Biggest Blockbuster Trades in NBA History
Nothing shakes up the NBA like a blockbuster trade. While it takes time to gauge the impact of some deals, the right move can bring immediate results — an NBA title, a boon to the bottom line or just respectability for a franchise.
The team that comes out on top in big deals often is the one that gets the star player. But not always.
These are the biggest trades in NBA history.
Honorable Mention: Not 'The Answer' in Detroit
Teams: Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets
Deal: Pistons trade Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheik Samb to Nuggets for Allen Iverson.
Aftermath: This deal ended the Pistons’ great run that included an NBA title in 2004 and another NBA Finals appearance in 2005.
Bottom line: For whatever reason, Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars thought it would be a good idea to put his eggs in the basket of young point guard Rodney Stuckey over Chauncey Billups.
Dumars also thought that getting the last year of Allen Iverson’s contract on the books would be great so they could open up cap room the next year.
Billups led the Nuggets to their first conference finals since 1985 while Iverson imploded in Detroit. He refused to take a backseat to Stuckey or come off the bench and was deactivated for the last two months of the 2008-09 season.
25. Last Chance for Chuck
Teams: Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets
Deal: Suns trade Charles Barkley to Rockets for Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, Mark Bryant and Chucky Brown.
Aftermath: Barkley did not get a ring with Houston.
Bottom line: Charles Barkley was headed into the twilight of his career when the Suns shipped him to the Rockets.
The power forward wanted to win a title before his career was over, and appeared to have enough gas left in the tank to be dangerous, while Houston maintained part of its nucleus from back-to-back NBA championship teams in 1994 and 1995.
The bold move almost paid off as the Rockets advanced to the Western Conference finals in Barkley’s first season with the Rockets (in which he missed 29 games due to injury) before losing to the Utah Jazz.
He continued to spend much of his time in Houston battling injuries and only played 183 games over four seasons with the Rockets.
24. One and Done for Webber the Warrior
Teams: Golden State Warriors and Washington Bullets
Deal: Warriors trade Chris Webber to Bullets for Tom Gugliotta and three first-round draft picks.
Aftermath: The Warriors were left to wonder what might have been with Webber, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 draft, whom they acquired in a draft-day trade with the Magic for the No. 3 overall pick (Anfernee Hardaway) and three first-round draft picks.
Bottom line: Talent was not the issue with Chris Webber.
He won the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year and led the Warriors to the playoffs in his first season, but a blood feud with head coach Don Nelson got so bad that Webber told the Warriors he would never re-sign with them.
So they were forced to deal him to the Bullets, who changed their name to the Wizards in 1997. Webber made Washington a force in the Eastern Conference, but multiple drug arrests in 1998 wore out his welcome, and he was traded to the Sacramento Kings, where he couldn't get past the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers in the Western Conference.
23. Rolls Royce Backcourt in New York
Teams: Baltimore Bullets and New York Knicks
Deal: Bullets trade Earl Monroe to Knicks for Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth and cash.
Aftermath: This may be the greatest trade in Knicks history, and they didn’t have to give up too much to make it happen.
Bottom line: Earl Monroe, an All-NBA pick in 1969, wanted out of Baltimore after leading the team to the NBA Finals in 1971, where they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. With three teams targeted in the Lakers, Bulls and 76ers, Monroe was in Indianapolis about to cut a deal to play in the ABA with the Pacers when his agent called him and said he was a Knick.
Paired with Walt Frazier in the backcourt and surrounded by teammates Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Dave DeBuscherre and Phil Jackson, the Knicks lost to the Lakers in the finals in 1972 and came back to beat them in 1973.
Monroe ended up one of the most beloved Knicks of all time.
22. 'Air Canada' Goes Extinct
Teams: Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets
Deal: Raptors trade Vince Carter to Nets for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and two first-round draft picks.
Aftermath: This deal broke Raptors fans' hearts because Carter changed the way the NBA was perceived in Canada.
Bottom line: Vince Carter saw the writing on the wall when new Raptors general manager Rod Babcock and new head coach Sam Mitchell both said they didn’t care about winning for a year or two while they had Carter, already a four-time All-Star, in his prime.
"Air Canada" voiced his displeasure and ended up shipped to the Nets, a division rival. Mourning refused to play for the Raptors, who spent the two first-round picks on Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham.
Carter teamed with Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson on the Nets to have some of his best seasons statistically.
21. Rocketman T-Mac
Teams: Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic
Deal: Magic trade Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to Rockets for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato.
Aftermath: McGrady, already a two-time scoring champion, continued to light it up in Houston while Francis flamed out in Orlando.
Bottom line: McGrady was unhappy in Orlando after the Magic’s dismal 2003-04 season and wanted to play with an elite big man after seeing the success that Kobe Bryant had playing with Shaquille O’Neal on the Los Angeles Lakers.
McGrady got his wish and forced a trade to the Rockets, where he could pair up with center Yao Ming. The two were good in Houston, just hardly ever at the same time because of injuries.
Francis was coming off three straight All-Star appearances and seemed like a good addition for the Magic, but he turned into a malcontent, was suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team" and traded to the New York Knicks.
20. You’re Welcome, Baltimore
Teams: Houston Rockets and Baltimore Bullets
Deal: Rockets trade Elvin Hayes to Bullets for Jack Marin.
Aftermath: The Rockets decided to pair two of the greatest frontcourt players of the generation — on a different team.
Bottom line: It’s still a mystery why the Rockets decided to part ways with Elvin Hayes, who also played college basketball for the University of Houston. But he and Marin both averaged 22 points in the 1971-72 season, so there’s that, maybe?
Anyways, putting Hayes on the Bullets and pairing him with forward Wes Unseld created one of the scariest frontcourts in NBA history. Hayes averaged 18.1 rebounds per game in 1974 and helped lead the Bullets to the NBA Finals in 1975, 1978 and 1979, winning the title in 1978, when Hayes averaged 21.2 points and 12.4 rebounds in the playoffs.
Marin played one-and-a-half seasons for Houston before he was traded to Buffalo.
19. 'Melo Gets His Way
Teams: Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves
Deal: Nuggets trade Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Blackman and Shelden Williams to Knicks for Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, a future first-round draft pick, two future second-round draft picks, the right to exchange 2016 first-round draft selections and cash. Knicks trade Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph, and cash to Timberwolves for Corey Brewer. Timberwolves trade Kosta Koufos to Nuggets for a future second-round draft pick.
Aftermath: Anthony forced his way out of Denver by asking for a trade for over a year before it happened, telling the Nuggets he wouldn’t sign an extension with them.
Bottom line: Anthony wanted to play for the Knicks, and got his wish with a byzantine trade involving three teams, 13 players and Anthony signing a three-year, $65 million extension with the team.
The Knicks signed the mercurial, high-scoring forward to another mega-deal for five years and $124 million in 2014.
What the Knicks got out of the deals would not be viewed as a healthy return on investment. In seven seasons with Anthony, the Knicks won just one playoff series and didn’t even qualify for the playoffs in his last four seasons with the team.
18. Dwight Equals Disaster
Teams: Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets
Deal: Magic trade Dwight Howard, Earl Clark and Chris Duhon to Lakers for Arron Afflalo (from the Nuggets), Al Harrington (Nuggets), Nikola Vucevic (76ers), Moe Harkless (76ers), Josh McRoberts (Lakers), Christian Eyenga (Lakers) and a first-round pick in 2014 from the Nuggets, a protected first-round pick from the 76ers in 2017, a second-round pick from the Nuggets in 2013 and a conditional second-round pick from the Lakers in 2015. The 76ers get Andrew Bynum from Lakers and trade Andre Iguodala to Nuggets.
Aftermath: Who would’ve thought that the most valuable asset in this trade wouldn’t be Howard, the reigning three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, but future NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala?
Bottom line: By the time Howard left Orlando, the rumblings were starting about what kind of player he was behind the scenes (ask Stan Van Gundy), but the thought was that he could join the Lakers and team with another superstar, Kobe Bryant, play out the last year of his deal and sign a long-term contract with the Lakers.
Howard, it turns out, couldn’t figure out how to run a pick-and-roll and complained about Bryant shooting too much. The center spurned the Lakers’ five-year, $118 million offer after the year and began what’s been almost a decade of bridge burning and team hopping — he’s on his fourth team since leaving the Lakers.
17. Team Shaq
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat
Deal: Lakers trade Shaquille O’Neal to Heat for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a future first-round draft pick.
Aftermath: The whole nation seemed to be behind Shaquille O’Neal’s quest to win a title. And stick it to ex-teammate Kobe Bryant. And Shaq delivered.
Bottom line: Bryant comes out as the bad guy in Shaquille O’Neal’s exit from the Lakers, which glosses over O’Neal’s own missteps. He was out of shape. He screamed "Pay me!" at owner Jerry Buss while he was playing a preseason game. But Bryant was a villain, and O’Neal was the lovable hero.
With Shaq's minutes expertly managed by head coach Pat Riley in Miami, O’Neal carried the Heat through the playoffs and handed off to young star Dwyane Wade in the 2006 NBA Finals. It was the first title for the Heat and fourth and final title of O’Neal’s Hall of Fame career.
16. Sun Sets on Hardaway
Teams: Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns
Deal: Magic trade Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway to Suns for Danny Manning, Pat Garrity and two future first-round draft picks.
Aftermath: This trade is remembered for one thing — the spectacular decline of Penny Hardaway once he got to the Suns.
Bottom line: Anfernee Hardaway had missed an entire season due to knee surgery when the Suns decided to pull off a sign-and-trade with the Magic. The deal gave Hardaway, already a four-time All-Star, a seven-year, $86 million contract.
The thought was that Hardaway, paired with Jason Kidd, would be a force in the Western Conference. The two were never healthy at the same time, and microfracture surgery forced Hardaway to miss all of the 2000-01 season.
By the end of 2002, he was on the Suns’ bench, and in 2004, he was traded to the Knicks.
15. Paul Brings R-E-S-P-E-C-T to Clippers
Teams: New Orleans Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers
Deal: Hornets trade Chris Paul and two future second-round picks to Clippers for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminue and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ unprotected first-round pick in 2012, which the Clippers obtained in 2005.
Aftermath: Paul coming to the Clippers thrust the team into the limelight and brought them something they’d never had in franchise history — respect.
Bottom line: Paul had one year left on his contract, and the Hornets were desperate to get anything in return for the star point guard, who was entering his prime. They originally tried to trade him to the Lakers, but the NBA vetoed that trade. They finally cut a deal with the Clippers.
Once teamed with young stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, "Lob City" was born, and Paul became the first Clipper to ever make All-NBA — the first of five straight selections.
The Clippers came out shining in this one and burgeoned their bottom line beyond all reasonable expectations. And they never even made the Western Conference finals.
14. Beard Be Gone
Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets
Deal: Thunder trade James Harden, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward to Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and one second-round pick.
Aftermath: Leaving the Thunder allowed Harden to fully realize his potential and showcase his talents to the world.
Bottom line: James Harden helped the Thunder reach the 2012 NBA Finals but was option No. 3 for the team behind stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and turned down a four-year, $52 million extension from the team and was shipped to Houston.
With the Rockets, he found a home and became one of the NBA’s most electrifying players (playoff struggles notwithstanding), a five-time All-NBA pick, seven-time All-Star and the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2018.
The highlight of the deal for the Thunder was being able to turn one of the draft picks into starting center Steven Adams, which isn’t much of a return.
13. The Toni Braxton Trade
Teams: Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns
Deal: Mavericks trade Jason Kidd, Tony Dumas and Loren Meyer to Suns for Michael Finley, A.C. Green and Sam Cassell.
Aftermath: The Mavs had to implode their young nucleus of Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson after personal strife in the form of R&B star Toni Braxton ripped the trio apart.
Bottom line: The Mavericks traded Jason Kidd, one of the greatest point guards of all time, as he entered the prime of his career.
While Michael Finley had some good years for the Mavs, Kidd went to three All-Star Games, was an All-NBA pick three times and led the NBA in assists for three consecutive seasons with Phoenix. He also led Phoenix to the NBA playoffs in each of his five seasons there.
And the Suns got him because Kidd allegedly was stood up on a date with Braxton so she could go out with Jackson — a slight Kidd just could not forgive.
12. A 'Penny' for Your Draft-Day Drama
Teams: Orlando Magic and Golden State Warriors
Deal: Magic trade Chris Webber to Warriors for Anfernee Hardaway and three first-round picks.
Aftermath: The most epic draft-day trade in NBA history led to a generation of "what-if?" questions from basketball pundits.
Bottom line: Chris Webber was the consensus No. 1 overall draft pick after two years at Michigan, but Anfernee Hardaway’s stock continued to climb after the NCAA tournament. The deciding factor was Orlando center Shaquille O’Neal wanted an elite guard to play with — not another post player.
The Magic got three first-round picks in the trade, but it didn’t change the fact Webber really wanted to play with Shaq and hated playing for Golden State. The Warriors were forced to trade him one year later, to the Bullets for Tom Gugliotta and three first-round picks.
Penny, Shaq and the Magic were in the NBA Finals two years later.
11. Bucks Get What They Can for Kareem
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers
Deal: Bucks trade Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Wesley to Lakers for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman.
Aftermath: This trade is considered one of the worst of all time, but a closer look reveals that’s not the case.
Bottom line: Quietly, before the 1974 season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went to the Bucks and requested a trade, saying his "cultural needs" weren’t being met in Milwaukee, and he wanted to be closer to friends and family. The Bucks did everything they could to keep him, including both the coach and general manager volunteering to resign.
At the risk of getting nothing back for their star center, they traded him and got two players, Winters and Bridgeman, who ended up getting their numbers retired.
Abdul-Jabbar won five titles with the Lakers and became the NBA’s career leading scorer. Had the Bucks got nothing in return, it may have led to the franchise folding.
10. Fortune Favors the Celtics
Teams: St. Louis Hawks and Boston Celtics
Deal: Hawks trade rights for Bill Russell to Celtics for Ed McCauley and Cliff Hagan.
Aftermath: Celtics head coach Red Auerbach pulled off one of the most audacious transactions in NBA history to create the league’s greatest dynasty.
Bottom line: Red Auerbach viewed University of San Francisco center Bill Russell as the best player in the 1956 NBA draft and someone who could change the Celtics’ fortunes. Auerbach, holding the No. 13 pick, traded Ed McCauley and Cliff Hagan to the Hawks in exchange for the No. 2 pick. That left just the Rochester Royals at the No.1 overall pick.
Celtics owner Walter Brown promised Royals owner Les Harrison that he’d bring the Ice Capades (which Brown also owned) through Rochester for several lucrative shows if he didn’t take Russell. Harrison got the Ice Capades and picked Duquesne’s Sihugo Green at No. 1 instead.
Russell played all 13 years of his career with the Celtics, winning 11 NBA titles, five NBA Most Valuable Player awards and is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.
9. LeBron and 'The Brow'
Teams: New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers
Deal: Pelicans trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round draft picks.
Aftermath: The pairing of superstar LeBron James and Davis, maybe the best big man of his generation, shook up the NBA and made the Lakers a potential title contender.
Bottom line: Anthony Davis began to angle for a way out of New Orleans beginning two years ago — three years before his five-year, $145 million contract was up. In that time, the focus for Davis’ camp began to focus on a specific city, Los Angeles, and teaming up with James on the Lakers.
The Pelicans already held the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, added the No. 4 pick and a pair of former No. 2 picks in Ingram (2016) and Ball (2017).
It might be five years before we know the impact of the trade for the Pelicans. For the Lakers, it’s much simpler — the Larry O’Brien Trophy or bust.
8. Wilt Heads West
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers
Deal: 76ers trade Wilt Chamberlain to Lakers for Darrall Imhoff, Jerry Chambers and Archie Clark.
Aftermath: This deal was the first time an NBA Most Valuable Player (Chamberlain) from the previous season was traded before the next season.
Bottom line: Wilt Chamberlain, the NBA’s biggest star, wanted to be in Los Angeles so he could enjoy the celebrity lifestyle to its fullest and forced the trade to the Lakers. Sound familiar? The 76ers, who'd grown weary of his antics and the fact that he refused to move to Philadelphia (he commuted from New York), had no choice but to let him go.
Chamberlain’s feud with Lakers coach Butch Van Breda Kolff culminated in sitting out the last six minutes of Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals with a "twisted knee," in one of the more bizarre, controversial moves of all time.
Chamberlain eventually won a title with the Lakers in 1972 and retired in 1973.
7. King of the North
Teams: San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors
Deal: Spurs trade Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Raptors for Demar DeRozan, Jakob Poltl and a protected first-round draft pick.
Aftermath: Even if the Raptors only end up with Leonard for one year, he delivered the franchise’s first NBA title.
Bottom line: The perception of Leonard after his final year in San Antonio, despite winning NBA Finals MVP in 2014, was that he was a player who quit on his team. This idea came after conflicting reports on the extent of the injuries that kept him off the floor for all but nine games.
In Toronto, Leonard etched his name in NBA lore for all time by leading the Raptors to the NBA Finals (where he won MVP), and Green played a major role for the team as well.
The Spurs and DeRozan lost to the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs.
6. Oscar’s Last Stand
Teams: Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks
Deal: Royals trade Oscar Robertson to Bucks for Flynn Robinson and Charlie Paulk.
Aftermath: Royals head coach Bob Cousy gave away one of the greatest players of all time in a bizarre move.
Bottom line: Oscar Robertson got little support from the Royals as far as a supporting cast, and things got worse when Cousy became the coach and didn’t like all the attention "The Big O" was getting, so he shipped him out of town.
The pairing of Robertson and a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) in Milwaukee proved explosive, and the two combined to lead the Bucks to the NBA title in their first season together. They played in the NBA Finals again in 1974, Robertson’ final season, losing to the Celtics in seven games.
The next year, with no Robertson, the Bucks fell to last place in their division.
5. Oh, the Gasol Brothers
Teams: Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers
Deal: Grizzlies trade Pau Gasol and a 2010 second-round draft pick to Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, Marc Gasol and first-round picks in 2008 and 2010.
Aftermath: The trade drew headlines for Pau Gasol being traded for his younger brother, Marc Gasol, but had impacts way beyond that.
Bottom line: The Grizzlies seemed to get enough in return for Pau Gasol to create a solid foundation and become a winner. Didn’t happen.
What did happen was the Lakers got the missing piece to bring them back to title contention, as superstar Kobe Bryant, who spent most of his childhood in Europe, immediately bonded with Pau Gasol, who is from Spain.
The two combined to play in three straight NBA Finals, winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, with Gasol making two All-NBA teams and three consecutive All-Star teams.
4. Who Wants an MVP?
Teams: Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers
Deal: Rockets trade Moses Malone to 76ers for Caldwell Jones and a future first-round draft pick.
Aftermath: The Rockets gave away one of the NBA’s greatest big men of all time in his prime.
Bottom line: The new, cheap owners of the Rockets decided that Moses Malone’s $2 million salary didn’t fit into their plans — despite Malone winning NBA Most Valuable Player in 1982. The Rockets agreed to a sign-and-trade with the 76ers, who happily paid up.
In Malone's first season with the 76ers, he won the league’s MVP award for the second straight year and NBA Finals MVP, leading the 76ers to a sweep of the Lakers for the title and running circles around Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Jones played two middling seasons in Houston, and the draft pick went toward Rodney McRae, a solid role player.
3. Boston Gets 'Big Ticket' to More Glory
Teams: Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics
Deal: Timberwolves trade Kevin Garnett to Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two first-round draft picks.
Aftermath: This deal still holds the record for most players traded (seven) in exchange for one player in NBA history.
Bottom line: Kevin Garnett gave the Timberwolves 12 years of superstar play, including winning the NBA Most Valuable Player in 2004, and in return, they never were able to sign elite free agents, keep the good players they had or build a decent team around him.
They finally cut bait in 2007 as the Celtics made a bold move to win an NBA title, pairing Garnett with fellow stars Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. The trio delivered a championship in 2008, Garnett’s first season in Boston.
The Timberwolves got little to no production out of the five players shipped over from Boston and wasted the two first-round picks on busts Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington.
2. ‘Easy to Hate' Chamberlain
Teams: San Francisco Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers
Deal: Warriors trade Wilt Chamberlain to 76ers for Paul Neumann, Connie Dierking, Lee Shaffer and cash.
Aftermath: The Warriors found out how hard it is to replace a Hall of Fame player.
Bottom line: The cash-strapped Warriors needed funds, quickly, and the 76ers were willing to part ways with three mediocre players and $150,000 to get Chamberlain in his prime.
Lee Shafer decided to retire rather than report to the Warriors, who had just relocated across the country, and the 76ers got a player who was averaging 36.3 points and 26.4 rebounds per game.
Warriors owner Franklin Meuli wasn’t sad to see Chamberlain go. "Wilt is not an easy man to love," he said. "Wilt is easy to hate … people came to see him lose."
Chamberlain led the Sixers to the NBA title in 1967 — considered one of the greatest teams of all time.
1. King Charles
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns
Deal: 76ers trade Charles Barkley to Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang.
Aftermath: The Suns committed out-and-out robbery of the 76ers' best player in one of the NBA’s all-time fleecings.
Bottom line: Charles Barkley’s bad-boy image and antics made him expendable to the 76ers, who gave him away for essentially nothing.
The trade won the Suns’ Jerry Colangelo the NBA Executive of the Year Award in 1993, and Barkley was named NBA Most Valuable Player in his first year in Phoenix, leading the franchise to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1976.
In four seasons with the Suns, Barkley was All-NBA and an All-Star each year — and most importantly, he rehabbed his image for the long run. Perry and Lang didn’t play more than a combined season, total, Hornacek mercifully was traded to the Jazz two years later, and the 76ers missed the playoffs for the next six seasons.
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