Sometimes General Managers make incredibly bold moves that may seem like the right choice for their team’s future or present, but they wind up regretting those transactions after the players they trade away end up becoming huge stars.
Looking back in time, it’s quite odd to find win-win situations when it comes to trades that involve young players, as most of the times there’s a clear winner that got a star for a bag of chips before they blossom as top-tier players.
Today, we’re going to take a look at 10 players whose General Managers didn’t think they would become nearly half as good as they wind up being, letting you know about the ballers that became superstars right after being traded.
Honorable Mention: Isaiah Thomas, Ben Wallace
10. Rajon Rondo
Back in 2006, Rajon Rondo decided to forgo his final 2 seasons as a Wildcat and was drafted with the 21st overall pick by the Phoenix Suns, who traded him right away to Boston in return for a future 1st round pick by Cleveland, Brian Grant and cash considerations.
Rondo winds up being one of that draft’s biggest steals, leading the Celtics offense to a Championship as one of the ultimate pass-first point guards ever. Over his career, Rondo led the league in dimes 3 times and once in steals, won a Championship, made 4 All-Stars and 5 All-Defensive Teams.
9. Kevin Love
Taken 5th overall out of UCLA by the Memphis Grizzlies, Kevin Love would eventually be traded away to the Minnesota Timberwolves alongside Jason Collins, Mike Miller, and Brian Cardinal in return for Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric, Greg Buckner and OJ Mayo, that year’s 3rd overall pick.
While OJ Mayo will be remembered for being one of the biggest busts in NBA history, Love would dominate the league right away as one of the most skilled big men, being able to pull up from three-point land and still own both sides of the glass. Now, he’s an NBA Champion and has made 4 straight Finals appearances and is a 5-time All-Star.
8. Robert Parish
Robert Parish was quite a talented young man when the Golden State Warriors drafted him, but with the team declining and missing the playoffs for 3 straight seasons, the team decided to trade him to the Boston Celtics along with the 3rd overall pick in order to get the 1st overall pick by Boston.
Parish went on to have a Hall of Famer career dressed in white and green, making it to 9 All-Stars with 4 NBA Championships, having his 00 jersey number hanging high forever in the rafters of the TD Garden.
7. Kevin McHale
Kevin McHale was a part of one of the league’s most determinant trades ever, as the Boston Celtics traded away their 1st overall pick and an additional 1st rounder to the Golden State Warriors for Robert Parish and the 3rd overall pick, which they used to draft McHale.
McHale would go on to become one of the league’s top Sixth Men and the owner of one of the most prolific footwork and post moves ever. Over his career, he won 3 Championships, won 2 Sixth Man of the Year awards, made it to 7 All-Stars and made 6 All-Defensive appearances.
6. Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen doesn’t get enough historic recognition, but truth to be told, he was one of the main reasons why the Chicago Bulls were able to build such a strong dynasty, being by far the greatest defensive small forward this game has ever seen.
Being drafted with the 5th overall pick by the Seattle Supersonics, the Bulls immediately traded Olden Polynice and future picks in order to get their hands on him. He would go on to win 6 NBA Championships, make 7 All-Star appearances and 10 All-Defensive Teams.
5. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki has to be considered the biggest mistake in Milwaukee Bucks history, as the Bucks were actually entitled of the 9th overall pick of the 1998 NBA Draft, drafting the Great Teuton just to immediately trade him away for Robert Traylor, whose NBA career was mediocre to say the least.
Nowitzki was a late bloomer for sure, but when he finally settled as an NBA stud, he became one of the smoothest shooting big men in the league, a 1 time NBA Champion, 1 time MVP and Finals MVP, 13 time All-Star and the leading scorer in Mavericks history, recording over 3000 points through his career.
4. Kawhi Leonard
According to Gregg Popovich, landing Kawhi Leonard was one of the boldest moves he’s ever done, and he not even thought he would ever become the dominant two-way star he is nowadays, so it’s pretty safe to say that trading away George Hill was a successful move.
Leonard was drafted 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers, who immediately trade him to the Spurs in order to get George Hill, Davis Bertans, the 42nd overall pick and the rights of Erazem Lorbek. While Hill was quite good at Indy, Leonard grew to become the best two-way player in the league, a Defensive Player of the Year and a Finals MVP.
3. James Harden
Following a disappointing NBA Finals loss against the Miami Heat, Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder faced a major crossroad regarding the team’s future, as they were unable to retain both Serge Ibaka and their 6th man of the Year, James Harden; who had been a major no-show in the Finals.
So, Presti decided to send away Harden to the Houston Rockets in order to clear cap space to extend Ibaka’s stay, and while he got several spare parts in return, Houston wind up getting their leading scorer, an MVP kind of talent and the guy responsible for leading them all the way to the 1st seed in the West.
2. Bill Russell
Even though most fans don’t actually know this, way back then in 1956, Bill Russell was drafted 2nd overall by the St Louis Hawks, but Red Auerbach; determined to get Russell at all costs, decided to trade away St Louis native Ed Macauley, an already established big man with 6 All-Star appearances under his belt.
Obviously, it’s pretty safe to state that the Celtics won this trade, as Bill Russell would go on to dominate the league, especially in the defensive end of the hardwood, leading the Celtics to 11 NBA titles in just 13 seasons, also winning 5 MVPs and making it to 12 All-Star games.
1. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets, but Jerry West was keen and determined to get the young shooting guard to his beloved Lakers, pulling the trigger on such a bold move that got Vlade Divac to Charlotte in order to land the top-tier prospect.
While Kobe didn’t dominate the league right away, he became a major stud when he was able to get a shot at the starting shooting guard spot, leading the Lakers to 5 NBA Championships and becoming the greatest player to ever wear the purple and gold, and arguably the best player of his generation.