In professional sports, there is always a winner and a loser. And NBA trades are no different… As a matter of fact, the Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas deal was a perfect reminder of this. This trade, like others we’ve seen in the past, produced a clear winner, and a VERY clear loser. A good trade can immediately improve the fortune of an NBA franchise — but on the flipside — it can crush the future of the other franchise.
Without further delay, here are some of the worst trades in NBA history. We guarantee most NBA fans have forgotten about at least a few of these crazy deals! Click Next To Get Started!
New Jersey Nets trade Damian Lillard for Gerald Wallace
Back in 2012, forward Gerald Wallace was averaging 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds with the Portland Trail Blazers. At the time, the New Jersey Nets weren’t in the playoff picture, but still decided that they needed to make a deal to get Wallace.
At the trade deadline, they sent Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams, and a first round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers to get Wallace. Unfortunately for New Jersey, that draft pick turned into Damian Lillard just a few months later. Wallace played just 85 games for the Nets, and shot a miserable 41% over that stretch.
Utah Jazz trade Deron Williams to New Jersey Nets
Sorry Nets fans, but you’ve got back to back places on this list… Usually when a star player is traded for prospects, the team giving up the star is the one that ends up regretting it. But with the case of Deron Williams being dealt to the New Jersey Nets from the Utah Jazz, it was actually the Nets that ended up regretting things.
At the trade deadline in 2011, the Nets sent Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, and draft picks that would turn into Enes Kanter and Gorgui Dieng to Utah in exchange for the guard. He quickly dropped from his status as one of the best point guards in the game, and ended up being waived by the Nets in 2015. Hardly the return you’re looking for when you trade your best young players along with multiple first round draft picks.
Oklahoma City Thunder trade James Harden
The Oklahoma City Thunder took James Harden with the third overall pick in 2009, and used him off the bench as the league’s most versatile sixth man. But prior to the 2012-13 season, the Thunder made a decision to deal Harden to the Houston Rockets in return for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and draft picks that were used on Steven Adams and Mitch McGary.
Harden immediately transformed into one of the best players in the NBA, averaging 27 points per game over the last four years with the Rockets. It’s easy to forget that the Thunder once had a young core of Harden, Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka. Oh how things have changed…
Chicago Bulls trade Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers and dealt on draft day to the Chicago Bulls for Elton Brand. After several years of mediocre play in Chicago, the Bulls decided to sign Ben Wallace and trade Chandler to the New Orleans Hornets.
In return for Chandler, the Hornets got P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith. P.J. Brown ,who was 37-years-old at the time, played just one season for the Bulls — and J.R. Smith was waived right after the deal was announced. Playing alongside Chris Paul, Chandler would quickly develop into an All-Star, and eventually an NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks.
Chicago Bulls trade LaMarcus Aldridge
After trading Eddy Curry to the New York Knicks before the 2005 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls needed a low post scoring power forward. As luck would have it, Chicago had the second pick in the draft that year due to that same trade with the Knicks. They wisely took power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, which looked like a brilliant move at the moment.
But shortly after, they traded Aldridge to the Portland Trail Blazers in return for Tyrus Thomas. Aldridge became an All-Star, and instead Chicago was stuck with Thomas who started only 129 games over his incredibly disappointing 9 year NBA career.
L.A. Clippers trade the draft pick that becomes Kyrie Irving
After LeBron James left Cleveland to “take his talents to South Beach” — the once dominant Cavaliers fell into a death spiral. The Cavs went from one of the best teams in the NBA, to one of the worst teams in the league. Recognizing they needed to rebuild and stockpile some draft picks, they did a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers at the trade deadline.
The Clippers sent Baron Davis and an unprotected first round pick to the Cavs for Jamario Moon and Mo Williams. So what makes this such an awful deal for the Clippers? The Cavs used that draft pick to select Kyrie Irving with the #1 Pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Washington Wizards trade Chris Webber
With a jam-packed front court that included Juwan Howard and Ben Wallace, the Washington Wizards decided to trade away talented young big man Chris Webber. They dealt 25-year-old power forward Chris Webber to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for shooting guard Mitch Richmond and forward Otis Thorpe. Richmond had made seven consecutive All-Star teams and averaged 23.5 points over that period, so it looked like a good deal.
But he was 33 years old, and his production began to slip. While Richmond spent only three seasons in Washington, Webber developed into a superstar in Sacramento and helped lead the Kings to several deep playoff runs. Webber is recognized as one of the best passing big men in league history.
Golden State Warriors trade Vince Carter
Most fans probably don’t remember that Vince Carter was actually drafted by the Golden State Warriors back in 1998. But on draft day, the Warriors shipped Carter to the Toronto Raptors for forward Antawn Jamison. Carter immediately developed into one of the NBA’s brightest young stars, winning Rookie of the Year in Toronto.
Jamison had a solid NBA career, but a lot of his great seasons came as the best player on a bad team. There’s no denying which player had a bigger impact on the court — not to mention all the attention (and money) “Vinsanity” generated with his high flying dunks.
Milwaukee Bucks trade Dirk Nowitzki to the Mavs for Robert “Tractor” Traylor
The Milwaukee Bucks held the ninth pick in the 1998 NBA draft, and they used it to select little-known German forward Dirk Nowitzki. Later in that draft, the Bucks packaged Nowitzki and Pat Garrity — who they had selected with the 19th pick — to the Dallas Mavericks for power forward Robert “Tractor” Traylor.
While Nowitzki would go on to become one of the best players in NBA history over the next 18 years (and counting) — winning an NBA championship, a league MVP, and countless other awards — Traylor averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game over his seven-year NBA career. Traylor was never more than a backup on bad teams.
Charlotte Hornets trade Kobe Bryant to the Lakers
With the 13th overall pick in the 1996 draft, the Charlotte Hornets took a gamble on a talented high school kid from Philadelphia named Kobe Bryant. Unfortunately for them, negotiations with the 18-year-old went poorly, and the Hornets decided they were better off trading Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac.
The Hornets would make a nice playoff run with Divac on the team, but he would leave as a free agent just two seasons later. Bryant, on the other hand, won five NBA championships with the Lakers and developed into one of the best players of all time.
Philadelphia 76ers trade Charles Barkley to Phoenix Suns
Back in the offseason of 1992, Charles Barkley had already established himself as one of the premier power forwards in the NBA. So while he was only 28 years old, it was perplexing as to why the Philadelphia 76ers thought they’d be best served to deal Barkley in the middle of his prime.
The Sixers dealt him to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for shooting guard Jeff Hornacek and two bench players, which set the 76ers on a downward spiral over the next decade. Barkley would lead the Suns to the 1993 NBA Finals and win the MVP award that season. Although he never won an NBA title, Barkley is still considered one of the best players in NBA history.
San Antonio Spurs trade Dennis Rodman to Chicago Bulls
After Horace Grant left Chicago to play alongside Shaq with the Orlando Magic, the Bulls were in need of a rebounding presence. With that in mind, they made a deal with the San Antonio Spurs to get rebounding legend Dennis Rodman. “The Worm” was already 34 years old, and most experts thought his best seasons were behind him. Not to mention the fact he was troublesome at times, and that’s putting it nicely. So the Spurs traded Rodman to Chicago in exchange for backup center Will Perdue.
As you know, the Spurs were dead wrong about Rodman, who lead the NBA in rebounds per game and helped the Bulls win three straight championships from 96-98. As for Perdue, he played four seasons for the Spurs and average 5 points and 6 rebounds per game. Not exactly championship level production.
Boston Celtics trade Joe Johnson to Phoenix Suns
Back in 2002, the Boston Celtics found themselves to be contenders once again, behind stars Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce. Needing to bolster their front line and bench, they made a deal sending rookie shooting guard Joe Johnson to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for veteran forward Rodney Rodgers and guard Tony Delk.
The Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals that year, but giving up Johnson ended up being a huge mistake — he averaged 18.5 points per game over his next seven seasons and made seven All-Star teams in his career.
Cincinnati Royals trade Oscar Robertson
When the Cincinnati Royals traded Oscar Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks, he was already 31 years old and the Royals wanted to get something in exchange for the aging star before it was too late.
While he would only play four more years in the NBA, Robertson helped the Bucks win the NBA championship in 1971. Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the players the Royals received in the deal, were complete non-factors for the team — making this one of the worst NBA deals in history.
Portland Trail Blazers trade Moses Malone to Buffalo Braves
Back in 1976, the NBA was undergoing a dispersal draft of the players from the Spirits of St. Louis (ABA franchise). The Trail Blazers took a 21-year-old center named Moses Malone in the draft, but just two months later traded him to the Buffalo Braves for a draft pick they’d eventually use on Rick Robey. But that wasn’t the end of Malone’s journey. After playing in only two games for the Buffalo Braves, he was traded yet again, this time to the Houston Rockets.
Over the next five seasons, Malone average 26 points and 15 rebounds per game. Malone finished his career with three MVPs, 12 All-Star appearances, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. In 1983, Malone was named the league MVP, on his way to leading the Philadelphia 76ers to an NBA championship.
Utah Jazz trade Dominique Wilkins to The Atlanta Hawks
How many people remember that the Utah Jazz actually selected “The Human Highlight Film” himself, Dominique Wilkins? The Jazz selected Wilkins with the 3rd overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft. However, because the Jazz were a bit cash-poor at the time, and more so because Wilkins really had no desire to play for the Jazz, he forced Utah to trade him.
The Jazz traded him to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for John Drew, Freeman Williams and $1 million in cash. Wilkins would go on to average more than 25 points per game for the next decade, which included a a scoring title in 1985–86, when he finished with a scoring average of 30.3 points per game.
Cleveland Cavaliers trade James Worthy to Los Angeles Lakers
Back in 1980, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers made a trade that appeared to be of little consequence at the time. The Cavs traded Butch Lee and a 1982 first round pick to the Lakers in exchange for Don Ford and a 1980 first rounder. The deal was all but forgotten, until that ’82 pick the Lakers received turned into the #1 pick in the 1982 NBA Draft.
With the pick, the Lakers selected James Worthy, a 6-foot-9 forward from North Carolina. Worthy quickly developed into a star player, and an integral part of the Showtime Lakers. During his 12-year career in Los Angeles, Worthy and the Lakers won three championships.
Philadelphia 76ers trade Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers
Wilt Chamberlain was already an NBA legend when he was traded by the Philadelphia 76ers to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1968. He had led the NBA in scoring and rebounding seven times, including a season in which he scored a jaw-dropping 50.4 points per game (that is not a typo). The Sixers traded Wilt to the Lakers for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark, and Darrall Imhoff — not exactly the type of return you’re looking for when trading one of the league’s best players.
None of those players had a long-term impact with the 76ers, while Wilt finished his career averaging 17.7 points and 19.2 rebounds per game and winning a championship in Los Angeles.
Milwaukee Bucks trade Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers
Yet another deal where the Lakers stole a talented big man away from a small market team. Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was already a bonafide star at the time the Milwaukee Bucks decided to deal him to Los Angeles. In his final season with the Bucks in 1974-75, he averaged 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per game.
In return for the future Hall of Famer, Milwaukee received a package of underwhelming players such as Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, and Elmore Smith. Most fans probably have no idea who either of those three players are — while Abdul-Jabbar played 14 more seasons, winning five championships with the Lakers.
Seattle Supersonics trade Scottie Pippen to Chicago Bulls
On draft day in 1987, the Seattle Supersonics held the number five overall pick. They took a defensive minded small forward named Scottie Pippen from the University of Central Arkansas. But before he could play a single game for the Sonics, they shipped him to the Chicago Bulls for center Olden Polynice. The Sonics really needed a center, so the deal made sense at the time.
But while Polynice averaged only 5.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in his five years with the Sonics, Pippen won six NBA championships with the Bulls and developed into one of the top players in NBA history. You can argue that this trade played a huge role in the legacy of Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. Would either have won as many titles as they did without Pippen in the picture?
St. Louis Hawks trade Bill Russell to the Celtics
Most NBA fans have no idea that Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell wasn’t originally drafted by the team. Back in 1956, he was actually taken in the draft with the number two overall pick by the St. Louis Hawks. That same day, the Hawks turned around and dealt Russell to Boston in return for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley.
Although Hagan actually had a solid career with the Hawks, Russell would become one of the greatest defensive players ever — leading the league in rebounding five times and averaging 22.5 rebounds per game for his career. And oh yeah, he also won 11 championships in his 13 NBA seasons. Not a bad resume…
Brooklyn Nets – Acquiring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry
If you created a top ten (or top five) list of the worst trades in the history of sports, the trade between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, which sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, and D.J.
White to Brooklyn in exchange for five players plus Brooklyn’s first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018, and the rights to swap first-round picks in 2017, would garner serious consideration for inclusion on said list.
Former Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s gambit to turn the Nets into an instant contender failed after just a handful of seasons, and crippled any chance of the Nets rebuilding their team in the aftermath of this deal.
Dallas Mavericks — Trading Away Jason Kidd
Because of a clash of ego’s and a potential love triangle with a certain pop star, the Dallas Mavericks were forced to break up one of the most promising young nuclei of the early 1990’s.
The Mavericks drafted Jason Kidd in 1994, and watched him win the co-Rookie of the Year award, and make the All-Star team a year later.
But after feuding with young teammates Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn, including competing romantic interests with Jackson in pop singer Toni Braxton, Kidd demanded his way out of Dallas, eventually being traded to the Phoenix Suns.
Denver Nuggets — Trading Down In The 2013 NBA Draft
You see it all too often in the NBA Draft: a team is sitting on a pick where they don’t love any of the prospects available to them, so they end up trading away the pick for “cash considerations.”
That’s what the Denver Nuggets did in 2013, trading away the 27th overall pick to the Utah Jazz, for a mid-2nd round pick (46th overall) and cash. The Jazz used that pick to select center Rudy Gobert, who has transformed into one of the most feared defensive presences in the NBA.
Detroit Pistons — Trading Away Dave DeBusschere
Despite being selected to the All-Star team three times as a member of the Detroit Pistons, the team traded away forward Dave DeBusschere to the New York Knicks in 1968. Shortly after DeBusschere arrived in Gotham, he helped the Knicks win both of their only NBA Championships in franchise history.
In other words, for no really good reason, the Pistons traded away a guy who would eventually be named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.
Golden State Warriors — Trading Away Robert Parish
We remember Robert Parish as one of the key components to the great Boston Celtics teams of the 1980’s, but his NBA career started off in a “wrong place at the wrong time” situation. Parish was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1976, as the team subsequently went from making it to the Western Conference Finals in 1976 to winning only 24 games in 1980.
The Warriors traded Parish to the Celtics in 1980, in exchange for two first round picks. One of those picks was the first overall pick in the 1980 NBA Draft, which the Warriors used to select Joe Barry Carroll, one of the biggest draft busts of that era.
Houston Rockets — Trading Away Moses Malone
After being drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1976, forward Moses Malone helped the Rockets make the playoffs in five of the next six seasons, including an NBA Finals appearance in 1981.
After being named league MVP in 1982, Malone was a restricted free agent, and the Rockets’ ownership group decided they didn’t want to match the offer made to Malone by the Philadelphia 76ers.
As a result, the Rockets traded Malone to Philadelphia, where he joined Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, and Bobby Jones, to win an NBA Championship. As we’re all aware, Malone went on to become one of the greatest forwards in NBA history.
Indiana Pacers — Trading For Tom Owens
The Indiana Pacers’ acquisition of big man Tom Owens is another example of why a team should never mortgage its future to get better today. In 1981, the Pacers sent a future first-round pick to Portland to acquire Owens.
The pick that Indiana sent ended up becoming the #2 overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft. If the Pacers hadn’t traded that pick, they would’ve been in position to not repeat the same mistake Portland made with the pick, and instead use it to draft a guy by the name of Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
Los Angeles Clippers — Trading For Mo Williams
As the Cleveland Cavaliers began dismantling the first iteration of the team they built around LeBron James (when the latter left Cleveland for Miami), the Cavaliers traded away Mo Williams to the Los Angeles Clippers. In exchange, the Clippers sent away Baron Davis and a future first round pick.
That first round pick, now possessed by the Cavaliers, ended up being the #1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, which the Cavaliers used to select guard Kyrie Irving. Irving became one of the most gifted scorers in the NBA, and in 2016, hit one of the most memorable shots in NBA Finals history, helping the Cavaliers win their first NBA Championship.
Los Angeles Lakers — Trading For Kwame Brown
The fact that Kwame Brown was one of the most spectacular draft busts of the last few decades didn’t stop the Los Angeles Lakers from thinking they could salvage his career by giving him a change of scenery.
In the summer of 2005, the Lakers traded away Caron Butler — who went on to become one of the most respected players in the NBA — and Chucky Atkins, in exchange for Brown and Laron Profit.
While Brown showed some flashes of growth in LA, eventually the Lakers ran out of patience and traded him away to Memphis in 2008. Butler was named to two All-Star teams as a member of the Wizards.
Memphis Grizzlies — Trading for Otis Thorpe
This trade would go on to alter the future of the Memphis Grizzlies’ franchise, and not in a good way. Before the 1997-1998 season started, the Memphis Grizzlies acquired Otis Thorpe from the Detroit Pistons in exchange for a future first round pick.
The Pistons ended up cashing in on that pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, as the pick was only protected if it ended up being the #1 overall pick.
Unfortunately, the pick ended up being the #2 overall pick, which means Memphis had to give the pick to Detroit. Rather ironically, the Pistons used that pick on Darko Miličić, arguably one of the three biggest draft-night mistakes in NBA history.
Miami Heat — Trading For Kevin Willis
Between 1991 and 1994, forward Kevin Willis was effectively a double-double machine, averaging at least 17.9 points an 12 rebounds during his last three years with the Atlanta Hawks.
That enticed the Miami Heat to send fourth-year guard Steve Smith and forward Grant Long to the Hawks in exchange for Willis, mostly because then-Miami General Manager Kevin Loughery was desperate to replace Rony Seikaly as Miami’s center.
But during his two years in Miami, Willis wasn’t quite the same player that he was in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Smith went on to become one of the more promising scorers in the NBA.
Minnesota Timberwolves — Trading Away Kevin Garnett
The truth of the matter is that Kevin Garnett never wanted to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Timberwolves never should’ve wasted away Garnett’s prime in the manner in which they did.
But after watching the roster fall apart around the former league MVP, the Timberwolves actually did Garnett a solid by trading him to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, and a couple of first round picks.
Garnett went on to win an NBA Championship and appear in another NBA Finals, while the T’Wolves went 10 straight seasons with a losing record after trading Garnett.
New Orleans Pelicans — Trading Away Chris Paul
As point guard Chris Paul eventually started to shake the injury bug that nagged him during the early part of his career, it was no secret that his eyes began to wander for a new home, away from the then-New Orleans Hornets.
The team’s ownership group decided they should trade him away rather than letting him walk for free. The worst part of this deal wasn’t that the Hornets traded him; it’s what happened in the trade that made it so bad.
Everyone knows how the Hornets originally had a deal in place that would send Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Goran Dragic, and a first round pick. But then NBA commissioner David Stern came in and nixed the deal, forcing the Hornets to trade him to LA’s other team.
New York Knicks — Trading for Andrea Bargnani
Coming off a 54-win season and a trip to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs (the furthest they’d been in 13 years), the New York Knicks inexplicably decided the missing piece to their championship was forward Andrea Bargnani, who was a huge draft bust for the Toronto Raptors.
The Knicks traded Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, their 2016 first-round pick, and two future second-round picks for him Bargnani. Everyone knew it was a disaster at the time; the Raptors couldn’t get out from Bargnani’s contract fast enough, as he slogged through injury problems and lousy play while on the court. Instead of getting even further in the playoffs, the Knicks finished with sub-.500 records the next two seasons before letting Bargnani walk in free agency.
Orlando Magic — Trading Away Tracy McGrady
After the Orlando Magic failed to create the NBA’s first super-team assembled in free agency, they were stuck with Tracy McGrady being their lone star, thanks to Grant Hill’s prolonged injury issues. McGrady became a true NBA superstar while in Orlando, being named All-NBA First-Team in 2002 and 2003.
But McGrady began clashing with then-Magic General Manager John Weisbrod, and the latter traded the former to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. After making the playoffs in three of the four seasons McGrady was in Orlando, the Magic failed to make the playoffs the next two seasons without McGrady.
Phoenix Suns — Trading Away Isaiah Thomas
In the summer of 2014, the Phoenix Suns acquired diminutive guard Isaiah Thomas from the Sacramento Kings, and looked like he could be a spark plug sixth-man for the Suns, averaging 15.2 points per game.
But less than a year after acquiring him, the Suns traded him to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Marcus Thornton and a first round pick in 2016.
Thomas eventually named Sixth Man of the Year in 2015, and then averaged 28.9 points per game and challenged for a league MVP award the following season. He’s yet another example of lousy personnel moves made by the Suns over the past two decades.
Sacramento Kings — Trading Away Nik Stauskas
As if you need any evidence that Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and General Manager Vlade Divac are the Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunn of the NBA, look no further than the team trading Nik Stauskas just one year after drafting him.
Ranadive famously hired a bunch of analytics interns to scout the 2014 NBA Draft, and then promptly ignored their recommendations when drafting Stauskas.
A year later, to open up cap space, the team traded Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, 2019 unprotected first round pick, and two pick swap options for rights to Lithuanian prospect Arturas Gudaitis and Serbian prospect Luka Mitrovic, and a future second round pick.
The Kings then took all the money they saved through the trade and blew it on guys like Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli. Only the Kings.
Toronto Raptors — Trading Away Vince Carter
While the Toronto Raptors really had their hands tied with this trade, it’s one that really set the franchise back nonetheless. After Vince Carter became arguably the biggest star in the NBA, he became increasingly disillusioned with the Raptors franchise, as they were unable to support him with players that could get the team into the postseason.
After forcing his way out of Toronto, Carter put up big numbers as a member of the New Jersey Nets, helping the team advance to the second-round of the playoffs in his first first season there, and multiple NBA finals appearances.