In a perfect world, every trade anybody ever made would come out great for both teams involved, everybody would get incrementally better adding puzzle pieces that complimented their teams without losing their shirts in the process. Fans could feel confident knowing their GM’s had their interests at heart, with the patience and intelligence to be forever improving their team’s chances at a championship.
We all know that’s just not how the cookie crumbles; there’s almost always a trick up a GM’s sleeve when he signs away talent, and every year somebody’s getting hosed when trade deadlines and drafts loom large. The NBA’s a dog-eat-dog world, and we’ve put together some of the nastiest trades ever put to paper. Whether it’s bad luck, incompetence, or the sort of shenanigans that ends up sinking teams, here’s BALLnROLL’s top five worst trades of all time.
#5. Dirk Nowitzki for “Tractor” Traylor
Since the NBA doesn’t allow for draft pick trades with the same flexibility as other sports, teams will more often than not perform “Proxy trades”, that is, they’ll tell the team who to draft in exchange for the arranged deal. Well nobody has looked like a bigger amateur doing it than The Milwaukee Bucks, when they gave up the skinny and relatively unknown German power forward Nowitzki for the fat-as-hell and basically useless Robert “Tractor” Traylor. Dallas had them fooled from the get-go, and the Hall of Famer and Mavericks lifer would go on to make Marc Cuban a household name, while the Bucks would go on to not much at all.
#4. Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice
In another draft day hack job, the Seattle Supersonics (who got the draft pick from the Knicks) decided they’d give up on a promising small forward named Pippen to the Bulls for a guy who’s name says it all, Olden Polynice… Seriously? How different would the league have looked if Pippen had been feeding passes to Dale Ellis instead of mixing it up with Jordan? That’s anybody’s guess, but the Supersonic’s trading the hall of famer for a guy they got rid of three years later sure makes it look like they wanted the Bulls to win.
#3. Charles Barkley for Tim Perry
The year was 1992, and the 76’ers were on cruise control. They had an elite center and not much else, and weren’t too keen on spending the money to make the team a contender. Charles Barkley had spent two years telling anybody who’d listen that he hated Philadelphia’s guts and wanted out as fast as possible.
That sort of atmosphere can put the squeeze on anybody’s organization, but instead of thinking it through and getting bang for their buck, the 76’ers decided to cut and run. The Suns were more than happy to scoop up the big fella, and in return they gave away three players they were probably going to bench anyway. The household names Tim Perry, Andrew Lang and Jeff Hornacek were instrumental in the Philadelphia’s six-year playoff drought, and Phoenix was a contender that’s never really faltered since.
#2. Magic Johnson for Gail Goodrich
The rest of the league should just agree to never trade with the Lakers, but until that lesson gets learned, history will show that LA must have a psychic on staff who handles their business.
In 1979, The then-New Orlean’s Jazz decides to make a blind trade, giving up their draft pick for the following season along with Sam Worthen, Kenny Carr and Essie Givens. That trade is insane enough, but when the Jazz tank and give LA the first draft pick, they cashed it in with Magic Johnson, the uncontested greatest point guard who ever lived. The Lakers won the championship the very next year, and the Jazz moved to Utah. Ridiculous, right?
#1. Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac
It’s similar to the Nowitzki/Traylor trade, in that the Hornets were sort of lined up to fall, but this is still the best example of how sometimes a bad trade can sink an entire team.
From the outside looking in, Charlotte must have been completely high to have traded their “once in a lifetime” 13th place draft choice, one Mr. Bryant, for that loveable Vlade Divac, who was a top shelf player for all of two years with the team. The story goes that The Hornets had agreed to trade their pick for Divac ahead of time, and they weren’t even looking at Kobe until the Lakers told them he was the cat they wanted. The Lakers got five championships out of the deal, and the Hornets got a move to New Orleans and perpetually the lowest fan turnout in the NBA in return.