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The Top 10 Most Lopsided Trades In NBA History

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The Top 10 Most Lopsided Trades In NBA History

Trades within the NBA usually drum up some of the best conversations among fans. Sometimes the transactions are a 50/50 agreement, and sometimes one team can get taken to the cleaners. Fans all over social media are constantly clamoring for their teams to strike a deal that will hopefully propel them to championship status while not giving up very much in the process. As we see in today’s NBA, more often than ever, a star or superstar will sometimes force himself out of an unfavorable situation by requesting a trade. It can work out for both sides, or one side can simply just lose the trade and cut their losses.

The trades we will be speaking about today are much more about the latter. In these deals, one team has struck gold while the other has fans and people around the league scratching their heads. What matters most about our list today is not how the world viewed the trades at the time they went down. The information we have now as a result of these deals is the way they will be ranked. For example, nobody knew how either player would turn out when the Pacers traded Kawhi Leonard for George Hill on draft night in 2011. We now know that Indiana made a big mistake. That is just one example among the many we have set before you here today.

These are the 10 most ridiculous and lopsided trades in NBA history.


10. Charles Barkley To The Phoenix Suns

Charles Barkley To The Phoenix Suns

Trade Details:

Phoenix Suns Receive: Charles Barkley

Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, Tim Perry

Before the start of the 1991-92 season, it was rumored that Charles Barkley had demanded to be dealt from the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers were far from the team that took home the NBA title in 1983, and Barkley wanted out. Meanwhile, in Phoenix, GM Jerry Colangelo had turned the Suns' franchise around but was still one guy away from getting over the proverbial hump in the Western Conference playoffs. The Sixers decided to appease Barkley and deal him to the Suns in a package centered around Suns fan-favorite, Jeff Hornacek. The rest is history.

In his first season with Phoenix, Barkley was named MVP and led the Suns to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1976. The team put up a great fight but ultimately lost to Chicago in 6 games. Hornacek, on the other hand, had a decent first season in Philly with 19.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 6.9 APG. However, he would be dealt to the Jazz before the deadline the following season. Tim Perry would average 9.0 PPG and 5.0 RPG his first 2 seasons with the 76ers before getting injured and moving on to European leagues, while Lang lasted just one season in Philadelphia.


9. Elvin Hayes To The Washington Bullets

Elvin Hayes To The Washington Bullets

Trade Details:

Washington Bullets Receive: Elvin Hayes

Houston Rockets Receive: Jack Marin

Over the years, the Washington Bullets/Wizards have been involved in many trades that have seemed to help their trade partners more than their franchise. That was not the case in the 1972 offseason. When this deal went down, it came with its fair share of controversy and criticism. Marin was coming off of an All-Star season in Houston while becoming one of the best shooters in the league at the time. Hayes was seen as a man with a fragile ego and combative with teammates and coaches. All of that seemed to fly out of the window after this deal was finished.

Marin’s first season in Houston was a success as he was named to yet another All-Star team and averaged 18.5 PPG and 6.2 RPG. Unfortunately, he was traded mid-season the following year and never returned to that All-Star form. Back in Washington, Hayes meshed perfectly with counterpart Wes Unseld as their strengths complemented their weaknesses perfectly on the court. Together, Unseld and Hayes led the Bullets to back-to-back NBA Finals in 1978 and 1979 while winning it all in 1978. In his 9 seasons with Washington, Hayes averaged 21.3 PPG and 12.7 RPG and went down as one of the best players in franchise history, while many don’t remember Marin’s name aside from his part in this very lopsided deal.


8. Bill Russell To The Boston Celtics

Bill Russell To The Boston Celtics

Trade Details:

Boston Celtics Receive: Bill Russell

St. Louis Hawks Receive: Cliff Hagan, Ed Macauley

This trade has many layers to peel back to get to the fruit of it. After the 1955-56 season, Red Auerbach was looking to boost his team’s chances of running the table in the NBA. He made a shocking trade that sent All-Star Ed Macauley to the St.Louis Hawks along with the draft rights to Cliff Hagan in exchange for the 2nd overall pick. He then made a deal with the Rochester Royals, who owned the 1st overall pick. The deal included sending the Ice Capades to Rochester. Why would Auerbach go through all of this trouble? For one man, Bill Russell out of the University Of San Francisco.

Russell went on to become an 11-time champion, 5-time MVP, and a 12-time All-Star. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential players in NBA history, not to mention one of the best defenders and rebounders as well. Hagan and Macauley were certainly no slouches as they became All-Stars and All-NBA talents. They even brought a championship to St.Louis in 1958. Even with their success, their careers combined don’t nearly stack up to the legendary status of the late Bill Russell, and that alone lands them here on our list of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.


7. Dominique Wilkins To The Atlanta Hawks

Dominique Wilkins To The Atlanta Hawks

Trade Details:

Atlanta Hawks Receive: Dominique Wilkins

Utah Jazz Receive: John Drew, Freeman Williams, Cash

After moving from New Orleans to Utah in 1979, the Jazz were a struggling franchise that had failed to put a competitive and viable team on the court. With the 3rd pick in the 1982 draft, they had hoped they would select the player that would turn it all around for them in Dominique Wilkins. Unfortunately for them, because of their low popularity and struggles, Wilkins wanted nothing to do with the Jazz and had refused to even suit up for them if he wasn’t dealt. Just 2 and a half months after being drafted, Wilkins was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for John Drew and Freeman Williams.

The biggest part of the deal wasn’t Drew and Williams but the money that came along with them. Media mogul Ted Turner dished out $1 million to the Jazz along with the 2 players to land Wilkins. This quite literally saved the Jazz franchise from going under. Wilkins went on to become one of the most prolific scorers in league history with a scoring title and 10 seasons above the 25.0 PPG mark. Although he never won an NBA title, Wilkins is still revered in league history as one of the greats. Drew played 3 more seasons with the Jazz and retired in 1985. Williams lasted just one season in Utah before deciding to take his talents to China. It’s not hard to tell who the clear winner of this deal was.


6. Robert Parish To The Boston Celtics

Robert Parish To The Boston Celtics

Trade Details:

Boston Celtics Receive: Robert Parish, 1980 First-Round Pick

Golden State Warriors Receive: Two 1980 First-Round Picks

There is a lot to unpack in another genius move by Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics. Parish was a 4-year player enjoying success with the Warriors before he was packaged in a deal with a draft pick to the Boston Celtics. With that draft pick, the Celtics selected Kevin McHale 4th overall in 1980. The Warriors received 2 first-rounders which they selected Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown. The Celtics went on to become a dynasty yet again, while the Warriors, well, were far from the franchise they have evolved into today.

Already armed with Larry Bird, the rich got richer as McHale and Parish both became All-Stars and champions in Boston. Parish instantly became an All-Star in his first year with the Celtics, while McHale came off the bench as a valuable 6th man. In their first season together, the Celtics took home the NBA championship and subsequently won two more together in 1984 and 1986. Joe Barry Carroll became a consistent 20.0 PPG and 8.0 RPG threat for the Warriors, although he would leave the team after 4 seasons to go play ball in Italy before returning for 2 and a half more years. Rickey Brown would play just 2 seasons for the Warriors before being shipped to Atlanta and ended up lasting just 5 seasons total in the NBA.


5. Wilt Chamberlain To The Los Angeles Lakers

Wilt Chamberlain To The Los Angeles Lakers

Trade Details:

Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Wilt Chamberlain

Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark, Darrall Imhoff

Between 1959 and 1968, the Boston Celtics dominated the league, and the biggest casualty of that during the time was the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers had fallen to the Celtics 6 times in the NBA Finals between 1959 and 1968, putting a damper on the legendary careers of players such as Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. The Lakers knew they had to make a big move in order to turn their luck around, and they chose one of the most dominant players in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain, as their target. Wilt has experience winning a title during the Celtics' reign, and the Lakers knew they needed that experience.

Wilt was clearly not the same dominant offensive force he once was, but even so, he was still one of the best players in the game. Wilt played 5 seasons in Los Angeles with 4 Finals appearances and an NBA title in 1972. Chamberlain was named Finals MVP with 19.4 PPG, 23.2 RPG and played 47.2 MPG. As for the guys that were sent to Philly in return, Chambers left the NBA to join the military, Clark played 3 and a half productive seasons with Philly, and Imhoff lasted just 2 seasons in the City Of Brotherly Love. I’m willing to bet that they would have rather had Wilt’s production over all 3 of those players.


4. Dirk Nowitzki To The Dallas Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki To The Dallas Mavericks

Trade Details:

Dallas Mavericks Receive: Dirk Nowitzki, Pat Garrity

Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Robert Traylor

The Milwaukee Bucks owned 2 picks in the Top 20 of the 1998 NBA Draft. With the 9th pick, the Bucks selected then unknown German sharpshooter Dirk Nowitzki. The Bucks were not sold on the slim 7-footer and immediately opted to trade him to Dallas for much bigger Robert Traylor. What was even more interesting was what came next. The Bucks also dealt Pat Garrity, their No. 19 selection, to the Mavs that night. The Mavericks immediately traded Garrity to the Suns for point guard Steve Nash. Talk about a steal.

The move was lauded by Milwaukee fans at the time, who were convinced Traylor would be their next franchise star. It would be the complete opposite, as Traylor would play just 93 games for them, never even reaching 6.0 PPG. Nowitzki, on the other hand, went on to become one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history and an NBA champion and Finals MVP. Although he and Nash never reached the top of the mountaintop together, they still reached levels the organization had never quite seen before. This was a franchise-altering move for Dallas as Dirk spent his entire illustrious career with the franchise.


3. Scottie Pippen To The Chicago Bulls

Scottie Pippen To The Chicago Bulls

Trade Details:

Chicago Bulls Receive: Scottie Pippen, 1989 First-Round Pick

Seattle SuperSonics Receive: Olden Polynice, 1988 Second-Round Pick, 1989 First-Round Pick

As we learned in “The Last Dance” documentary, the Chicago Bulls and GM Jerry Krause were willing to do anything to acquire Scottie Pippen during the 1987 NBA Draft. Krause felt Pippen was the missing piece to put his team over the top for an NBA championship run. The SuperSonics, on the other hand, felt as if they didn’t need another defensive-minded wing, and instead, a defensive-minded big would be best. When the Bulls drafted Polynice, Krause knew exactly what he was doing and immediately got on the phone with Seattle to get the deal done. What ensued created one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.

Scottie Pippen went on to play a pivotal role in The Bulls’ 6 titles in the 1990s. He became the best 2nd option in NBA history while also being one of the game’s all-time great perimeter defenders. Some would say that Jordan wouldn’t have 6 championships without Pippen. Although there is no way to prove that, the case can be made. Polynice ended up having a less than underwhelming career. Over 3 and a half seasons with Seattle, he averaged just 4.6 PPG and 3.8 RPG. If Seattle keeps Pippen, do they win the NBA Finals in 1996 instead of Chicago?


2. Kobe Bryant To The Los Angeles Lakers

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Trade Details:

Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Kobe Bryant

Charlotte Hornets Receive: Vlade Divac

Before the 1996 NBA Draft, Kobe Bryant was nowhere near the Los Angeles Lakers radar. That was until Lakers legend and general manager at the time Jerry West got his eyes on the young man in pre-draft workouts. After that, there were reports of manipulation on the parts of West and Bryant, which Bryant vehemently denied stating that the Hornets never wanted him in the first place. Despite all the rumors and Hornets Head Coach Dave Cowens reportedly telling Bryant that he didn’t need him, Kobe ended up in the right spot, as I am sure all of the NBA community will agree. The Hornets needed a center, and that is where Divac came in.

The aftermath of this trade is well written. Kobe went on to become one of the most beloved icons in Lakers and NBA history. He won 5 titles, 2 Finals MVPs, 1 MVP, and the most All-Defensive Team selections by a guard ever. His mentality and ruthless work ethic is etched in stone forever, even after his tragic passing in 2020. Divac lasted just 2 seasons in Charlotte, where he averaged 11.7 PPG and 8.6 RPG. He left the team in 1999 for the Sacramento Kings, where he was a vital piece of the early 2000s teams that battled with Bryant’s Lakers. I bet Dave Cowens wishes he did his homework a little more on Kobe before being so brash post-draft.


1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar To The Los Angeles Lakers

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar To The Los Angeles Lakers

Trade Details:

Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Walt Wesley

Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith, Brian Winters

After years of speculation, it has been revealed that it was Kareem himself behind the most lopsided trade in NBA history. The city just wasn’t right for him despite winning a championship in 1971. He was too far away from his family, and the city was just too small for such a big man. Milwaukee was left with no choice but to deal with their prized superstar. The team also was not built for future success, and Kareem knew it. His mind was made up, and he wanted out, but he did it the right way by going to the team with ample enough time to make the best deal. The Bucks opted for a youth movement in their trade package, and the best available young players were Smith, Winters, Meyers, and Bridgeman.

The way everything unfolded is on record forever in the annals of NBA history. Kareem went on to win 5 championships with the Lakers and, at the time of his retirement, was considered to be the greatest that ever lived. He was the consummate winner and a cultural icon while playing for one of the most exciting teams ever, alongside Magic Johnson and James Worthy. As for Milwaukee, they wouldn’t taste championship gold until 40 years after their last title with Kareem. Elmore Smith was out after just 1 and a half seasons with the team. Winters became a 2-time All-Star in Milwaukee but could never get them back to the top of the NBA. Bridgeman was solid, averaging 13.9 PPG in 10 seasons with the Bucks. Dave Meyers suffered a back injury and would be out of the league by the time he was 27. Given the magnitude of success Kareem achieved in L.A. and the underwhelming performance of the Bucks’ haul, this has to be the most lopsided trade in NBA history, right?

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