, for example, changed hats on draft day in 1998 after being selected fourth and fifth, respectively. The same thing occurred in 1996 when Stephon Marbury and Ray Allen switched teams that very June night.

But no back-to-back exchange has been more significant than the one in 2006 when Minnesota traded Brandon Roy (No. 6) to Portland for Randy Foye (No. 7).

Roy earned Rookie of the Year honors and immediately reformed the Blazers organization. Foye, meanwhile, never established an effectual rhythm with the Timberwolves and eventually was traded to Washington during the summer of 2009.

If Greg Oden can get healthy for an entire season, Portland has the potential to be the next threat to the L.A. Lakers in the Western Conference. The T-Wolves, on the other hand, remain a high lottery team and continue to fight through their recent wave of frustrating trades (ex. Kevin Garnett, Roy, O.J. Mayo).

It's very possible that if the Wolves kept Roy, they would have realized that he and KG would have been an awesome tandem and would not have traded Garnett to Boston in 2007.

Which draft day trade do you think was the most fascinating?

Which draft day trade do you think was the most fascinating?

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