One common opinion around the NBA is that one team will always be considered the loser of a trade. When you are trading for superstar talent, you must mortgage future or young assets to try and win right now. For some teams, this practice yields championship results. For others, it results in a first-round playoff exit and a rebuild.
The last decade saw teams try to swing for the fences. Some teams just had poor decision-making and scouting talent. These teams did not see a profitable return on their investment, which is why these 10 teams were a part of the most lopsided NBA trades from the last decade.
10. Clippers Receive Paul George
Trade Package: Thunder receive Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, three unprotected first-round picks, a protected first-round pick, and two future first-round pick swaps
For now, this package has not yielded the Clippers what they desire, which is an NBA championship. In two years, the Clippers have yet to make the NBA Finals. However, last year, the team did make the Conference Finals, but lost Kawhi Leonard with a torn ACL, which will carry over to this season. If Leonard doesn’t play this season, it’s highly unlikely the team makes the NBA Finals for a third season.
The amount of draft capital sent to complete this trade could set the Clippers back for years. If the team can win an NBA championship, then it will be worth it. With that said, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a star in the making, so we will have to keep an eye out in the future to see if this deal goes up the ranks or falls out completely.
9. Thunder Receive Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis
Trade Package: Magic receive Serge Ibaka
At the time, the trade was essentially a swap between Victor Oladipo and Serge Ibaka. Domantas Sabonis was drafted in 2016 and was the first-round pick sent in the deal. Ibaka was brought to Orlando to help the team climb through the Eastern Conference. Instead, the Magic traded Ibaka after 56 games to the Raptors.
Ibaka eventually won an NBA championship with the Raptors in 2019. The thing is that Ibaka was having a decent season in Orlando, averaging 15.1 points and 6.8 points. As for Oladipo and Sabonis, the two were used to land Paul George.
8. Lakers Receive Anthony Davis
Trade Package: New Orleans receive Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, three future first-round picks, one first-round pick swap, cash considerations
At the time, this deal felt like a win for the Pelicans. Anthony Davis wanted out and was not going to sign a second contract extension with the team. The team did the right thing by shipping Davis to the Lakers for maximum value. Since that trade was completed two years ago, the Pelicans have struggled to find their footing with the talent.
In two years, the Pelicans have missed the playoffs, while the Lakers have won an NBA championship. Brandon Ingram won the 2020 Most Improved Player of the Year Award and made an All-Star appearance, but Lonzo Ball left the team to sign a deal with the Bulls this offseason. Zion Williamson is due for a new deal in two years. If the Pels fail to win and make a playoff run, the Lakers might have swindled them.
7. Jazz Receive Donovan Mitchell
Trade Package: Nuggets receive Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon
Trey Lyles lasted just two seasons with the Jazz before being traded to the Nuggets in a trade package that netted the team Donovan Mitchell. Lyles has never averaged double digits in a season, while Tyler Lydon fizzled out of the league in 2018 and 26 games.
Meanwhile, Mitchell helped lead the Jazz to the No. 1 seed in the West last season. He made the All-Star team in a season where he averaged 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.0 steals. Imagine, the Nuggets could have put Mitchell and Nikola Jokic on the floor at the same time.
6. Raptors Receive Kyle Lowry
Trade Package: Rockets receive Gary Forbes and future first-round pick (Steven Adams)
In 2011, Kyle Lowry was teetering between regular NBA starter to losing minutes in the Rockets rotation. The team traded Lowry to the Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future-first round pick that was ultimately used on Steven Adams. Adams never played a minute for the Rockets as the team traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a separate deal.
Forbes never played a game for the Rockets, meaning that the team basically let Lowry walk away for free. In Toronto, Lowry made five straight All-Star appearances from 2015 to 2020. He was also the heart and soul of the 2019 NBA champions. Houston has yet to make the NBA Finals since their days of Hakeem Olajuwon.
5. Trail Blazers Receive Damian Lillard, Shawne Williams, Mehmet Okur
Trade Package: Nets receive Gerald Wallace
The draft pick that the Trail Blazers received ultimately turned into the All-NBA guard Damian Lillard. In a matter of two years, the Nets gave picks that turned into pieces like Lillard and Jaylen Brown. In return, the team got a player in Wallace, who averaged 15.2 points per game in 16 games before dwindling to 7.7 the following season.
Lillard is one of the game’s best overall shooters. He was the MVP of the bubble last year. This past season he led the league in clutch points. When the Nets were in the basement of the standings for a few years, they could have used a player like Lillard.
4. Cavaliers Receive Kyrie Irving, Baron Davis
Trade Package: Clippers receive Mo Williams and Jamario Moon
On February 24, 2011, Williams was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers along with Jamario Moon in exchange for Baron Davis and a first-round draft pick, which ended up being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. That selection was made by the Cavaliers, who selected Kyrie Irving out of Duke.
Williams gave the Clippers starter’s minutes right away, but comparing Williams to Irving is like comparing apples to oranges. Irving is a future Hall of Famer if he keeps playing basketball, not to mention an All-Star and NBA champion. The Clippers never sniffed the postseason with Williams leading the team.
3. Spurs Receive Kawhi Leonard, Davis Bertans
Trade Package: Pacers receive George Hill
Leonard was selected with the No. 15 overall picks in the 2011 draft by the Indiana Pacers but was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, along with the rights to Erazem Lorbek and Davis Bertans, in exchange for George Hill. Granted, Hill was a solid contributor for the Pacers. He was the team’s starting point guard when the team made the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Heat in consecutive seasons.
However, Leonard beat those Heat teams led by LeBron, including in the 2014 NBA Finals, where he was named MVP. Imagine having a Pacers lineup with Leonard, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert back then. Would Indiana have celebrated their first championship if they didn’t make this trade?
2. Rockets Receive James Harden
Trade Package: Thunder trade James Harden, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldridge, Lazar Hayward to the Rockets; Thunder receive Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks (Steven Adams, Mitch McGary), and one second-round pick (Alex Abrines)
This was a huge trade that netted the Rockets and Thunder with a lot of capital. At the time, Harden wanted out of OKC, so the team tried to maximize their value. Steven Adams ended up being a solid center in the league, but the rest of this package was very average. Jeremy Lamb left the team in 2014, while Mitch McGary played just two seasons in the NBA. Adams left the Thunder in 2020.
As for the Rockets, the team never made the NBA Finals either but did make two Western Conference Finals. Harden also won an MVP, three straight scoring titles, and elevated the overall value of the Rockets’ franchise. The Thunder and Rockets battled, especially when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were in OKC, but in the end, Houston won this deal by a landslide.
1. Celtics Receive Three-First Round Picks
Trade Package: Celtics traded Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and DJ White to the Nets; Celtics receive three-first round picks (James Young, Jaylen Brown, Collin Sexton, one pick swap, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, and Keith Bogans
This was the worst deal of the decade, as well as potentially NBA history. The Brooklyn Nets were in win-now mode and thought that they could bring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to a lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez. On paper, this lineup sounded great, but all the players were on the wrong side of 30 and past their prime. The team never made an NBA Final, let alone a Conference Finals.
Their draft capital turned into Boston’s riches. Jaylen Brown was an All-Star last year and helped the Celtics make three Conference Finals appearances in four seasons. Collin Sexton was ultimately traded to the Cavaliers, but the five expiring contracts gave Boston cap space to bring in veterans such as Al Horford and Kemba Walker in recent years. The trade sent the Nets back about three to four years before rebuilding to their present team today.
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