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8 notable trade deadline-day deals in the LeBron James playoff era

LeBron James made his 1st playoff run in 2006 and since then, his teams (or opposing ones) have made deals to stay in the contending chase.

Will LeBron James’ team make a seismic roster move at the 2023 trade deadline?

LeBron James has amassed all kinds of accolades in his career and just surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Back in 2017, he became the playoffs’ all-time leading scorer (surpassing Michael Jordan) and he’s been in the playoffs every season but once since 2006.

In the years since James made his first playoff berth following the 2005-06 regular season, his teams (or other non-LeBron teams) have made some notable trade deadline-day moves to stay in the chase for the championship. Here’s a look back at some notable trade deadline-day trades made by James’ teams — or teams in the title mix that season with James — in NBA lore.

Editor’s note: We are only looking at trades that took place on a given season’s trade deadline day. You can see every trade deadline-day deal in NBA history since 1987 here

2005-06 season

The Cavs traded for Ronald “Flip” Murray during the 2006 NBA trade deadline.

LeBron’s team: Cleveland Cavaliers

The deadline-day deal: Sonics traded Ronald “Flip” Murray to the Cavs for Mike Wilks.

Digging into the trade: James was a dominant force that season (31.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.6 spg), but needed some additional scoring help to lessen his burden on the perimeter. Aside from Larry Hughes (15.5 ppg), these Cavs lacked a playmaking scorer at guard, a role Murray could easily fill.

The playoff impact: A role player with the Sonics, Murray went on to start 25 of 28 games for the Cavs as they went 18-10 after the trade deadline. Murray chipped in 13.5 ppg, 2.8 apg and, while his numbers dipped a bit in the playoffs (8.1 ppg, 1.6 apg), his scoring punch was a welcome addition to the Cavs.

LeBron’s playoff results in 2006: Cleveland beat the Washington Wizards 4-2 in the first round before losing to the Detroit Pistons 4-3 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In defeating the Wizards, the Cavs got their first playoff series win since 1993.

2007-08 season

Veteran center Ben Wallace (left) was dealt to the Cavs to play alongside LeBron James in 2008.

LeBron’s team: Cleveland Cavaliers

The deadline-day deal: Bulls traded Ben WallaceJoe Smith and a 2009 second-round draft pick to the Cavaliers; Cavaliers traded Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Shannon Brown and Cedric Simmons to the Bulls, as well as Donyell Marshall and Ira Newble to the SuperSonics; SuperSonics traded Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to the Cavaliers.

Digging into the trade: In the 2007 playoffs, the Cavs made franchise history by reaching their first NBA Finals (which they lost, 4-0, to the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs). The next season, a 30-24 start entering the Feb. 21 trade deadline had Cleveland in fifth place in the East. Wallace, a former All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year, had disappointed in Chicago but was still a capable defender and rebounder (5.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg before trade). Szczerbiak was one of the better 3-point shooters that season (41.3%), while West was slumping stats-wise but found new life on the Cavs.

The playoff impact: This blockbuster trade drastically altered the 2007 Finals team but gave Cleveland more size up front to theoretically counteract the East-leading Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons (ironically by bringing in an ex-Pistons star in Wallace) come playoff time. West and Szczerbiak were useful in the playoffs, with Szczerbiak leading the Cavs in playoff 3-pointers made (20) while West had 21 points in a Game 3 win against Boston in the East semis. Smith and Wallace were mostly role players in the postseason, although Smith was big in Game 3 (17 points) vs. Boston, too.

LeBron’s playoff results in 2008: Cleveland beat Washington 4-2 in the first round before falling 4-3 to Boston in the East semifinals.

2008-09 season

Rafer Alston (left) was a key part of the Magic team that topped LeBron James’ Cavs in the 2009 East finals.

LeBron’s team: Cleveland Cavaliers

The deadline-day deal: Magic traded Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks and a 2009 first-round draft pick to the Grizzlies; Magic traded Brian Cook to the Rockets; Grizzlies traded Kyle Lowry to Rockets; Rockets traded Rafer Alston to the Magic.

Digging into the trade: The Cavs were in the midst of a franchise-best 66-win season and were 41-10 at the trade deadline. The Magic weren’t far behind them (39-14) and had a promising All-Star core of center Dwight Howard, forward Rashard Lewis and point guard Jameer Nelson. In early February, Nelson suffered a shoulder injury and Orlando wanted to shore up its guard line for the playoffs. Enter Alston, a steady (and at times, flashy) point guard to give the Magic a playoff-tested guard for the stretch run.

The playoff impact: Alston was solid in the regular season, (12 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.1 apg), the playoffs overall (12.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.1 apg) and, in particular, in the East finals against James and the Cavs. He scored 18 in a Game 2 win that knotted the series, 26 in Game 3 and 13 in the Game 6 clincher. While he wasn’t a star in this series, Alston was a threat and kept Cavs All-Star point guard Mo Williams busy all series.

LeBron’s playoff results in 2009: Cleveland swept Detroit in the first round and Atlanta in the East semifinals before falling 4-2 to Orlando in the East finals.

2010-11 season

LeBron’s team: Miami Heat

The deadline-day deal: Thunder trade Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and a future first-round pick and cash to the Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.

Digging into the trade: For the first time in his career, James was gearing up for a playoff run on a new team. At 42-15, Miami was barely behind Boston (41-14) in the standings, but was also 0-2 against the Celtics to this point. In an attempt to get a wing scorer and defender to take on James, the Celtics parted with fan-favorites in Perkins and Robinson to land the spry Green (who was a key scorer and player on Oklahoma City’s first winning team). Green was averaging 15.2 ppg and 5.6 rpg before the trade, but saw his stats (understandably) shrink to 9.8 ppg and 3.3. rpg after serving as the top backup to Pierce.

The playoff impact: Green struggled mightily with his offense in the 2011 playoffs, including in the East semifinals against James and the Heat. After averaging 6 ppg and 5 rpg in a first-round series vs. New York, Green wasn’t much better against Miami (8.4 ppg, 2 rpg) as then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers opted to play Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo at least 35.6 mpg each in that series. 

LeBron’s playoff results in 2011: Miami beat Philadelphia 4-1 in the first round, Boston 4-1 in the East semis and Chicago 4-1 in the East finals before losing 4-2 to Dallas in the NBA Finals. This was the first of four straight Finals trips for the Heat.

2013-14 season

Take a look back at the 2014 East finals between the Pacers and Heat.

LeBron’s team: Miami Heat

The deadline-day deal: Sixers trade Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen to the Pacers for Danny Granger and a 2015 second-round draft pick. Granger was waived by the 76ers six days after this trade.

Digging into the trade: The No. 1 challenger to the James-era Heat in the East was undoubtedly the Indiana Pacers’ core powered by Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West. Granger played a role in that rivalry’s early days, but was a role player at this point after being the Pacers’ go-to guy for many seasons. After narrowly losing to Miami in the 2013 East finals, Indiana was the East’s No. 1 team at the trade deadline (41-13) and looking to add a piece to its core for the playoffs. Turner, the former No. 2 overall pick in 2010, was having a career-best season (17.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.7 apg) and — based purely on stats — was seen as a major upgrade over Granger (8.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.1 apg).

The playoff impact: All wasn’t happy in Pacers-ville after this trade, although little of it had to do with Turner. As the playoffs were approaching, West called Indiana “the most downtrodden 50-plus win team” in NBA history and Hibbert talked of Indiana having “selfish dudes” on the roster. The Pacers finished with the No. 1 seed and home court throughout the playoffs, but neither Turner nor anyone else could stop James in the playoffs. Turner followed up his regular season in Indiana (7.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.4 apg as a reserve) with an abysmal playoffs (3.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.6 apg) and was out of the rotation by the Heat series.

LeBron’s playoff results in 2014: Miami beat Charlotte 4-0 in the first round, Brooklyn 4-1 in the East semis and Indiana 4-2 in the East finals before losing 4-1 to San Antonio in the NBA Finals.

2015-16 season

Relive the Cavs' thrilling championship-clinching win against the Warriors in 2016.

LeBron’s team: Cleveland Cavaliers

The deadline-day deal: Magic trade Channing Frye to the Cavs for Jared Cunningham and a 2020 second-round draft pick.

Digging into the trade: Cleveland, in the midst of its second go-around with James, was 38-14 at the trade deadline and hoping for a second straight Finals run after falling 4-2 in the series a season earlier. The opponent that beat them, the Golden State Warriors, did so behind a barrage of 3-pointers from Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and others. In acquiring Frye, Cleveland added a big man with decent stats in Orlando (5.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.0 apg) who provided a 3-point threat to give James more room around the basket.

The playoff impact: Overall, his stats in Cleveland ticked down a bit from the regular season (7.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.0 apg) to the playoffs (6.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg) and Frye didn’t play in the final four games of the 2016 Finals. However, don’t let that fool you about his value to the Cavs in their championship run. He helped key a Game 3 win vs. Atlanta (27 points, seven rebounds) in the East semis and provided solid contributions in Games 1 and 2 of the East finals against the Raptors.

LeBron’s playoff results in 2016: Cleveland beat Detroit 4-0 in the first round, Atlanta 4-0 in the East semis, Toronto 4-2 in the East finals and defeated Golden State 4-3 in the NBA Finals.

2016-17 season

Take a look back at the Cavs-Raptors series from the 2017 playoffs.

LeBron’s team: Cleveland Cavaliers

The deadline-day deal: Suns trade PJ Tucker to Raptors for Jared Sullinger, 2017 and 2018 second-round picks and cash.

Digging into the trade: The Raptors’ first East finals foray ended in 2016 with a 4-2 series loss to the James-led Cavs. Toronto ran most of its roster back in 2016-17, but struggled a bit and was just 33-24 at the trade deadline. Sullinger was a little-used big man (3.4 ppg in 11 games) while Tucker was what he essentially is today — a defensive-minded perimeter player who can rebound, hit a 3-pointer and make plays. Before his move to Toronto, Tucker was averaging 7 ppg, 6 rpg, 1.3 spg and 1.5 bpg and was set to enter free agency in the offseason.

The playoff impact: Tucker wasn’t brought in primarily to stop James, but instead to round out Toronto’s depth and help it get in gear for the 2017 playoffs. The Raptors went an NBA-best 18-7 after the trade deadline and finished third in the East. After Toronto ousted the Milwaukee Bucks 4-2 in the first round, the good vibes for the Raptors ended fast. No one could slow James in that series (36 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.3 spg) as Cleveland swept Toronto and won each game in the series by no less than seven points. Tucker would move on in the offseason to the Houston Rockets and Cleveland swept Toronto again in 2018, spawning the well-known LeBronto memes.

LeBron’s playoff results in 2017: Cleveland swept Indiana in the first round and Toronto in the East semis, beat Boston 4-1 in the East finals and lost to Golden State 4-1 in the NBA Finals.

2017-18 season

LeBron James advances to his eighth straight Finals after putting the Cavaliers on his back in Game 7.

LeBron’s team: Cleveland Cavaliers

The deadline-day deal: Lakers trade Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavs for Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas and conditional future first-round draft pick. Heat trade conditional second-round draft pick to Cavs for Dwyane Wade. Kings trade George Hill and draft rights to Arturas Gudaitis to the Cavs for Iman Shumpert, draft rights to Dimitrios Agravanis, a 2020 second-round draft pick and cash. Jazz trade Rodney Hood to the Cavs for Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose and the right to swap 2024 second-round draft picks.

Digging into the trade: This is easily the biggest trade in the James era that was clearly targeted at getting his team geared up for a lengthy playoff run. It was seen as almost unavoidable that the Cavs would make a deal considering James could opt out of his contract and enter free agency that summer. Heading into the 2018 trade deadline, the Cavs were mired in several ways: their 31-22 start was below standards, the offseason Thomas-for-Kyrie Irving swap hadn’t paid off. Rose (9.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.6 apg) and Wade (11.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.5 apg) were in many ways shells of their former All-Star selves, and Shumpert, Frye and Crowder had either faded from the rotation or disappointed in their roles, too.

In dealing for Clarkson (14.5 ppg, 3.3 apg, 32.4% on 3-pointers with Lakers) and Nance Jr. (8.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg), the Cavs got an immediate infusion of scoring punch and interior athleticism, respectively, for the stretch run. Hill was a tested playoff veteran in the midst of a solid season with the Kings (10.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.8 apg) while Hood was one of the prizes of the deal as a young player (then 25) who was in the midst of a career-best scoring season (16.8 ppg) for the surprising Jazz.

The playoff impact: The Cavs went 19-10 after the trade deadline as Clarkson (12.6 ppg with Cavs) and Hood  (10.8 ppg) established their places in the scoring hierarchy while Nance (7.0 rpg) made his presence felt on the glass. Come playoff time, James was doing the heavy lifting again (34 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 9.0 apg, 1.4 spg) but had plenty of moments where his new supporting cast stepped up to fuel a fourth straight Finals trip for the Cavs. In the Game 7 first-round clincher vs. Indiana, Hill tormented his former team with 11 points and some key buckets. In a must-win Game 6 vs. Boston in the East finals, Hill finished with 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting while Nance filled in with 10 points, seven rebounds and two steals off the bench. Hood struggled to find a role in the playoffs but came up with a solid Game 3 in the Finals (15 points, six rebounds) off the bench in the closest game in that series.

LeBron’s playoff results in 2018: Cleveland beat Indiana 4-3 the first round and swept Toronto in the East semis, beat Boston 4-3 in the East finals and was swept by Golden State in the NBA Finals.