The NBA is a league that allows a lot of player mobility. Players switch between teams all the time, whether through a free agency or a trade. Sometimes a player is traded because a team wants to move them from the roster. But other times, players get traded because they request the trade themselves, a lot of times ending up at a destination that they wanted.
NBA superstars are the sort of players whose trade requests carry a lot of weight. They carry the most value on a roster. If they request a trade, then their franchise usually trades them to avoid dealing with a disgruntled superstar and to gain maximum value for the future. If the franchise holds out, then sometimes the player could force a trade using the leverage that they have. Here are 10 superstars throughout NBA history that have forced trades to other franchises.
10. Paul George
Paul George was once a superstar on the Indiana Pacers, competing against the likes of LeBron James in the playoffs, and being the main star on a playoffs team. He looked like a huge building block moving forward. Paul George had a huge injury earlier in his career, but eventually became fully healthy and came back into All-Star form. Paul George had a solid few playoff seasons with Indiana Pacers, but never truly competed for a championship despite making the conference Finals multiple times. Paul George himself explained why he left Indiana:
It’s an organization that just cares to be competitive, they don’t care to win. They got pressure from the city of Indiana to be competitive. That’s where they hang their hat on.
Paul George left because in his view, they were a small market that didn’t want to pair him with another superstar. Paul George asked for a trade, and eventually got traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a trade that would end up pairing him with Russell Westbrook, who was just coming off his MVP season.
9. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony was drafted by the Denver Nuggets, where he spent a lot of his career. He had a lot of competitive years in Denver, notably playing with stars like Chauncey Billups and Allen Iverson. However eventually, Carmelo Anthony requested a trade, as the team simply couldn’t get over the hump. The city of New York appealed to him due to the large market there, and the prospect of playing for the city of his birth definitely played a factor in him forcing a trade. Contract talks had already broken down between him and the team earlier, so it was a matter of time before Anthony got his way
Some time into the 2010-11 season, Carmelo Anthony was dealt to the New York Knicks for a huge trade package, despite the fact that he could have joined them in free agency after that season. Carmelo Anthony remaining in Denver remains one of the big what-ifs for the Denver Nuggets, although they’ve been really competitive in recent memory with young stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
8. Vince Carter
Vince Carter was the superstar that put Toronto on the map for the rest of the NBA. His high-flying dunks and natural athleticism made him a favorite of the crowd. In Toronto, he blossomed into an All-Star, but everything good also comes to an end. Carter eventually grew tired of Toronto, and actively tried to get himself traded. The Raptors themselves grew tired of Carter’s injury issues and disdain towards the franchise eventually led the Raptors to agree to a trade with the New Jersey Nets.
The Vince Carter trade to the Brooklyn Nets is one of the worst in Raptors’ franchise history: Alonzo Mourning didn’t play for them. They didn’t pick anyone notable with the picks, while the other players in the trade didn’t make much of an impact on their roster. Needless to say, there is no love lost between Carter and the franchise’s older fans.
7. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving was actually in a good spot with the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving got the opportunity to win a championship with LeBron James and became part of the greatest comeback in the NBA Finals. However, eventually, Kyrie Irving grew tired of playing second fiddle on the Cavaliers and demanded a trade to a spot where he could be more of a centerpiece in the offense. Here are a few snippets from a Bleacher Report article:
On Wednesday, Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com passed along comments from Irving about the end of his time with the Cavs, who selected him with the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
“[Leaving] was inevitable,” he said. “I could feel it.”
In July, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com reported Irving requested a trade because he wanted to “play in a situation where he can be more of a focal point and that he no longer wants to play alongside LeBron James.”
While Kyrie Irving didn’t achieve much in the postseason with the Boston Celtics, it is admirable that he was willing to leave the best player in the world, to maximize his own development and the player that he could be. He could have been guaranteed playoff success, but he chose his own way.
6. James Harden
This is the most recent trade on this list and probably still fresh in most people’s minds. After the Rockets’ abysmal collapse against the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs, it seemed like Harden has had enough. James Harden wanted to be on a team where he could play with other elite stars and asked for a trade from the Houston Rockets. James Harden had multiple teams among his trade destinations, before eventually getting sent to the Brooklyn Nets for a huge trove of picks.
Shams Charania reported that Harden was “non-communicative” with the Rockets front office at times. The trade saga dragged on forever, but it seems like both parties came out better. The Rockets are now set up long-term, while James Harden gets to play on a superteam where he doesn’t have to be the No. 1 option every game.
5. Chris Paul
Chris Paul blossomed into an elite point guard with the New Orleans Hornets, becoming an astute floor general while also becoming a good scorer. Chris Paul was one of the best point guards of his generation. At one point Chris Paul informed the team that he wouldn’t sign a new contract and requested a trade. On December 8th in 2011, the New Orleans Hornets accepted a trade for Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Lakers. That trade was eventually vetoed by commissioner David Stern, leading Paul to end up getting traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. It came out that Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul knew all about the trade before it went down.
Chris Paul getting traded to the Clippers created the lob city era with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, leading to one of the most competitive stretches for the team, and for Paul himself. But one has to wonder what would have happened if the league let him team up with Kobe Bryant.
4. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain is an NBA legend, most known for dropping 100 points in one game. Chamberlain was a superstar, and clearly one of the best players of his era. During his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, Chamberlain won a title, but it wasn’t enough for the superstar, who eventually demanded a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers to try and team-up with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Here are some details on what transpired from an article by Haley O’Shaughnessy:
In March 1967, Chamberlain, the soon-to-be NBA champion, said he asked L.A. sportswriter Merv Harris to tell Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke that he would probably be leaving Philadelphia soon. (Cooke called Kosloff, who, at that time, denied him permission to speak with his superstar.) A year later, near the end of his one-year contract, Wilt doubled down. “I’d pretty much decided I’d like to play for the Lakers the next season, if possible,” he wrote, and he blew the franchise a kiss by dropping 53 points on them in the final week of the ’68 regular season. Two months later, in May, he was in Cooke’s home in Los Angeles. Wilt’s personal free-agency season had opened.
“Players were sent as token payment,” Billy Libby wrote in his book Goliath, “Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark, and Jerry Chambers—but by terms of his final pact with Kosloff, Wilt was free to go where he wanted.
The article mentions an arrangement that Chamberlain came to with Kosloff, one that would let him dictate where he would go. Wilt Chamberlain created the first-ever superteam when he moved to the Los Angeles Lakers, though it would only result in only one championship.
3. Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard had a solid tenure with the San Antonio Spurs. He was the Finals MVP of their 2014 championship-winning season and looked poised to become the next San Antonio superstar after Tim Duncan. He eventually had a falling out with the San Antonio Spurs over injury mismanagement and proceeded to demand a trade to either Los Angeles franchise. However, the San Antonio Spurs elected to send him to the Toronto Raptors, for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected pick.
This doesn’t guarantee Kawhi Leonard is going to the Lakers this week — since San Antonio could always trade him elsewhere and/or drag things out — but league sources say of the Spurs: “They’re ready” to move on from Kawhi
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 28, 2018
The trade ended up working out for Kawhi Leonard: while it wasn’t his preferred destination, he made the best of his time in Toronto and lead the team to a championship. Leonard ended up in Los Angeles anyway, as he left the Toronto Raptors in free agency right after their championship-winning season. Leonard is fully healthy now and looks like a superstar in his prime.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is viewed as one of the greatest players of all-time. Jabbar is a six-time NBA championship winner and is widely viewed as the best center ever. However, despite winning his first championship in Milwaukee early in his career, Abdul-Jabbar eventually asked the team for a trade. He wanted to get traded, and a huge reason for that was the fact that the city of Milwaukee wasn’t appealing to him. Here is what a Fansided article had to say:
The city wasn’t right for Kareem. He felt it was too small, too blue-collar, too far away from his loved ones. He wasn’t really wrong about any of those things, honestly.
Kareem told the Bucks his decision at a dinner in October 1974. He didn’t go to the press, and he gave the team valuable time to make the best deal possible. The Bucks left the dinner hoping to woo him over the next season, but a variety of factors made that impossible.
They eventually settled on the Lakers as a trade partner both because it was one of Kareem’s chosen destinations, and due to Los Angeles’ stockpile of young talent.
Kareem threatened to sit out a season if his demands weren’t met, which could’ve led to his contract expiring. In those days there were no free agency rules–the Bucks weren’t sure if they would’ve been compensated at all for Kareem walking in free agency.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did what it took to get to one of his preferred destinations, and it seems like his resilience paid off: he won five championships during his time with the Lakers while living in a city that was more catered to his needs.
1. Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis was once the main face of the franchise in New Orleans, trying to get a small-market team to an NBA championship. Sadly, the earlier years of his career coincided with the Warriors’ superteams, and also the lack of consistent help on the roster. He played with both Jrue Holiday and DeMarcus Cousins one of his seasons there, but an injury to Cousins derailed a solid team that could compete in the playoffs. Eventually, Anthony Davis asked for a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, in order to play with LeBron James. An article by Jordan Greer mentioned Davis’ thoughts on the matter:
Following his introductory news conference in July 2019, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis if he wished he had done anything differently.
“No. I wish I did it the way I did it,” Davis said. “I’m a person who’s very upfront and honest. You know, I want to tell you what it is. I love the city of New Orleans, but from a professional standpoint and occupation in basketball, I felt like it was time for me to move on.”
Anthony Davis wanted to compete for a championship, and he got his wish, becoming an NBA champion in 2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers. This is one of the clear cases where trading for a superstar directly resulted in a championship. Davis knew the caliber of the duo that he and LeBron James would become, and forced a trade to greener pastures. The New Orleans Pelicans got All-Star Brandon Ingram out of the deal, so it didn’t end too poorly for the franchise either.