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Matt Marton/Associated Press
Thanks to acts like “The Decision” and the rise of shorter contracts, player movement became all the rage in the NBA over the last decade.
From Dwight Howard to Kyrie Irving to Anthony Davis, many stars changed teams via trade over the past 10 years. Any time one plays for a bad team for just a little bit too long now, we instinctively assume that player will demand a trade in time.
Today, we’re looking back on each team’s best trade of the last decade. Some of these moves may seem small and comparatively low-stakes, but all 30 helped push a franchise in the right direction, at least for a short time.
Also, yes, we doubled up on a few moves. Win-win trades are objectively the best kinds of trades and deserve as much celebration as one franchise swindling another.
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Atlanta Hawks: One first-round pick
Minnesota Timberwolves: Adreian Payne
Based solely on the assets acquired, there’s a case for the Trae Young deal that took place between the Hawks and Mavericks. But while Young is already an All-Star, Luka Doncic is a superstar, so it’s tough to call that move Atlanta’s best.
Instead, let’s take a look at a smaller-scale trade between the Hawks and Timberwolves.
Probably seen as a cap-clearing move at the time, given Atlanta’s playoff ambitions through the beginning and middle of the 2010s, this trade may end up being significant given that the Hawks used the first-rounder to select Maryland shooting guard Kevin Huerter.
He’s gotten a bit lost amid the numerous talented young players on Atlanta’s roster, but Huerter is already a well-rounded option. His shooting has translated from college, and he’s proved to be a surprisingly effective secondary distributor too, averaging 4.4 assists per 36 minutes in 2019-20.
Though he’s at least fourth on the team’s pecking order behind Young, John Collins and newly acquired Clint Capela, Huerter is likely to play a key role if the Hawks compete in the near future.
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Boston Celtics: Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, four first-round picks
Those four first-round picks the Brooklyn Nets sent to Boston, whether directly or through subsequent trades, turned into Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kyrie Irving. Though every other player and pick was fairly inconsequential for the Celtics, those three are more than enough to make this their best trade of the 2010s.
What makes this trade even more ridiculous in hindsight is that at the time, it seemed like an overwhelming win for Brooklyn. On the 2013 ESPN draft broadcast, Celtics superfan Bill Simmons proclaimed his dislike for the move, and the Nets went above and beyond to convince the NBA world they were the next superteam.
Not only did that not happen, but they spent most of the ensuing seasons in the worst possible place for an NBA team: in the lottery but without a lottery pick.
On the other hand, Tatum just made his first All-Star team this year, and Brown could very well join him soon. With the two of them leading the way, Boston will be a title threat for years to come.
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Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams
Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round picks, cash
On paper, trading a young top-three pick and a recent All-Star for Williams seems like a lot, but considering Favors and Harris combined for zero All-Star appearances after leaving the team, it shouldn’t be a major regret.
Plus, Williams was very good over four-plus seasons in Brooklyn.
The point guard made the All-Star team during his first full season with the Nets while averaging 16.6 points and 7.5 assists per game throughout his tenure, and he made a habit of catching fire. In 2012, Williams poured in 57 points against the Charlotte Bobcats and made an NBA-record nine threes in the first half of a game against the Washington Wizards the following year.
Though never as consistently close to Chris Paul‘s level as the incessant debate might have had you believe, Williams’ best games in Brooklyn made you wonder.
In yet another adverse effect of the aforementioned trade with Boston, Paul Pierce’s and Kevin Garnett’s arrivals seemed to shake Williams as his stats took a hit from which they’d never recover and the team soon waived him at age 31. But the point guard led the Nets’ arrival into Brooklyn, produced several years of stellar play and created numerous great moments in franchise history.
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Charlotte Hornets: Devonte’ Graham
Atlanta Hawks: Two second-round picks
As if other end-of-decade content didn’t get the point across, the 2010s were a tough time for the Charlotte Hornets. Their best trade of the past 10 years required parting with two measly future second-round picks and concerned a 6’1″ guard who hasn’t even shot 40 percent from the field over a full season.
Of course, we’re laying it on a little thick.
Graham’s emergence this year was a wonderful story. He stole the starting point guard job away from prized free-agent acquisition Terry Rozier and was the Hornets’ offensive engine to an almost scary degree. Seriously, the team recorded just 97.1 points per 100 possessions without him.
What would make this trade a true steal and not just the best bad option is Graham becoming a more efficient scorer. He’s already a great distributor, averaging 7.5 dimes per game this season, and clearly knows how to run an offense better than any of his teammates, so the final step is just sustaining his early-season scoring outbursts over a full campaign.
If Graham’s offseason work ethic is any indication, that shouldn’t be a problem.
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Chicago Bulls: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler, Justin Patton
The haul Chicago received in exchange for Butler has had mixed returns. Zach LaVine, though he can accrue stats at an All-Star level, has reached his ceiling as a primary offensive option, Lauri Markkanen plateaued this past year, and Kris Dunn has turned into an All-Defensive-caliber stopper but remains an offensive negative. Whether this group can lead a competitive roster in the near future remains up for debate.
However, we must give credit where it’s due.
Despite a long track record of questionable decisions, former Bulls front office duo Gar Forman and John Paxson got out in front of what is now a normal cycle in the player-empowerment era, moving Butler before he became permanently unhappy. They earn especially high marks in this department for the deal’s context because knowing what we know now about Butler, sparks may have flown when he eventually got restless.
Though maybe in a “broken clock is right twice a day” kind of way, this is one of the best superstar deals in recent memory.
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Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love
Minnesota Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young
Philadelphia 76ers: Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved, first-round pick
When LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland in 2014, many wondered if he’d be content on a roster still in its rebuilding stages. However, we never had to find out the answer as the Cavaliers traded for three-time All Star Kevin Love just weeks after LeBron’s Sports Illustrated letter hit the presses.
Seen as a minor risk at the time because Cleveland moved Wiggins and Bennett, the two most recent top draft picks, this trade bore great fruit.
With the big man’s stellar shooting, elite rebounding and terrific outlet passing buttressing the dynamic scoring of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers made the Finals in each of the trio’s three seasons together and one more time after Irving was traded to Boston, winning the memorable 2016 title in the process.
And though Love was the clear third wheel, suffered statistical attrition and was the subject of passive aggression from James, he’s become a valued part of the Cleveland community, signing his recent contract extension in front of a legion of construction workers.
Despite some stressful experiences and a current rebuild, it’s doubtful Love or the Cavaliers would change much about the last five years.
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Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic
Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young, first-round pick
This move was a no-brainer on all counts for Dallas. It grabbed the best player available and continued its legacy of international stars from Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki through Doncic. And through just two seasons, the trade is already paying off in spades.
After winning Rookie of the Year last year, Luka leveled up, becoming a bona fide MVP candidate, starting the All-Star Game, helping Dallas to its first playoff berth in four years and leading the team to the best offensive rating in NBA history.
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, that’s Hall of Fame stuff for a second-year player.
It’s clear now that Doncic is going to be among the league’s best players for a while. So in the meantime, we must encourage caution.
If the Mavericks play the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round and Luka is neutralized by their length and athleticism, that doesn’t mean he’s a doomed playoff performer forever. Though he’s been prodigiously talented at every step of the way thus far, the 21-year old will have to undergo growing pains at some point, just like the rest of the NBA’s greats.
He’ll only get better over time, and this trade will only look better over time.
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Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, second-round pick
Chicago Bulls: Doug McDermott, Anthony Randolph
This deserves its proper recognition as one of the most lopsided trades in recent NBA history. While McDermott is a fine journeyman sharpshooter, Harris has started 306 games and is an effective three-and-D wing, while Nurkic averaged 15.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes in Denver.
Of course, this trade looks as lopsided as it does because we know Nurkic is a respectable starting center. However, he became that after being traded, which shouldn’t (in theory) affect the Nuggets’ grade.
But Denver built its current roster mostly through the draft, and the other trade up for consideration—the Dwight Howard blockbuster that sent Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets—doesn’t have a long legacy considering Iguodala’s Denver experience resulted in a first-round series loss before he left the following summer.
This trade serves as a feather in Denver president of basketball operations Tim Connelly’s cap. There’s a credible argument that he just went on a drafting hot streak—who knew Nikola Jokic would be this good, Jamal Murray was the best player available, Michael Porter Jr. was an obvious upside bet and so on—but nobody can take this swindle away from him.
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Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, Willie Reed
Los Angeles Clippers: Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, first-round pick, second-round pick
Another team that suffered through most of the 2010s, the Detroit Pistons made an out-of-nowhere splash in 2018, trading for five-time All-Star Blake Griffin. It was a precarious move given that he signed a nine-figure contract the previous summer and claimed an injury history the length of a CVS receipt, but it was an admirable one for a team mired in mediocrity.
Though Griffin was angry with the Clippers for trading him less than a year after these now-infamous shirts were produced, he channeled that frustration into his play and produced a vintage season in 2018-19, averaging 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists while making his sixth All-Star team and fifth All-NBA squad. In addition, he helped break Detroit’s two-year playoff drought, though a leg injury prevented him from playing in the team’s first-round series.
That last injury was a sign of things to come as Griffin sat out most of this season recovering from knee surgery. At age 31, his prime years may be behind him. But the big man says he’s healthy now, and if he can return to form even briefly, then Detroit basketball may have a mini-renaissance in store.
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Golden State Warriors: Andre Iguodala, Kevin Murphy
Denver Nuggets: Randy Foye, second-round pick
Utah Jazz: Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Brandon Rush, two first-round picks, three second-round picks, cash
The Golden State Warriors somehow drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes within a four-year span, and, of course, they added Kevin Durant through free agency. But without this one key move, they might have won just one or even zero championships this decade.
Though Andre Iguodala was a free agent when he agreed to join the Warriors, he was technically acquired via trade and seemingly knew from the start that Golden State would become a special team. As Erik Malinowski wrote in his book Betaball, the Warriors quickly realized Iguodala was doing the selling in their free-agent meeting. He soon walked the walk, turning down longer, more lucrative offers to join the team.
Obviously, this trade was a total win for Golden State and Iguodala alike. He won a Finals MVP trophy in 2015 and served as one of the team’s top wing defenders in each of their five grueling postseason runs. And though the swingman took issue with the Warriors’ handling of various injuries and was eventually traded to clear cap space, it’s hard to imagine how this pairing could have worked out better for either side.
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Houston Rockets: James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks, second-round pick
Is there even another option here?
While the Rockets’ acquisitions of Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook are worth noting, neither of them would have thought twice about the team if not for James Harden. To use a metaphor Houston natives will appreciate, the Rockets have orbited almost completely around Harden over the last eight seasons, and he’s enabled them to do so thanks to increasingly jaw-dropping play.
As Houston has doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on analytics above all, its commitment to featuring Harden has resulted in him making the historic feel routine. He averaged 30 points per game three times in the 2010s while the rest of the NBA managed just four such seasons in that time, and he holds three spots among the league’s top-15 all-time single-season usage leaders.
Russell Westbrook had more free rein with Oklahoma City during his MVP-winning 2016-17 campaign, but no other franchise has given a player such dominion over multiple seasons like Houston has with Harden.
Though the Beard is nearly 31 years old and has yet to lead the Rockets to a Finals, there could be at least one more chapter in the history of this already storied trade.
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Indiana Pacers: Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis
Oklahoma City Thunder: Paul George
To be honest, it was a confusing move from Indiana’s perspective. George had just come off an All-Star campaign, averaging 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, while Oladipo and Sabonis couldn’t even combine for 23.7 points per game on Oklahoma City.
The aftermath of this trade, however, goes to show just how important fit can be in determining a player’s success in the NBA.
Freed from Russell Westbrook’s shadow, Oladipo blossomed into an All-Star and won the league’s Most Improved Player award in 2017-18, while Sabonis just made his first All-Star team earlier this season and looks primed to average double-doubles for the next half-decade.
This wasn’t a perfect trade. Oladipo and Sabonis combined still may not equal the sum total of George’s talents, and Oladipo’s standing with the Pacers has gotten complicated in recent weeks. But compared to what it seemed like at the time, it is a huge win for Indiana and has given the franchise at least one star to build around in the coming seasons.
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul, second-round pick, cash
New Orleans Pelicans: Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman, first-round pick
Coming off the vetoed Los Angeles Lakers deal, this Chris Paul trade seemed like a bit of a letdown at first. But the reality of the Point God throwing lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan soon set in, and basketball fans quickly adjusted.
Under Paul’s stewardship, the Clippers experienced their greatest success in franchise history, making the playoffs in each of his six seasons and winning over 60 percent of their games every year. And yes, he threw lots and lots of alley-oops, including one that resulted in perhaps the greatest dunk of the decade.
Maybe the biggest shortcoming of Paul’s time with Los Angeles was a lack of playoff success. The team failed to even make the Western Conference Finals with him at the helm, infamously blowing a 3-1 series lead in the 2015 conference semifinals to the Rockets.
But nevertheless, Paul (along with Griffin) legitimized a franchise that had been the NBA’s laughingstock for decades, and though the Clippers may achieve greater postseason heights with Paul George, neither he nor Kawhi Leonard are likely as keen to team up on Los Angeles’ second basketball team without Paul’s previous achievements.
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Los Angeles Lakers: Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, De’Andre Hunter, three first-round picks, cash
Washington Wizards: Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, second-round pick
After the worst five-year stretch in franchise history from 2013-14 through 2017-18, the Lakers re-emerged on the NBA stage with league-changing moves in two consecutive offseasons.
In the summer of 2018, they brought in LeBron James, and after he wasn’t able to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, Los Angeles went all-in, dealing a future top-five pick and three members of their young core for established megastar Anthony Davis.
Though one full season has yet to unfold, it’s hard to imagine the Lakers regret this decision. Davis has been as good as advertised in the Purple and Gold, starting the 2020 All-Star Game and recently being named a finalist for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He and LeBron appear to be genuine friends off the court, and their dynamic on the floor has been devastating.
Though the 35-year-old LeBron won’t be around forever, Davis is just now reaching his athletic prime at age 27. Provided the Brow re-signs with the Lakers this offseason, they’ll have a face of the franchise for the next half-decade or more.
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Memphis Grizzlies: Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, Ed Davis, second-round pick
Toronto Raptors: Rudy Gay, Hamed Haddadi
Detroit Pistons: Jose Calderon
At the time, this trade looked like a devastating blow to Memphis. Rudy Gay was averaging 17.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists, while 32-year old Tayshaun Prince was seemingly past his prime. The results of this deal ended up showing the value of seeing beyond on-paper stats and greatly boosted the profile of the analytics movement.
While Gay has been a productive player throughout his career, he just didn’t seem to fit the Grit-and-Grind mentality. Thankfully for Memphis, however, substituting Prince for Gay locked something into place.
The Grizzlies were 27-10 when the title-winning veteran played in 2012-13, and he recorded the third-best net rating swing on the team. This success then seamlessly translated to the postseason as the team went 8-1 over a nine-game stretch against the vaunted Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, and it made the Western Conference Finals for the first time in club history.
Prince only played a season and a half more in Memphis, but he later became a member of the team’s front office.
Though this may not have been the first analytics-friendly trade to pay dividends, it was certainly the highest-profile instance of such logic dictating transactions. In a happy coincidence, it also gave a small-market expansion franchise its greatest success to date.
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Michael Perez/Associated Press
Miami Heat: LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers: Two first-round picks, two second-round picks
Miami Heat: Chris Bosh
Toronto Raptors: Two first-round picks
The Heat haven’t done much in the way of splashy deals this decade, and as LeBron James and Chris Bosh both arrived in South Beach via sign-and-trade transactions, we’ll count their acquisitions in tandem as Miami’s best trades of the past 10 years.
There’s not much unsaid analysis about these two sport-altering transactions. It’s been covered ad nauseum that LeBron’s move to Miami essentially started the player-empowerment era, and Bosh’s decision to join him and Dwyane Wade only bolstered that idea.
The so-called Heatles went on to make the NBA Finals in each of their four years together, sandwiching two losses to the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs with two championships in 2012 and 2013. LeBron won two league MVPs and two Finals MVPs with the Heat (and arguably had the best statistical seasons of his career there), while Wade and Bosh each made multiple All-Star teams, as well.
Was it the “Not three, not four, not five…” the trio promised at the start? No, but that was always unreasonable. Plus, we’re not dealing with the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers here. Back-to-back titles tend to satiate most fanbases, Miami’s included, for a long time.
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Milwaukee Bucks: Eric Bledsoe
Phoenix Suns: Greg Monroe, first-round pick, second-round pick
Three years ago, Giannis Antetokounmpo was a newly minted All-Star but not the world-destroyer we now know him to be. And while the Greek Freak has certainly made improvements to his game, transactions like this one (along with the firing of head coach Jason Kidd) also brought out his best.
Memorably kicked off by a tweet, the Eric Bledsoe trade saga lasted 16 days before Phoenix accepted the above offer from Milwaukee. Though Bledsoe has had his fair share of drama since becoming a Buck, his general two-way competence—and stellar defense in particular—has been a boon to Giannis and Milwaukee.
Put simply, if you replaced Bledsoe with a replacement-level point guard, it’s unlikely the Bucks would have one of the best defenses in modern history. But with him, that’s par for the course.
Unlike many of the trades here, this deal will continue to be evaluated as long as Bledsoe is a Buck. And with Milwaukee among the favorites to win the 2020 title (and any subsequent title, provided Giannis is on the roster), it could soon become one of those hallowed transactions that directly impacts a championship.
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Matt Marton/Associated Press
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler, Justin Patton
Chicago Bulls: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen
The Timberwolves can’t have nice things.
When this trade was executed, it seemed like the next great Western Conference powerhouse had arrived. With a three-time All-Star in Butler joining an ascendant young core led by Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the future seemed bright as could be in Minnesota. And while there were some struggles in Year 1, particularly on defense, the team still managed to make the playoffs for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Of course, nothing was the same after this.
Butler would soon privately demand a trade, then he did so publicly at a now-infamous practice. He was indeed moved before the end of the calendar year. But the short-term gain of breaking a lengthy playoff drought nearly outweighs the way the team’s relationship with him ended. That’s how unfortunate the history of this franchise is.
The Wolves just entered what they hope is a new era, trading Wiggins to the Golden State Warriors for D’Angelo Russell in February. As Russell and Towns are both still 24 years old, there’s plenty of time for that acquisition to become Minnesota’s best trade of the 2020s.
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New Orleans Pelicans: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, De’Andre Hunter, three first-round picks, cash
Los Angeles Lakers: Anthony Davis
Washington Wizards: Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, one second-round pick
In his seventh pro season, Anthony Davis averaged 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals while recording 51.7/33.1/79.4 shooting splits, and it was an ordinary campaign by his standards.
In related news, the big man commanded a sizable return when he was moved to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer.
The trio New Orleans received in this trade—Ingram, Ball and Hart—make up part of what is one of the NBA’s great young cores, and they’re already contributing in the Big Easy.
Freed from an awkward fit alongside LeBron James, Ingram blossomed into an All-Star this year and has already learned to coexist with Zion Williamson. Ball is quietly becoming a nightly triple-double threat, and Hart remains a reliable role player on both ends of the floor.
If Williamson reaches his potential, then his sheer presence could buoy most teams into the playoffs regardless of their supporting casts. But with this trio of former Lakers by his side, the Pelicans could be Western Conference postseason stalwarts through the duration of the 2020s.
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New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Corey Brewer, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter
Denver Nuggets: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Raymond Felton, three first-round picks, two second-round picks, cash
Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry, second-round pick, cash
Melodrama—otherwise known as the only good pun—came to a close in early 2011 when the Nuggets finally gave in to their star’s desire for a bigger market and more greenbacks and shipped him to the Knicks in a three-team, 13-player blockbuster deal.
In the context of 21st-century New York basketball, this deal was an unmitigated success. Melo led the team to three straight playoff appearances at the beginning of this deal and produced a career year in 2012-13, leading the NBA in scoring with 28.7 points per game, finishing third in MVP voting and helping the Knicks to 54 wins and the Eastern Conference’s second seed.
In 2013, with Melo still just 29 years old, he seemed like New York’s latest basketball icon, and true playoff contention didn’t feel very far away.
Of course, those high hopes failed to bear much fruit as the team didn’t make the postseason again with Anthony and still haven’t won more than 37 games since 2012-13. But none of that tarnishes his legacy. Melo is still the record-holder for single-game points at Madison Square Garden and remains beloved in the city.
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Oklahoma City Thunder: Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, six first-round picks
Los Angeles Clippers: Paul George
Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Paul, four first-round picks
Houston Rockets: Russell Westbrook
Just one year after signing an extension to stay with the Thunder, Paul George requested a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers. And while Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti may have been blindsided by the request, he was still able to operate with significant leverage in pulling off the deal.
Both because George’s request wasn’t public knowledge and because the Clippers were desperate to sign Kawhi Leonard (who wanted to play with George), Presti extracted maximum value, receiving six first-round picks from Los Angeles and two above-average starters in Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Six days later, Oklahoma City added to its draft-pick collection once again, moving Russell Westbrook to the Rockets for Chris Paul and four more first-rounders.
Last summer’s moves could not have turned out any better. Led in large part by Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander and Gallinari, the Thunder look primed to play postseason spoiler in the bubble while also claiming a staggering 15 first-round picks over the next seven seasons.
And though there’s no guarantee any of those selections will be fruitful, it’s a historic bounty that puts Oklahoma City in position to trade for almost any player in the NBA in the coming seasons.
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Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo, Maurice Harkless, Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, three first-round picks, two second-round picks
Los Angeles Lakers: Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, Chris Duhon
Denver Nuggets: Andre Iguodala
Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson
You could argue Orlando’s return in this trade was actually the third-best of the four teams, behind L.A. (who got the ostensible prize in Howard) and Denver (who got an All-Star wing in Iguodala). But considering Howard wanted out and the Magic lost most of their other trades in the 2010s (see: trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Serge Ibaka, then trading Ibaka again less than a year later), this takes the cake.
By far the best part of this move for Orlando was the acquisition of Nikola Vucevic. The big man has been highly productive during his tenure with the team, averaging 17.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 50.1 percent from the field in seven seasons. He made his first All-Star appearance in 2019 and has more or less been the face of the franchise post-Howard.
Afflalo had a nice two-season run in Orlando, averaging 17.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, and Harkless started 104 games over three seasons with the team. But for the most part, Vucevic’s contributions on their own make this trade a long-term win for the Magic.
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Chris Szagola/Associated Press
Philadelphia 76ers: Nerlens Noel, first-round pick
New Orleans Pelicans: Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson
Slow your roll, value-mongers. This is not the Sixers’ best trade of the decade because they extracted the most out of it. It is their best deal because of what it symbolizes.
Obviously, Jrue Holiday is the most significant asset here. But that was part of why former Sixers general manager and NBA folk hero Sam Hinkie chose to make the trade.
Hinkie likely believed Nerlens Noel would become a more significant player than he did, so his decision-making here wasn’t bulletproof, but he still looked at the incumbent Sixers roster, recognized its low ceiling and decided to shake things up.
The rest of this story is famous by now. Philadelphia suffered through three 60-loss seasons in the middle of the 2010s, only re-emerging in the wider NBA consciousness at the draft. The lotteries often went in the Sixers’ favor, and so they were able to select game-changing players like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The story in Philadelphia has gotten increasingly complicated since the team joined the playoff conversation in a more permanent way. But without Hinkie’s bold gambit, kicked off by this 2013 draft-night trade, it’s unlikely they’d have this talented a roster.
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Brandon Dill/Associated Press
Phoenix Suns: Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler
Los Angeles Clippers: JJ Redick, Jared Dudley
Milwaukee Bucks: Two second-round picks
As Chris Paul’s understudy, Eric Bledsoe quickly established himself as one of the NBA’s best backup point guards. But in the Clippers’ bid to become title contenders, they traded for JJ Redick and had to sacrifice Bledsoe in the process.
However, one team’s castoff is another’s steal, and the Kentucky alum seized on a lead-guard vacuum in Phoenix.
Though the Suns failed to make the playoffs during the 2010s and Bledsoe was injury-prone through much of his time in the Valley of the Sun, he was arguably their best player of the decade pre-Devin Booker. Over four-plus seasons with the team, he averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds, and he set the tone with his in-your-jersey defensive intensity.
As covered on the Bucks slide, Bledsoe’s time in Phoenix didn’t end well. He became more and more obsolete as the roster got increasingly younger and Booker’s ball-handling skills progressed, and he rightly decided to take charge of his career. But the point guard provided on-the-ball competence and leadership for several years as the team struggled to find its footing in the merciless Western Conference.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Portland: Jusuf Nurkic, first-round pick
Denver: Mason Plumlee, second-round pick, cash
The Portland Trail Blazers made the second round in 2016, one year after losing four starters, but that was mostly due to injuries on the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite the easy-to-sell story, it didn’t seem like that iteration of the roster was built for long-term contention.
However, that would soon change when the Blazers acquired center Jusuf Nurkic from the Nuggets. As the disgruntled Bosnian big man stagnated in Denver, this didn’t seem like a significant move, but it quickly became apparent Nurkic just needed a change of scenery.
He immediately excelled in Portland, averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists for the remainder of the 2016-17 season, and he helped the team win 18 of its last 27 games. The love affair has continued over the ensuing three seasons, and though he missed most of this year recovering from leg surgery, the big man has been as effective as ever as the Blazers chase their seventh straight playoff berth in the bubble.
Whenever a promising young player struggles, think of trades like this one. Nurkic’s success with Portland proves just how important a situation can be in determining a player’s NBA outlook.
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Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
Sacramento Kings: Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, first-round pick, second-round pick
New Orleans Pelicans: DeMarcus Cousins, Omri Casspi
In classic Kings fashion, they self-immolated numerous times in the immediate aftermath of this blockbuster.
General manager Vlade Divac admitted he chose not to take a better offer, while the team reportedly acquired Buddy Hield based on the hope that he’s the next incarnation of Stephen Curry, a comparison that remains ludicrous.
Though he’s not the greatest shooter in NBA history, Hield has indeed been solid for the Kings, averaging 17.5 points on 44.6/41.4/86.5 shooting splits over three-plus seasons with the team.
Of course, we must briefly touch on the misfortune surrounding this deal. DeMarcus Cousins played nearly one full season of basketball in New Orleans before his career collapsed. Since 2018, the big man has suffered a ruptured Achilles, a ruptured quad tendon and a torn ACL, and he has played just 30 games in the past 30 months.
If Boogie had been able to stay healthy, this may have been Sacramento’s entry in a Worst Trade of the Decade list. But strictly from a basketball perspective, the franchise inadvertently succeeded by moving on from him when it did and adding Hield to its future core in the process.
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Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard, Davis Bertans, Erazem Lorbek
Indiana Pacers: George Hill
This trade doesn’t look nearly as bad as it did several years ago because Kawhi Leonard moved on from San Antonio. That said, Indiana dealing him (and, knowing what we know now, Davis Bertans) remains a tough beat.
The 15th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Leonard has transformed himself from a raw defender with a broken jumper to arguably the best player in the NBA in the ensuing nine years, winning two Finals MVP awards and becoming one of the most exciting success stories in recent league history.
Granted, much of that A-list success has come post-Spurs, but Kawhi still provided San Antonio with numerous great moments, including an iconic LeBron GIF, a 2014 Finals MVP trophy and a legendary sequence against James Harden and the Rockets.
Plus, Spurs fans can always talk themselves into believing they would have toppled the Warriors in the 2017 Western Conference Finals had Zaza Pachulia not injured Kawhi’s ankle and sidelined him for the rest of the postseason. That fanbase isn’t exactly starved for success, but it’s always fun (if slightly agonizing) to dream about the what-ifs.
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, cash
San Antonio Spuns: DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, first-round pick
From the very moments following the Raptors’ acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, it was abundantly clear that his time up North could be short and that president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri might have given up franchise icon DeMar DeRozan for close to nothing.
Half of that statement ended up being true. Kawhi’s tenure in Toronto was indeed brief, but you can bet that most Raptors fans would do this deal over again despite their positive feelings toward DeRozan.
Toronto’s 2018-19 regular season and first-round playoff series were rather ordinary by its standards, but destiny took over when Leonard sank a legendary four-bounce buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the conference semifinals to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Raptors played with house money from there, riding their star’s hot streak, a swarming defense and brilliant coaching from Nick Nurse to the first NBA championship in franchise history. Leonard then joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the third player to win Finals MVP awards with multiple franchises.
Considering how well Toronto has played in the bubble, its title-winning alchemy appears replicable even without Kawhi. But no other championship will match the magical, one-hit-wonder nature of its first.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell
Denver Nuggets: Tyler Lydon, Trey Lyles
In a strange coincidence, both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were traded from the Denver Nuggets to the Utah Jazz on their respective draft nights. And while Gobert is a reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Star, he’s not face-of-the-franchise material like Mitchell, who was stolen from the Nuggets.
As evidenced by his late-lottery selection, expectations weren’t especially high for Mitchell out of the gate. The Jazz had just lost Gordon Hayward to the Celtics in free agency and seemed resigned to another few years in the lottery while waiting for their young players to develop.
Unbeknownst to them or anybody else, however, the Louisville alum was ready almost immediately and became one of those rare rookies to lead a playoff team in scoring, helping Utah to the Western Conference semifinals. Mitchell has improved even further since then, making his first All-Star appearance this February.
It’s easy to blame Denver for moving Mitchell, but the truth is that given its incumbent guard depth, he probably wouldn’t have had enough opportunity to rise as quickly as he did in Utah. For the sake of the Jazz organization, it all worked out for the best.
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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
Washington Wizards: Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, Kendall Marshall
Phoenix Suns: Emeka Okafor, first-round pick
John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. were all drafted by the Wizards, and post-prime Paul Pierce (isn’t that a mouthful) signed as a free agent, so we’re digging deep to find their best trade.
Though not the flashiest player and sometimes a voice of controversy, Marcin Gortat was an effective center for five seasons in Washington. Averaging 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds while shooting 55.5 percent from the field through his tenure in the District, the Polish big man walked a fine line for the Wizards. He performed his duties well—serving as Wall’s roll man, altering shots, setting hard screens—but anything more was a stretch.
In hindsight, Gortat peaked at the exact right time. Just as he retired, the sport doubled down even further on small-ball concepts, which would have rendered him completely obsolete. Thankfully, the big man got a half-decade to play a key role for multiple Wizards playoff teams before such a drastic shift took place.