Worst Trades in NBA History

The Brooklyn Nets Engaged In One Of The Worst Trades In NBA History

The NBA Trade Deadline is about to heat up. Check out our list of the worst trades in NBA history.

In the throws of an NBA season, general managers can look to make a move that takes their team from a playoff wannabee to championship contenders. We’ve seen it work for teams past and present.

Moves that made Mark Aguirre a “Bad Boy” Piston, or that made Pau Gasol part of mid-2000s Lakers dynasty.

The thing is, these good deals are in the minority. We’ve seen trades happen where the outcome is worse than anyone could’ve ever imagined, and it leaves teams hung out to dry longer than Dikembe Mutombo‘s socks on laundry day.

I’m still in the Christmas spirit, so let’s take a look at the worst trades in NBA history that “stink, stank, stunk,” their way to the top of our list of worst NBA trades of all time.

5. Scottie Pippen to the Chicago Bulls

This is a no-brainer to make the five spot in our list.

The year was 1987, and the Seattle Supersonics had the fifth overall pick in the NBA Draft. It was a draft that lacked size, besides first overall pick David Robinson who went to the Spurs (We ALL know how that worked out). So when it came time for the Sonics to pick, they went with small forward Scottie Pippen out of Central Arkansas.

However, the draft day festivities for Pippen and company wouldn’t last, as he was immediately traded to Chicago.

Seattle, in dire need of a big man, decided to call the Bulls for Olden Polynice who was draft three picks after Pippen. Yes, you read that correctly, he was drafted AFTER Pippen.

The trade occurred on draft day, and was deemed bizarre because Polynice went after Pippen to Chicago.

Fast forward to the present, and the deal really doesn’t make any sense. Seattle sat with the fifth pick in clear need of size.  Instead of drafting Polynice, they go get Pippen and trade him for the Haitian center, plus a 1988 second round draft pick.

Now let’s look at the numbers. Polynice averaged 5.0 points per game, and 4.5 rebounds over his lackluster career. Pippen became possibly the most notable number two player in NBA history playing with the dynastic Bulls of the 1990s.

The Sonics would also go on to trade that 1988 second round pick to Miami, so they were left completely in the dust on this one. Polynice for Pippen is easily in consideration for worst trades in NBA history.

4. Bill Russell to the Boston Celtics

People forget: Bill Russell wasn’t a career Celtic.  The University of San Francisco product was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks in the 1956 draft.  Russell had an obligation to play in the Olympics, and wouldn’t be able to start his career until December of that season.

The Hawks, sporting a “win now” mentality, knew that the Celtics had their eyes set on Russell coming out of that draft.

They gave the C’s a call, and were able to make a deal for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. The two both ended up becoming Hall of Fame ball players, and were part of the 1958 Hawks Championship Team that took down the Bill Russell Celtics.

The thing is, that was their only championship.

Russell went on to win 11 championships in his career. Pair that with five MVP Awards, and 12 All-Star appearances, and that makes for one of the best careers in NBA history.

So it wasn’t an awful move from the Hawks, but when you trade an 11-time champion, you lose out on that argument.

3. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets

What a tough look for the Brooklyn Nets after this debacle.  Let’s first clarify two things:

  1. Basketball players do not age like wine. They age like sneakers.
  2. Father Time, all things considered, is still undefeated.

Now, back to the show! Brooklyn was seeking help to make a deeper run in the Eastern Conference Playoffs in 2013.  After Ray Allen left to go to Miami, the Celts were clearly in the drivers seat to dish the rest of “The Big Three”.

The Nets came knocking with a trade that seems more like a video game dynasty move, than a real NBA trade.

In exchange for Paul Pierce, K.G., and Jason Terry, the Nets gave away a few iffy players including Gerald Wallace, but the picks they gave up were monumental.

They gave a 2014 first rounder, a 2016 first rounder, a 2017 first round pick swap, and a 2018 first rounder.

Let’s break that down: in 2014 the Celts drafted James Young who has disappointed in his career. Then, in 2016 the C’s took Jaylen Brown who has been stellar, and in 2017 they drafted Jason Tatum in the pick swap.

Then they traded for Kyrie Irving using Brooklyn’s 2018 first round pick in the deal. Meanwhile, Brooklyn only made it past the first round of the playoffs once with that team, and hasn’t had a winning season in four years. Not only is it one of the worst trades in NBA history based on under performance of the “new big 3” but also for the way it continues to set the Nets back for years.

2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Los Angeles Lakers

Kareem to the Lakers is the staple of bad trades in the NBA, but it’s definitely not the worst.

The UCLA product started his career in Milwaukee where he was an absolute force.  He won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, and led the Bucks to second place in the Eastern Conference. By the time he finished his sixth season with Milwaukee, he averaged 30.4 points per game, 15.3 rebounds per game, and 3.4 blocks per game.

However, the big man was ready for the big city, and requested a trade to either Los Angeles or New York.

The Bucks sent Kareem to Los Angeles for three players: Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, and Elmore Smith. All of them did as much in the NBA as I ever will.

Kareem would go on to be a five-time champion, and a record six-time MVP, and oh not to mention the NBA’s All-Time Leading Scorer with 38,387 points. Easily one of the top 5 worst trades in NBA history.

1. Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers

All of you traditionalists don’t get your panties in a bunch, Kobe to the Lakers is the worst trade in history.

Kareem has the records, but here’s the thing, Kareem asked for his trade.  He had given Milwaukee all he had, and wanted a big city. Out of respect for a great player, the Bucks’s front office did him a justice for what he did for their organization.

Did they lose that trade? Yes.

But, Charlotte never even tried to hold onto greatness while they had it.

Kobe was drafted to Charlotte in the 1996 NBA draft, and after a rough start to contract negotiations, the Hornets gave up and traded him.

The Lakers sent over seasoned vet Vlade Divac for the Lower Merion phenom. Divac played for the Hornets for two years before leaving in Free Agency.

Kobe went on to play 20 years in the NBA, something that is unheard-of in the common era. He was an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA team, the 2007-08 MVP, a 2-time NBA Finals MVP, and a 5-time NBA Champion.

Charlotte became the laughingstock of the NBA, and even left to go to New Orleans after the Kobe decline. Tough to argue this one when Kobe became one of the best players of all-time, and the franchise that drafted him had to leave the market it was in. Kobe for Vlade tops our list as the worst trade in NBA history.

More NBA content:

6 COMMENTS

  1. You give the reason why Kareem doesn’t belong on this list. He wanted out and Milwaukee had to trade him. Bridgeman was a solid player but who were they going to get from NY or LA that was better??

    • Fair point. I’d argue that the Knicks could’ve traded Earl Monroe or Phil Jackson for Kareem. I know that they were big pieces for the Knicks (Monroe more than Jackson), but they were both crossing into their 30s at the time of the trade. I’d also say that they could’ve packaged Spencer Haywood, seeing as he was a rising player and would’ve lost tons of minutes to Kareem.

  2. And I’d put the Aguirre trade in it’s place. Detroit got two championships, Dallas got to miss the playoffs and blow up after almost winning it all in 1988.

    • I really toyed with throwing him in. The Bad Boys were an incredible team, and Aguirre was a huge part of it. It was tough to leave him off the list, but ultimately I was between this trade and the Brooklyn burnt house trade. I decided to go with Brooklyn, but it was an honest toss up.

      Side note: Bill Laimbeer is one of my all-time favorite players, so it hurt to slight him from some respect!

  3. Moses Malone trade from Philly to Washington should be on the list. Also, Junior Bridgeman was a very good NBA Player with a long successful career for a perennial Milwaukee playoff off squad. That trade was a horrible one, but don’t say you did as much as Junior Bridgeman did in the NBA.

    • The thing is, that’s not even the worst Moses Malone trade. When he went from Portland, to Buffalo, and the to Houston, that was the worst stretch of trades in his career. Moses Malone could deserve his own article, but it was hard to narrow it just to one trade for him. Also on the Bridgeman front, I went overly hyperbolic for effect, but Junior deserves his respect! Part of a winning squad, but had to show the difference in talent with some hyperbole.

Comments are closed.