If this list we have here is any indication, there have been many times in NBA history where a general manager supremely dropped the ball on a trade. Some of them were pretty bad, and some… Well, some of them were outright catastrophic.
Scottie Pippen (Sonics to Bulls)
In the 1987 Draft, the Sonics drafted a young kid out of Central Arkansas by the name of Scottie Pippen. They drafted him fifth, so they obviously thought he had potential – but they obviously weren’t too optimistic about him, because they traded him to the Bulls soon after for big man Olden Polynice.
Pippen went on to become a seven time All Star, a three time All NBA first team member, and helped Michael Jordan and the Bulls win six titles. Olden Polynice’s future didn’t fare quite as well, averaging a mere 5 points and 4.5 rebounds with the Sonics for the rest of his time there. Yikes… talk about trader’s remorse.
James Harden (Thunder to Rockets)
One of the most popular players in basketball today is “The Beard,” otherwise known as James Harden, and there are many reasons for that. The prospective MVP of the 2017-18 season has been tearing it up for years since the moment he was traded to the Rockets, and for what?
Turns out the Thunder didn’t get much for him originally – Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and three draft picks. Harden may have been averaging 16 points a game, but they should’ve realized how impressive that was considering the fact that he was coming off the bench. He may have been their third option at the time, but we’re betting they wish he was still there to be their first option.
Charles Barkley (76ers to Suns)
When we think about the great Charles Barkley, we generally think about his amazing tenure on the Phoenix Suns, but it could’ve easily been a lot different, if the 76ers would’ve been a little bit smarter.
Even though Chuck was already emerging as a premiere power forward in the league, they somehow felt that Jeff Hornacek would better suit their needs, so they traded for him. Barkley would end up winning the MVP title while playing for the Suns soon after.
Dirk Nowitzki (Bucks to Mavericks)
This lopsided trade is one of the all time classics, and it also speaks to the way the league was evolving in regards to the recognition of European talent. When the Bucks drafted Dirk Nowitzki in 1998, they traded him that night to the Mavericks for “Tractor” Traylor.
Now, we all love the Tractor, but he’s practically a scrub compared to what Dirk would eventually become – a league MVP and the winner of the 2011 championship.
Chris Webber (Wizards to Kings)
This trade is an example of what happens when a team gets too cocky about who they have. The Wizards had a handful of talented young big men in Ben Wallace, Juwan Howard, and Chris Webber – so they figured they could afford to trade one of them to the Kings for a player of another position, such as All Star Mitch Richmond.
While their intentions were in the right place, they chose the wrong big man to trade – because Webber would eventually turn into a future Hall-of-Famer.
Oscar Robertson (Royals to Bucks)
The man who used to average a triple double before it became popular, the “Big O” is considered to be one of the greatest players of all time, and he was already making a name for himself on the Cincinnati Royals when they traded him to the Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson.
People still to this day don’t understand why this trade was made, but some have guessed that it was because Cincinnati coach Bob Cousy was jealous of all the attention Robertson was receiving.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Bucks to Lakers)
Here’s an example of a trade that was made reluctantly. After all, who in their right mind would willingly trade a player who had just averaged 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks a game?
But Kareem wanted to leave the Milwaukee Bucks, so when he asked to leave, they traded him to the Lake Show in 1975 for a bunch of insignificant players. Kareem still holds the record for having scored the most points of all time, making the trade even more unimaginable.
Bill Russell (Hawks to Celtics)
In the history books of NBA-lore, Bill Russell is a giant, literally and figuratively. He represents the monumental origins of the Boston Celtics dynasty, helping them win an insane 11 championships, which is crazy when you consider he only played for 13 seasons.
The team that actually drafted him, however, was St. Louis… They traded him on draft night in 1956 for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley, who today look like little historical ants next to Russell, the legendary green giant.
Moses Malone (Blazers to Braves to Rockets)
In the ‘70s, the Blazers had a young, promising big man in Moses Malone on their team, but they didn’t seem to believe in him too much. How else do you explain the fact that they traded him in 1976 to the Buffalo Braves for a measly draft pick and some cash?
But the Braves were just as nearsighted, shipping Malone to the Rockets, who would soon average 26 points and 15 rebounds a game. Oh yeah, and he also became a three-time MVP.
Elvin Hayes (Rockets to Bullets)
The “Big E” as they called him, Elvin Hayes was drafted by the San Diego Rockets back in 1968, where he averaged an impressive 27 points and 16 rebounds a game – but apparently they felt it wasn’t good enough.
For some insanely preposterous reason, they traded their 26-year-old star to the Bullets in 1972, for small forward Jack Marin. The decision they made continued to haunt them when Hayes helped the Bullets win a title in 1978.
Ron Artest (Bulls to Pacers)
Ron Artest, now known as Metta World Peace, was drafted 16th by the Bulls in the 1999 draft, and although his first few seasons with them showed promise, they felt that he was dispensable.
In 2002, they traded him to the Pacers in a deal that brought them a declining Jalen Rose, but before they knew it, Artest had become an All Star on the Pacers, and won the Defensive Player of the Year award. Years later, he would also help the Lakers win two titles.
Wilt Chamberlain (76ers to Lakers)
Someone try to figure this out: A player scores 100 points in a game, wins an MVP title, and the team decides to trade him. Now, that doesn’t make much sense, does it?
One of the most dominant big men of all time, the Sixers opted to trade Wilt the “Stilt” to the Lakers in 1968 for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark, and Darrall Imhoff. They must have thought Wilt was on the decline, but he was far from it, continuing to dominate the league and even winning a title in 1972.
Ray Allen (Bucks to Sonics)
Considered to be one of the greatest “pure shooters” of all time, Ray Allen entered the league in the legendary draft that included the likes of Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. But even though he was putting up stellar numbers, the Bucks undervalued him, trading him to the Sonics in a deal that brought them Gary Payton.
But while Payton was a future Hall of Famer, he was on his decline – and Ray Allen was just getting started… Needless to say, it was a bad trade for the Bucks.
LaMarcus Aldridge (Bulls to Blazers)
Fresh off of March Madness, the 2006 Draft night brought the league two promising young big men in LaMarcus Aldridge and Tyrus Thomas. The Bulls drafted Aldridge and the Blazers drafted Thomas, but the two were traded for each other on draft night.
At the time, people batted an eyelid. Reflecting on it now, it’s clear that the Blazers got the better end of the deal, considering Aldridge’s NBA career has been a lot more impressive than Thomas’s.
Joe Johnson (Celtics to Suns)
When Joe Johnson was getting started in the NBA, he was a young prospect on a solid Celtics team, but they were willing to ship him out for some veteran talent. They traded him to the Phoenix Suns in 2002 for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk, but as the years passed, it was clear who had gotten the better deal.
“Iso Joe” Johnson would eventually become a seven-time All Star, and the Celtics didn’t get much help from the players they’d received.
Kyrie Irving (Clippers to Cavs)
We know what you’re thinking: “The Clippers never had Kyrie Irving.” While this is true, we want to clarify what we mean. In 2011, the Clips traded an unprotected draft pick to the Cavs for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon, and the Cavs would eventually use that pick to draft Kyrie Irving.
If the Clippers still had that pick, they would have definitely drafted Kyrie, so in many ways, they gave him to the Cavs. For this reason, people still consider it one of the worst trades ever made.
Kobe Bryant (Hornets to Lakers)
Considered to be one of the most unbelievable trades of all time, the Charlotte Hornets drafted an 18-year-old Kobe Bryant out of high school in 1996, and traded him to the Lakers for veteran big man Vlade Divac on draft night.
Now, Divac was a very solid big man, and Kobe was a young kid who hadn’t proven himself – so it’s understandable. But Lakers GM Jerry West had a gut feeling about Kobe… and as we know, the risk he took eventually paid off, in true Black Mamba fashion. When Kobe lost his life in a tragic helicopter accident in January, 2020, basketball fans everywhere were in mourning.