A few weeks ago, we reviewed some of the league’s sneakier good trades in the past decade. These are deals that don’t seem impactful when they happened but aged really well for at least one of the teams years later. Then there are trades that very clearly benefit one team and you know right away.
The recent Rudy Gobert deal drew a lot of criticism from Minnesota’s perspective. Their early struggles are very concerning and the Wolves have few ways to improve their team outside of trading their best players. While it’s still extremely early, many already feel that this could be one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.
With this deal fresh on our minds, we decided to look at several of the most lopsided trades of the past decade.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets (2013)
The one example in which we have of a team going through the entire cycle of acquiring multiple draft picks and seeing them through is Boston. In 2013, they acquired a package featuring three unprotected first-round picks and a pick swap from the Nets for a group of veterans mainly featuring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
This deal could be identified as the original ‘all-in’ trade involving multiple unprotected first-round picks in the modern era. At the time, no such comparable trade involving that many future unprotected picks had been consummated since the implementation of the Stepien rule. The Nets arguably experienced the worst-case scenario in this deal having given up a 1st overall, 3rd overall (swapped for 27th overall), 8th overall, and 17th overall selections while only winning one playoff series. The core quickly disappeared as the Nets decided to pivot to a rebuild and save money after making enormous luxury tax payments.
The Celtics had an embarrassment of riches not only from this deal but also from deconstructing their roster between 2013-2015. They drafted Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown using picks from the Nets trade, which alone made the deal work out for them. This allowed them to both be in a rebuild while being competitive at the same time. Since drafting Brown and Tatum, the Celtics have made three Eastern Conference Finals appearances in five years, including one trip to the Finals. They remain a heavy favorite to win the championship this season.
Kings salary dump with the Sixers (2015)
On July 9, 2015, which is pretty late into a typical offseason, the Kings decided to operate as a cap space team despite many of the top free agents being off the board. They traded the salaries of Carl Landry and Jason Thompson along with recent 8th overall selection Nik Stauskas, a future first-round pick that conveyed in 2019, and two first-round pick swaps in 2016 and 2017 to the Sixers. This helped the Kings go from $9 million to $25 million in cap space.
The cap space was used on role players such as Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli, and Omri Casspi. This trade didn’t hurt the Kings in the long run since they still came out of the 2017 draft with De’Aaron Fox and the pick they moved was at the end of the lottery. While this trade was great for the Sixers, the biggest winners of it might be the Celtics. That’s because they traded down from the 1st overall selection in 2017 with the Sixers for the 3rd overall pick as well as the Kings’ first-round pick.
Tobias Harris to the Pistons (2016)
At the 2016 trade deadline, the Magic traded Tobias Harris to the Pistons for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. This trade felt strange from Orlando’s perspective at the time. We all know Harris to be a really good player today and was already starting to establish himself back then. It felt like they gave him away at the time and they probably could’ve gotten more value for him later on.
The Magic had recently re-signed Harris to a long-term deal so perhaps they wanted to maximize flexibility for the upcoming 2016 free agency class. That sounds good but that money would’ve been better spent keeping Harris than with most of their 2016 signings. Part of their reasoning to move on from Harris could’ve been to elevate Aaron Gordon, but that idea would later be contradicted by the next big trade they would make.
Serge Ibaka to the Magic (2016)
On draft night 2016, the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka to the Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis who was just selected 11th overall. Ibaka was one of the league’s best rim protectors at the time coming off helping the Thunder reach the Conference Finals. Undoubtedly, he was a great player and would remain one. But this deal was a failure for Orlando on several levels.
For starters, the Magic were looking to end their four-year playoff drought and miscalculated how close they were to do that. Second, they vastly overpaid for Ibaka. He is a great complementary piece to a team with several stars but they surrendered so much stuff as if he were one. Ibaka was also on an expiring contract and his desire to play for a non-contender like the Magic was immediately cast doubt upon by speculation. The Magic would trade him halfway through his first season with them to the Raptors for Terrence Ross and a future first-round pick. The Thunder would later flip the package they received for Ibaka to the Pacers in exchange for Paul George.
Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors (2018)
During the 2018 offseason, the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a Top 20 protected first-round pick. This trade rounded out an already great Raptors roster and pushed them into title contention. Although Leonard left after one season, it was a small price to pay for a championship.
While from a value perspective, acquiring an All-Star, a talented young player, and a first-round pick doesn’t sound terrible, it’s the direction the Spurs took in making this deal that made it underwhelming. It’s rare for a team to trade a superstar to remain in contention, and this trade kept them competitive enough to be the No. 7 seed the following season. Poeltl has developed into one of the best rim protectors in the league and they got a great player in Keldon Johnson with the first-round pick from the trade. While they’re in good shape now, they probably could’ve been further along their rebuild had they traded Leonard for a more young-player-and-picks package.
Jimmy Butler to the Sixers (2018)
Nearly a month into the 2018-19 season, the Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton to the Sixers for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a second-round pick. Butler played a huge role in helping the Sixers make the second round of the 2019 playoffs. He has since made two All-NBA teams and helped the Heat reach the Conference Finals twice and the NBA Finals once.
Butler requested a trade out of Minnesota prior to the beginning of the season after just one year with the team. This was a disastrous return for Minnesota not just because they gave up so much to acquire Butler from Chicago, but also considering they took this deal over more draft pick-based packages. But those alternative packages too were so underwhelming given the circumstances of the situation that any of them could’ve qualified on this list.
Paul George to Clippers (2019)
In the 2019 offseason, the Clippers traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, three unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026, two first-round picks from the Heat in 2021 and 2023, and two first-round pick swaps in 2023 and 2025 for Paul George. This trade and the Anthony Davis deal changed the market for star players going forward and it jump-started a rebuild for the Thunder. They’ve already drafted Jalen Williams and Tre Mann with two of the five first-round picks they got but most importantly they got Gilgeous-Alexander who is playing at an All-NBA level.
While the Clippers gave up a haul for George, this wasn’t necessarily a bad trade for them. Unlike some teams that have recently made all-in deals for All-Stars, the Clippers were well-equipped for it. This deal sealed the signing of Kawhi Leonard and they already had a deep roster filled out. They had their best season in franchise history by making the Conference Finals in 2021, and have already recovered decently from losing all those draft picks by identifying talented players like Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Amir Coffey, and Brandon Boston Jr.
Russell Westbrook to the Rockets (2019)
Shortly after the Thunder traded Paul George to the Clippers, they traded Russell Westbrook to the Rockets for Chris Paul, two lightly protected first-round picks, and two lightly protected first-round pick swaps. This trade was a major misevaluation by the Rockets on how they projected the respective game of both players to age. While Paul is 3.5 years older, he has played at a higher level than Westbrook since the trade was made. Paul significantly raised the floor of a Thunder many predicted to miss the playoffs and helped the Suns reach the Finals in his first season with them.
Westbrook’s lack of shooting and spacing forced the Rockets to bend the roster around him. After one season both Russ and James Harden requested trades and the Rockets got far less for Westbrook than they initially gave up for him. They have a surplus of first-round picks from trading Harden and have already made multiple high draft selections in their rebuild. While they’ve recovered nicely since trading for Westbrook, they still burned considerable draft equity on him.
Nikola Vucevic to the Bulls (2021)
At the 2021 trade deadline, the Magic traded Nikola Vucevic and Al Farouq-Aminu to the Bulls for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two lightly protected first-round picks. This trade is very recent but enough time has passed that we have enough information on it. Vucevic has not been the player the Bulls thought they acquired and they are trending toward the bottom part of the play-in tournament. It looks like they bought extremely high on him when his value was at his absolute peak.
Conversely, the Magic bought low on Carter Jr. who has played really well for them. More importantly, it looks like they have a cornerstone in Franz Wagner, whom they selected with one of the first-round picks they got from the Bulls. Those two alone make this deal a massive win for the Magic and they’re still owed an additional first-round pick that is top 4 protected in 2023 and top 3 protected in 2024.