The 25 Best Deals in NBA Trade Deadline History
With the NBA trade deadline near, teams are preparing to make deals that could alter the direction of their franchise. Some of the trades won’t have any bearing on which team wins the championship this year, but they’ll have repercussions a few years down the road. Throughout history, teams made moves to dump large salaries, attempt to make playoff runs, or even start a rebuild. Sometimes those trades work really well; other times they did not come close. These are the 25 best deals in NBA trade deadline history.
25. Knicks get a draft pick for Malik Rose
Back in 2005, the San Antonio Spurs needed a center to pair with Tim Duncan to make a run at an NBA championship. The New York Knicks had Nazr Mohammed available, who averaged 10.9 points and 8.1 rebounds at the time. So the Spurs sent reserve forward Malik Rose (6.3 points in 17.2 minutes per game) along with two first–round draft picks to the Knicks. It worked out for the Spurs, who won the championship, but also for the Knicks; that draft pick landed them forward David Lee that summer.
24. Jazz deal Ronnie Brewer for draft pick
In three-and-a-half seasons with the Utah Jazz, guard Ronnie Brewer averaged 10.5 points on 52.3% shooting and played excellent defense. So while Brewer averaged 9.5 points per game in 2009–10, Utah capitalized on the 24-year-old’s value and dealt him to the Memphis Grizzlies for a first-round pick.
Brewer got hurt, playing only five games for the Grizzlies before leaving as a free agent. He played only three more seasons in the NBA, averaging five points per game, while the Jazz utilized that draft pick in another deal to acquire center Al Jefferson.
23. Heat acquire Goran Dragic
Back in the 2014–15 season, the Miami Heat were dealing with life without LeBron James. To make their future a bit brighter, the Heat made a deal with the Phoenix Suns to bring in guard Goran Dragic in exchange for several low-level role players and two future draft picks.
Dragic has since signed a contract extension with the Heat and averaged 16.4 points and 5.9 assists per game in two-plus seasons in Miami. There’s no word yet on how this deal will shake out, with the draft picks still undetermined, but the 2017 pick is top-seven protected.
22. Hawks get Christian Laettner from the Wolves
Back in 1995–96, the Atlanta Hawks made a deal they knew would prove unpopular with the fans: they traded fan-favorite, 5-foot-7 slam-dunk champion Spud Webb to the Minnesota Timberwolves, just 51 games after he returned to Atlanta after his four-year stint with the Sacramento Kings.
But the Hawks got power forward Christian Laettner in return, and the big man had his best season the next year. The Hawks won 56 games in 1996–97 while Laettner averaged 18.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and made his first and only NBA All-Star team.
21. Rockets make a big deal for Kevin Martin
In 2009–10, the Sacramento Kings thought they saw a decline in their 26-year-old shooting guard, Kevin Martin. His scoring average was down below 20 points per game while his shooting percentage hovered around 40%.
So they made a huge, three-way deal to unload him for what would essentially be 81 games of power forward Carl Landry. The Houston Rockets moved a rapidly declining Tracy McGrady in the deal to get Martin, who averaged 23.5 points on 43.6% shooting in 80 games for them the following year.
20. Jazz deal Keon Clark for a draft pick
In 2003–04, 30-year-old rookie (not a typo) Ben Handlogten and 28-year-old forward Keon Clark played a combined total of 19 games for the Utah Jazz. The Phoenix Suns had 34-year-old Tom Gugliotta, who averaged just 2.3 points in 10.1 minutes per game. So the two teams made a pretty boring trade, with a couple of draft picks going along to the Jazz along with the aging Gugliotta.
Phoenix waived Handlogten and re-signed with Utah, while Clark never played another game in the NBA. Gugliotta finished out his contract with the Jazz and moved on, while Utah used one of those draft picks on forward Gordon Hayward, who is averaging a career-best 22.2 points per game for Utah this season.
19. Thunder acquire Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins
In 2011, the Boston Celtics no longer needed big man Kendrick Perkins, who supplied little more than fouls and tough defense. So they traded him along with point guard Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for forward Jeff Green.
Robinson made no impact with the Thunder, while Perkins helped Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lead the team to the 2012 NBA Finals. Green had a nice career with the Celtics despite missing an entire season due to a heart condition, averaging 14.6 points in three seasons.
18. Suns deal for Joe Johnson
The Boston Celtics drafted guard Joe Johnson with the 10th pick back in 2001, but turned around and traded him to the Phoenix Suns at the deadline in his rookie season. The Suns gave up veterans Rodney Rodgers and Tony Delk, who played a combined 116 games in Boston after the deal, in exchange for Johnson and veteran guards Randy Brown and Milt Palacio. With the Suns, Johnson developed into one of the better shooters in the NBA, and then became a multiple-time All-Star after Phoenix traded him to the Atlanta Hawks.
17. Warriors deal for Andrew Bogut
Back in 2011–12, the Golden State Warriors had an awful season with a weird fit in the backcourt between Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry — when Curry was healthy and on the floor. So the Warriors made an overlooked deal at the deadline, acquiring injured center Andrew Bogut from the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Ellis.
Bogut came back the next year, helping the Warriors become a playoff team and eventually developing into the franchise we see today — the team that’s represented the West in the NBA Finals for two straight years and won an NBA-record 73 regular-season games in 2015–16.
16. Spurs trade for Rod Strickland
After being drafted No. 19 overall by the New York Knicks in 1988–89, point guard Rod Strickland spent his first season as the backup to second-year guard Mark Jackson. Midway into his second season with the team, however, Strickland was tired of wasting away on the bench and asked to be traded.
The Knicks obliged, sending him to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for guard Maurice Cheeks. In three seasons with the Spurs, Strickland averaged 13.9 points and 8.2 assists per game, taking a leap toward becoming one of the best distributors in the ’90s.
15. Pacers trade for Ron Artest and Brad Miller
The Chicago Bulls struggled to rebuild immediately following Michael Jordan’s second retirement, choosing to completely tear things down and build back up through high draft picks and free agent signings. In 2001–02, they dealt with their fourth consecutive bad year and decided to make a big trade to shake things up.
They sent 22-year-old forward Ron Artest (later Metta World Peace), 25-year-old center Brad Miller, and 25-year-old guard Ron Mercer to the Indiana Pacers for Jalen Rose. Artest and Miller ended up becoming All-Stars, making it an ugly deal for the Bulls and a great one for Indiana.
14. Magic dump Steve Francis
Back in 2006, the Orlando Magic had a quickly-declining Steve Francis on their roster and a whole bunch of money due to him on their payroll. So what did they do? They sent him to the New York Knicks and Isiah Thomas in exchange for an essentially-retired Penny Hardaway and a 20-year-old forward with promise, Trevor Ariza.
This opened up cap space for the Magic to build a team around Dwight Howard that would eventually become the best in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks had to work to dump Francis just a year-and-a-half later.
13. Celtics acquire Isaiah Thomas
After acquiring Isaiah Thomas in the summer of 2014, the Phoenix Suns decided they had way too many players crowding their point guard position. So what did they do? They traded away Thomas, who spent only 46 games with the team and had come off the bench in 45 of them.
The Boston Celtics weren’t afraid to take a chance on the 5-foot-9 Thomas, sending guard Marcus Thornton and a draft pick to the Suns in a three-team deal. Thomas briefly played like a superstar, averaging 24.7 points per game in three seasons with the Celtics.
12. Cavaliers acquire Baron Davis and a draft pick
After LeBron James left Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach, the Cavaliers were forced to rebuild their organization. The first — and probably biggest — move was making a deal to acquire the aging, highly-paid Baron Davis from the Los Angeles Clippers, receiving a first-round draft pick in exchange for paying his salary. That pick was unprotected, and sure enough it landed in the No. 1 spot in the draft lottery, turning into point guard Kyrie Irving.
11. Pacers trade for Mark Jackson
In the summer of 1996, the Indiana Pacers traded point guard Mark Jackson to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for several spare parts, with guard Jalen Rose being the most notable. Then, as the trade deadline closed in the next season, the Pacers turned around and re-acquired Jackson in exchange for role players, Vincent Askew and Eddie Johnson. Jackson and Rose teamed with Reggie Miller and the rest of the Pacers to help build a core that made three straight runs to the Eastern Conference Finals and one appearance in the NBA Finals.
10. Knicks acquire Carmelo Anthony
In 2010–11, it was the worst-kept secret in the NBA that Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony wanted to be traded. Number one on the list for Anthony was his hometown of New York City, so the Nuggets went ahead and obliged him by sending the forward to the Knicks. In the three-team deal involving the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Nuggets got a lot of very good players but no real stars: Kosta Koufas, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, and Timofey Mozgov. The Knicks got the best of the deal, although it hasn’t really done a ton for them in the win column.
9. Jazz trade for Jeff Hornacek
As a 30-year-old with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1993–94, shooting guard Jeff Hornacek looked to be declining a bit. His shooting percentages were down while he averaged 16.6 points per game—down from his career high of 20.1 just two years before. The Sixers went and dealt Hornacek to the Utah Jazz at the trade deadline that year in exchange for shooting guard Jeff Malone, who was probably the better player at the time. But Malone’s career fizzled out quickly due to injuries, while Hornacek found a role knocking down three’s next to John Stockton while leading the Jazz to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and ’98.
8. Sonics trade for Ray Allen
One of the greatest trades of all time, at least from the vantage point that it involved two of the best players of the last 20 years in the NBA, was back at the 2003 trade deadline when the Seattle Sonics traded superstar point guard Gary Payton for Milwaukee Bucks superstar shooting guard Ray Allen. While Payton didn’t stick around with the Bucks too long, Allen spent five seasons of his prime in Seattle—he averaged 24.6 points per game during that time.
7. Suns trade for rookie Kevin Johnson
In 1987–88, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns made a deadline deal that sent forward Larry Nance to the Cavs to help build a solid core with Mark Price, Ron Harper, and Brad Daugherty. Nance had a few good years before retiring in 1994, but the rookie guard the Suns got in return really made it a win for them. Kevin Johnson developed into one of the best point guards in the NBA, teaming with Charles Barkley to take the Suns to the NBA Finals in 1993. In 12 seasons with the Suns, Johnson averaged 18.7 points and 9.5 assists per game.
6. Heat trade for Tim Hardaway
Back in 1995–96, the Golden State Warriors were beginning the process of a very long rebuild and traded Tim Hardaway at the trade deadline. He rebounded in a big way once he arrived with the Miami Heat, making the 1996–97 All-Star team and leading the Heat along with Alonzo Mourning to the Eastern Conference Finals. Hardaway averaged 17.3 points and 7.8 assists per game in six years with Miami, while the Warriors received Kevin Willis—who played only 28 games with the team—and backup point guard Bimbo Coles in the lopsided deal.
5. Point guard swap of Marbury, Cassell, Brandon
In March of 1999—the lockout shortened season moved the trade deadline back—the Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks, and New Jersey Nets made a massive three-team deal that ended up being essentially a point guard swap. The winners of the deal ended up being the Timberwolves, who received Terrell Brandon and a first round pick in the trade that they turned into Wally Szczerbiak. Brandon and Szczerbiak had some very good years with Kevin Garnett and the T-Wolves. The Nets ended up with Stephon Marbury and the Bucks with Sam Cassell.
4. 76ers trade for Dikembe Mutombo
By the time that center Dikeme Mutombo was 34 years old, he’d had a full and great NBA career. With his numbers beginning to slightly decline, the Atlanta Hawks took the chance to try to rebuild their roster in dealing Mutombo to the Philadelphia 76ers. In exchange, the Hawks got forward Toni Kukoc and centers Theo Ratliff and Nazr Mohammed. The Sixers, however, got the final piece of the puzzle that helped vault them through the Eastern Conference and into the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
3. Rockets acquire Clyde Drexler
When the Houston Rockets headed into the trade deadline in 1995, they were coming off winning the 1994 NBA championship but no longer really appearing to be a serious contender. That’s when they put together a package in exchange for Portland Trail Blazers superstar Clyde Drexler, which helped the Rockets make a serious run and win their second straight NBA Finals. In return for Drexler, the Trail Blazers got journeyman forward Otis Thorpe and a draft pick that turned into forgettable guard Randolph Childress. This was an obvious win for the Rockets.
2. Lakers and Grizzlies swap Gasol’s
In 2007–08, the Memphis Grizzlies were awful and had one shining jewel on their roster: Pau Gasol. In an attempt to rebuild their team, the Grizzlies went ahead and dealt Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for a few expiring contracts, some draft picks, and oddly enough, the draft rights to his younger brother Marc Gasol. The deal ended up being very good for both, as the Lakers rode their tandem of Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant to two championships while the Grizzlies developed Marc Gasol into an All-Star.
1. Pistons acquire Rasheed Wallace
In February of 2004, the Portland Trail Blazers dealt star forward Rasheed Wallace to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Theo Ratliff and Shareef Adul-Rahim. Wallace played one game for Atlanta, who then spun him in a three-team deal 10 days later. In that deal, the Detroit Pistons traded some role players and two draft picks and were rewarded with Wallace, the player that put their team over the top and helped them win the ’04 NBA championship. For all their effort, the Hawks ended up with the draft pick they used on Josh Smith.