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Lopsided trades almost feel like an annual tradition in the NBA.
Teams get desperate, whether they think they’re one piece away from title contention or a playoff spot. Sometimes, they get burned placing more value on the now than on the future.
Recovering from the lasting consequences of these deals can sometimes take years. Think about how long the Brooklyn Nets doomed themselves to mediocrity after acquiring post-prime versions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Boston Celtics in July 2013.
Some of the picks Brooklyn surrendered in that deal wound up materializing in Jayson Tatum, Markelle Fultz and Collin Sexton.
That’s one of the most extreme examples as we look for trades made years ago that are still hurting teams in 2020.
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Some pretty fresh deals could already justify inclusion. In the interest of fairness, they’ll remain in the honorable mentions…for now.
The San Antonio Spurs thought they were getting Marcus Morris Sr. when they unloaded Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards this offseason. He would’ve been better than what San Antonio has played in Bertans’ minutes this season, but the deal still didn’t make a ton of sense at the time.
Bertans had just shot 42.9 percent from three and had the best net rating swing (by far) on the team. He was one of the only modern players San Antonio had.
This season, the Spurs are currently outside the playoff picture, while Bertans is drilling 3.7 threes per game and shooting 42.8 percent from deep.
There was some temptation to do a deeper dive on the Kawhi Leonard trade, as well. Sure, he demanded out, but San Antonio’s inability to get Pascal Siakam—or even OG Anunoby—seems shocking in hindsight. And if the Toronto Raptors wouldn’t part with those guys for Leonard, the Spurs should’ve kept shopping.
DeMar DeRozan is a good offensive player, but he was never as important to the Raptors as Kyle Lowry. The last two seasons have proved he’s a fine centerpiece if your goal is mediocrity.
Another relevant trade from the summer of 2018 was the Atlanta Hawks’ unloading of Luka Doncic for Trae Young and the pick that eventually became Cam Reddish. Of course, Atlanta fans will tell you they’re more than happy with Young. And they should be.
But his ceiling appears to be that of a multi-time All-Star. Luka might be on track to become the best player in the world.
Finally, back to the summer of 2019, the Russell Westbrook-for-Chris Paul deal could wind up being a doozy for the Houston Rockets. Paul is three years older, but he’s undeniably been better this season, and his contract expires sooner.
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The Minnesota Timberwolves attempted to throw the timeline out when they acquired Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls.
The summer before Karl-Anthony Towns’ third season, Minnesota sent Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and 22-year-old Zach LaVine to the Chicago Bulls for Butler and Justin Patton.
The deal provided some of the short-term gains the Wolves may have been after. They went to the playoffs in 2017-18, but things went completely off the rails not long after that. Before the next season’s training camp tipped off, Butler demanded a trade.
Eventually, he showed up for practice and put on a literal and figurative show, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported:
“All-Star Jimmy Butler participated in Minnesota’s practice, a session that included him verbally challenging teammates, coaches and front office, league sources told ESPN. Butler was vociferous and emotional at times, targeting [head coach Tom] Thibodeau/[general manager Scott] Layden/Towns/[Andrew] Wiggins…
“A lot of Minnesota players left Timberwolves practice today energized by Butler‘s performance, mesmerized with him taking end-of-the-bench players and running the table on the regulars, sources said. At the end, he marched out like if a mic drop. Butler delivered a tour de force.
“At one point in a scrimmage, sources said, Butler turned to GM Scott Layden and screamed, ‘You (bleeping) need me. You can’t win without me.’ Butler left teammates and coaches largely speechless. He dominated the gym in every way. Jimmy’s back.”
About a month later, Butler and Patton were traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jerryd Bayless (out of the league), Dario Saric (now with the Phoenix Suns), Robert Covington (seemingly available) and a 2022 second-round pick.
Meanwhile, LaVine is a 24-year-old All-Star candidate averaging 25.0 points and 4.0 assists. Markkanen has shown flashes of becoming a distinctly modern big man, and Kris Dunn is a bona fide defensive weapon. He’s top-10 (among players with 500 minutes) in defensive RAPTOR, per FiveThirtyEight, and Chicago’s net rating is 3.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.
Minnesota could have had all three under team control for the foreseeable future.
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In July 2015, the Sacramento Kings put together one of the most nonsensical salary-dump trades in league history.
After a 29-53 season in which the Kings had three different head coaches, they sent rising sophomore Nik Stauskas and the dead-money contracts of Carl Landry and Jason Thompson to the Philadelphia 76ers for the draft rights to Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic (neither of whom have ever played a minute in the NBA).
If that was it, wrapping your head around this deal might not be that difficult. But that was not it.
Sacramento also sent a top-10 protected pick and two pick swaps to Philly.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton graded the deal with an F at the time:
“Naturally, what they’re giving the 76ers to take on that salary is enormous in its own right. Beyond just Stauskas, the eighth pick of last year’s draft, Sacramento is also giving up a top-10 protected first-round pick (according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe) and swap rights in two other years. Those sound innocuous, especially with a team as bad as the 76ers are now, but years in the future, it’s possible the trajectories of the two franchises could be very different. Ask the Brooklyn Nets, who dropped from 15th to 29th in this year’s draft because of a rights swap with the Atlanta Hawks, how painful they can eventually become. In return, the Kings get the rights to a pair of second-round picks in last Thursday’s draft, Gudaitis (taken 47th overall) and Mitrovic (the 60th and final pick), according to ESPN the Magazine’s Pablo Torre.”
One of those pick swaps, subsequently conveyed to the Boston Celtics, wound up as Jayson Tatum. And while the Kings would likely defend the result by pointing out that De’Aaron Fox was at the other end of the swap, that argument isn’t going to fly.
Fox is certainly better at creating for others, but their scoring outputs are similar, and Tatum is more efficient there. More importantly, Tatum’s size (five inches taller than Fox) and defensive versatility might make him more suited to the ongoing positionless revolution.
And even if the Kings were higher on Fox at the time of the draft, Sacramento still could’ve taken him at No. 3, and it would have had the 2019 pick Boston used on Romeo Langford when Sekou Doumbouya, Matisse Thybulle and Brandon Clarke, among others, were still available.
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You might argue that this one belongs alongside the other deals that haven’t aged much, but the price Philadelphia paid to get Tobias Harris is almost alarming in hindsight.
Harris a good player, but giving up Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, two first-round picks and two second-round picks for him, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott screamed desperation.
If you factor in the five-year, $180 million contract to which the 76ers re-signed him in 2019, which may or may not have been influenced by Philadelphia thinking the cost was already sunk, the deal might look even worse.
Four picks, a promising young shooter and $180 million is an awful lot to give up for “slightly above average,” though.
In recent weeks, the 76ers have slid down the standings to sixth place in the Eastern Conference. But when Joel Embiid is healthy, they still have the ceiling of a title contender.
Philadelphia winning it all would make this inclusion look silly. The 76ers eventually trading Harris and recouping some of the cost might, too. But for now, it’s tough to find a positive spin for this trade.
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Thought was given to making this a two-fer.
After all, the Denver Nuggets traded the draft rights to Rudy Gobert (59.7 win shares, 13th among all NBA players over the course of his career) to the Utah Jazz for Erick Green (0.1 career win shares) and cash (well, you get the picture).
Gobert is a two-time All-NBA center and the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, though Denver eventually landing Nikola Jokic (on track for all-time-great status) at the same position certainly mitigates the pain.
The one that likely hurts more is trading the rights to Donovan Mitchell for Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon. Those two have combined for fewer than half of Mitchell’s 14.3 win shares since the deal. But that doesn’t even begin to tell this tale.
Mitchell has been the leading scorer on a playoff (or playoff-bound) team for each of his three NBA seasons. His early-career play and numbers are reminiscent of Damian Lillard and Dwyane Wade. And the idea of him playing off Jokic’s ridiculous playmaking is more than intriguing.
Of course, the Nuggets might be quick to point out that they’re among a handful of teams who have legitimate title aspirations. And with Jamal Murray and Gary Harris on the roster, there’s no guarantee they would’ve picked Mitchell had they kept the selection.
Still, the team might be wise to avoid any draft-day deals with the Jazz from now on.