Teams make deals all the time in the NBA. It’s nothing new to suggest that sometimes a trade will end up worse for one team than another. But a few players in the history of the game never should’ve been traded in the first place; it was clear that the team trading the player away was going to regret doing so. We looked at 25 NBA stars who teams wish they’d never traded.
25. Washington Bullets trading Rasheed Wallace
When the Washington Bullets drafted Rasheed Wallace with the No. 4 overall pick in 1995, the writing was on the wall for one of their big men to be traded. They already had Chris Webber and Juwan Howard on the roster, so it was only a matter of time. Turns out, after just one season and averages of 10.1 points in 27.5 minutes per game, it was Wallace. He moved to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for point guard Rod Strickland. Wallace went on to have a long career, becoming an NBA champion and a four-time All-Star.
24. Washington Wizards trading Ben Wallace
Another bad trade from the franchise in Washington — and there are a few — involved center Ben Wallace. The Wizards originally signed the defense-oriented big man after he went undrafted in 1996. They developed him as a quality reserve who rebounded and blocked shots. But after his third year in the NBA, when Wallace averaged six points, 8.3 rebounds, and two blocks per game, the Wizards traded him in a package deal to land uninspiring Orlando Magic center Isaac Austin. Wallace went on to play in four All-Star games, win four Defensive Player of the Year awards, and one NBA championship.
23. Charlotte Hornets trading Alonzo Mourning
In the offseason prior to the 1995–96 season, the Charlotte Hornets dealt three-year pro center Alonzo Mourning — who was only 24 at the time and a two-time All-Star — to the Miami Heat for a package including center Matt Geiger, forward Glen Rice, and a first-round draft pick they used on Tony Delk.
While the Hornets got some use out of Rice before trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers just a few years later, the deal was largely a bust. Mourning helped the Heat become one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. He was one of the best big men in the game for a decent stretch of his prime.
22. Phoenix Suns trading Isaiah Thomas
The Phoenix Suns acquired diminutive point guard Isaiah Thomas from the Sacramento Kings in 2014 to become a spark plug off their bench. But with point guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight already on the roster, it wasn’t working out midway through the next season. So the Suns sent Thomas to the Boston Celtics in exchange for essentially just guard Marcus Thornton and a first-round pick. Meanwhile, Thomas has gone from good to great in a short period of time; he’s averaging 29.9 points per game for the Celtics in 2016–17.
21. Cleveland Cavaliers trading Kevin Johnson
Back in 1987–88, the Cleveland Cavaliers had a 22-year-old Brad Daugherty, 23-year-old Mark Price, 23-year-old Dell Curry, 24-year-old Ron Harper, and 21-year-old Kevin Johnson. Thinking that the rookie Johnson was blocked by the other three guards on the roster, they traded him to the Phoenix Suns for forward Larry Nance. Price had a fine career. However, Johnson had some great seasons for the Suns, including putting up averages of 20.4 points and 12.2 assists per game the very next year. Johnson also helped lead the Suns to the NBA Finals in 1992–93.
20. Dallas Mavericks trading Jamal Mashburn
In his first two seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, forward Jamal Mashburn averaged 21.6 points per game and was on his way to stardom. However, an injury cut his third season drastically short. The Mavs went ahead and traded Mashburn out of fear that he’d never be the same. But he developed into a great third option alongside Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway in Miami, and he finished out the rest of his career averaging 19.1 points per game. In exchange for Mashburn, the Mavericks received forward Kurt Thomas.
19. Portland Trail Blazers trading Jermaine O’Neal
With the 17th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft, the Portland Trail Blazers went out on a limb for an 18-year-old high school kid named Jermaine O’Neal. The talent was clearly there. But O’Neal spent four years on the bench for the insanely deep Blazers and could only muster averages of 3.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 11.5 minutes per game. So, Portland traded him to the Indiana Pacers for 31-year-old center Dale Davis.
While Davis was a solid player for the Blazers, O’Neal developed into an All-Star for the Pacers. He averaged 18.6 points and 9.6 rebounds over eight seasons with the Pacers.
18. Atlanta Hawks trading Pau Gasol
Things looked good when the Atlanta Hawks drafted and then traded Spanish center Pau Gasol back in 2001. The Hawks took Gasol with the No. 3 overall pick, but sent him to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for established forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim. But Gasol didn’t just turn out to be the best player in the deal, but also a franchise star. Gasol is a six-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion. At the age of 36 he’s still going strong with the San Antonio Spurs.
17. Golden State Warriors trade Robert Parish
In his first four seasons in the NBA, center Robert Parish averaged 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds for the Golden State Warriors. Desperate to move up and grab the No. 1 pick in the draft, the Warriors sent Parish and their first-round pick to the Boston Celtics. They drafted Joe Barry Carroll with that pick; Parish made nine All-Star games, won four championships, and became a Hall of Famer in his 21-year career. Even worse? The draft pick the Warriors sent to the Celtics ended up being Kevin McHale. Ouch.
16. Indiana Pacers trading Kawhi Leonard
Many don’t remember, but it was actually the Indiana Pacers that drafted small forward Kawhi Leonard with the 15th pick in the 2011 draft. But considering that they had Paul George at his position, it was a smart move at the time to deal Leonard to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for point guard George Hill. Leonard is only six years into his NBA career, but he’s a two-time All-Star, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, an NBA champion, and a Finals MVP winner. He’s having his best year yet in 2016–17, averaging 25.9 points per game.
15. Orlando Magic trading Tracy McGrady
With the 2003–04 Orlando Magic sputtering to a 21-61 finish, it made sense for both sides that the team trade their star guard—24-year-old Tracy McGrady—for a package to rebuild around. So they sent McGrady (and Juwan Howard) to the Houston Rockets in exchange for guard Steve Francis and a few others. Francis’s career took a dive in Orlando, who got little out of the deal, while McGrady continued to flourish as a star for six more years with Houston. He averaged 22.7 points, 5.6 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game.
14. Chicago Bulls trading LaMarcus Aldridge
Back in 2008, the Chicago Bulls were looking for a big man who could score in the post to help take their team to the next level. With the second pick in the draft, they took power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, seemingly solving their problems — until a few minutes later, when they dealt Aldridge to the Portland Trail Blazers for the draft rights to Tyrus Thomas. Aldridge has now played 11 years in the NBA, averaging 19.1 points and 8.3 rebounds while making five All-Star teams.
13. Toronto Raptors trading Vince Carter
In 2004–05, in his seventh NBA season, 28-year-old Vince Carter struggled with injuries for the Toronto Raptors, averaging just 15.9 points in 20 games. So the Raptors, likely thinking that his best years were behind him, dealt Carter to the New Jersey Nets in a trade that ended up being not much more than two draft picks; one was used on Joey Graham and one was traded to the Knicks later on.
Carter averaged 23.6 points over four years in New Jersey and is still going strong at the age of 40 with the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 8.0 points in 24 minutes per game in 2016-17.
12. Washington Wizards trading Chris Webber
In his four seasons with the Washington Wizards/Bullets, forward Chris Webber made the NBA All-Star team once and averaged 20.9 points and 9.7 rebounds. But in deciding that they had too many big men on the roster, the Wizards traded the 25-year-old Webber to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for 33-year-old guard Mitch Richmond. Webber became a superstar in Sacramento, making four All-Star teams and averaging 23 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game over the next seven seasons.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder trading James Harden
The Oklahoma City Thunder drafted guard James Harden number three overall back in 2009, and for three seasons he came off the bench and provided scoring for the team. He was a big part of how the Thunder ended up in the NBA Finals in 2012. Overall, Harden averaged 12.7 points per game during his time in OKC. But then the Thunder traded him prior to the 2012-13 season, sending him to the Houston Rockets for a package draft picks and extra players that eventually turned into Steven Adams. In five All-Star seasons in Houston, Harden has averaged 27.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game.
10. Dallas Mavericks trading Jason Kidd
In his first three years in the NBA, point guard Jason Kidd shot 38.7% from the field, averaging 13.3 points and 8.8 assists per game for the Dallas Mavericks. But Dallas traded the 23-year-old Kidd midway through the 1996-97 season, sending him to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Sam Cassell, A.C. Green, and Michael Finley. Kidd developed into one of the best point guards in NBA history, leading the league in assists per game five times and making nine more All-Star teams. On the bright side, he did return to Dallas at the age of 34 and won a championship there in 2010-11.
9. Utah Jazz trading Dominique Wilkins
The Utah Jazz were the team that drafted high-flying forward Dominique Wilkins with the number three overall pick in 1982, but they immediately traded him to the Atlanta Hawks in favor of the already-established John Drew—who played three more seasons before retiring. Wilkins, nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film,” averaged 26.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game over the next 11-plus seasons with the Hawks. It’s hard not to think of how good the Jazz may have been in the early ‘90s had they successfully teamed Wilkins with Karl Malone and John Stockton.
8. Philadelphia 76ers trading Charles Barkley
Although Charles Barkley spent he first eight years of his career in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, his best on-court success came during his time with the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets. Back in the summer of 1992, the 76ers were done with Barkley and were pretty desperate to find someone willing to deal for him. So they traded the star forward to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for little more than shooting guard Jeff Hornacek. Barkley had an outstanding year in 1992-93, winning the MVP and taking the Suns to the NBA Finals. He averaged 23.4 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game over the next four seasons.
7. New Orleans Hornets trading Chris Paul
In December of 2011, the New Orleans Hornets were a mess. They were left under control of the league without a true owner when George Shinn was unable to financially control the franchise. The team on the court was bad, and they had one asset they could trade to start a rebuild: point guard Chris Paul. They attempted to deal him to the Los Angeles Lakers, a trade that the NBA would eventually veto as unfair. So the Hornets settled on dealing Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon. Paul has averaged 18.7 points and 9.9 assists per game in six seasons with the Clippers.
6. Milwaukee Bucks trading Dirk Nowitzki
In what is one of the all-time draft day blunders, the Milwaukee Bucks drafted forward Dirk Nowitzki with the ninth pick back in 1998 and then traded him to the Dallas Mavericks. The Bucks were wanting a guy that could inspire people to fill the seats, and they saw that in Robert “Tractor” Traylor, a Detroit-born product of the University of Michigan. In fact, the Bucks traded Nowitzki and fellow first-round pick Pat Garrity for Traylor. In 19 years with the Mavericks, Dirk has countless All-Star games and awards, including an NBA championship and an MVP, and is one of the greatest to ever play in the NBA.
5. Seattle Supersonics trading Scottie Pippen
The Seattle Supersonics drafted Scottie Pippen number five overall in the 1987 draft, and then immediately traded him to the Chicago Bulls with a first round draft pick in exchange for center Olden Polynice and two other draft picks. While Polynice had a nice career as a reserve big man in the NBA, playing from 1988-2001 (and again for two games in 2003-04), Pippen became the second-best player on one of the most memorable sports dynasties of recent vintage. The Bulls forward won six NBA championships alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s. Could you imagine Pippen with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton on the Sonics?
4. Milwaukee Bucks trading Ray Allen
Speaking of Gary Payton, the Seattle Supersonics once traded him, as well. This was at the trade deadline in 2003, and the Milwaukee Bucks were looking to shake things up a bit on their roster. So they traded a 27-year-old Ray Allen (among others) to the Sonics in exchange for the 34-year-old Payton—who played only 28 games with the team before leaving in free agency. Allen had a Hall of Fame career, averaging 24.6 points per game in Seattle and winning two NBA championships before retiring in 2014.
3. St. Louis Hawks trading Bill Russell
It happened a long, long time ago—in 1956, to be exact. The St. Louis Hawks drafted center Bill Russell with the number two overall pick that year, but then traded him that same day to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley. The move itself was a head-scratcher, and there’s plenty more to the story that could be explored. But while the Hawks got little in return, Russell went on to become one of the best to ever play in the NBA for the Celtics: He played 13 years, in 12 All-Star games, won five MVP awards, and an outstanding 11 NBA championships.
2. Milwaukee Bucks trading Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (or Lew Alcinder, at one time) put up some amazing numbers during his time with the Milwaukee Bucks. He led the NBA in points per game twice in six years and helped the team win a championship in 1971. But when he was just 27 years old, the Bucks were anxious that Abdul-Jabbar might be unhappy and want to leave for a bigger market, so they obliged him and made a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers for a package of much lesser players. Maybe the Bucks didn’t really have much of a choice, but it still stings that the big man played 14 more excellent seasons with the Lakers and won five NBA championships in finishing out his Hall of Fame career.
1. Charlotte Hornets trading Kobe Bryant
Another steal for the Lakers was the time the Charlotte Hornets gave them Kobe Bryant. The Hornets drafted Bryant number 16 overall, straight out of high school in Philadelphia. But nervous that Bryant didn’t really want to play in Charlotte, the Hornets cut a deal with Los Angeles to acquire a solid center—Vlade Divac. While Divac had two decent years in Charlotte before moving on, Bryant won five NBA championships, an MVP, and many other individual accolades in his 20 years in Los Angeles. Who knows what might have happened had the Hornets made a different choice? Maybe Bryant ends up loving Charlotte after all? But we’ll never know.