This past decade has seen many changes in the NBA world. Super Star free agents joining forces, a record-setting Golden State squad, a movement towards player empowerment and even the rise of “Burner” accounts created by players. Those pale in comparison to some of the worst transactions of the decade. Here’s my list of the top three worst deals from the past decade:
1. Oklahoma City Trades James Harden For 5 Cents On The Dollar
Between 2009 and 2012, the Thunder had developed into one of the up-and-coming powerhouses in the West. Spearheaded by the duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and a supporting cast of Serge Ibaka, James Harden and late arrival Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder forced their way to the 2012 finals. Their appearance was due in larger part to the emergence of 6th Man of the Year, James Harden.
Being a small-market franchise with an ever-growing payroll, the Thunder were facing going over the salary cap and entering the luxury tax threshold. This led to a major decision: to offer the max contract to either Serge Ibaka or James Harden. They decided to offer the max deal to Ibaka, cementing him as their starting Power Forward.
After failed negotiations, the Thunder sent Harden, Daequon Cook, Lazar Hayward and Cole Aldrich to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, the 12th overall pick (Jeremy Lamb), a 2013 1st and 2nd round pick, and a 2014 1st round pick.
Kevin Martin lasted one sole season, Jeremy Lamb stuck around for three lackluster years, the 2013 2nd round selection (Alex Abrines) and the 2014 1st round selection (Mitch McGary) amounted to mild role players for two and three seasons (respectively).
Steven Adams remains the only piece and bright spot for the Thunder. This trade effectively ended the Thunders’ title contention and would begin the trend of departures with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook eventually following suit.
While Oklahoma City began to slowly crumble, the Rockets saw Harden develop into the MVP he is today. His presence has put Houston on the map and has even revived the odd career of Mike D’Antoni.
If only Oklahoma City waited another season, they would have raked in the benefits from the NBA’s $24 Billion TV deal. That deal raised the salary cap high enough to where offering Harden a max contract would not have put them in tax territory. They do say “Hindsight is 20/20” for a reason.
2. The Boston Heist – The Fleecing Of The Brooklyn Nets
The Celtics and the Nets were in polar opposite positions in 2013. The Celtics had finally accepted the end of the “Big 3” era and wanted to rebuild. The Nets had just arrived in their new home of Brooklyn, NY just a year prior.
Under new owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets were pressured to complete his “Five Year Plan”, which consisted of delivering a title in Brooklyn within five years of his ownership.
Facing this pressure, general manager Billy King was attempting to acquire all-star talent to pair with the scoring combo of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson and big man Brook Lopez. On the night of the 2013 NBA draft, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge took advantage of the pressure King faced and concocted the most lopsided deal in NBA history.
The Celtics sent aged veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, DJ White and a 2017 2nd round pick to Brooklyn. The Nets sent Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and four 1st round selections and swaps for the coming years. In particular, 2014, 2016, 2017 (selection swap rights), and the 2018 draft.
At first glance, the Celtics seemingly took salary matching and expiring contracts and a treasure chest of picks. The Nets brought added experienced (albeit very seasoned) veterans, which put them directly in the conversation for title contention. Boy, were they wrong.
Posting a worse record than the prior season, the Nets lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Miami Heat. Brooklyn’s newly aged core lasted all of a season and failed to live up to the expectations. Pierce and Terry both departed, leaving Garnett the sole remaining piece. He stayed for half of the following season before returning to Minnesota.
Conversely, the Celtics took two seasons to return to a plus .500 record. While Boston slowly rebuilt their winning ways, the Nets’ draft picks proved to be invaluable. The Celtics managed to turn their draft picks into James Young, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum (pick swap) and Collin Sexton.
Brooklyn has recovered well in the last year and has become a fun team to watch. The Nets’ future is brighter than ever with the recent signings of Kevin Durant and (ironically enough) Kyrie Irving.
That being said, Danny Ainge turned his aged stars into valuable trade assets, as well as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. This trade goes down as “the worst trade on draft night” in NBA history. One could argue possibly the most lopsided trade in NBA history.
3. The Spurs Give Toronto Their First Title
Although the Raptors had one season with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green on their roster, the result outweighs the departures.
Kawhi Leonard made it known that he wanted out of San Antonio. The reports all float around his uncle Dennis (Kawhi’s trusted advisor) being at odds with the Spurs,and Kawhi being frustrated with the handling of his hamstring injury. The real reason for his departure is akin to “how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?” We may never know.
What we do know is that the Spurs were vehemently against trading Kawhi to the Western Conference. While the Lakers dangled a package of Brandon Ingram and picks, the Spurs were against the idea of even toying with a trade to LA.
The Clippers were among potential suitors but the Spurs took a stand against both franchises. This led to the Spurs looking out East and finding a very eager trade partner: the Toronto Raptors.
The stars aligned in Toronto. Fresh off of multiple playoff defeats at the hands of LeBron James, the Raptors looked to upgrade. DeMar DeRozan was the star prize for Toronto and faced the most scrutiny for his inability to push his team to a finals berth.
General manager Masai Ujiri did what he does best: he shipped DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and 2019 first round pick (Keldon Johnson) to San Antonio. In return, the Raptors received Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
While Kawhi’s free agency loomed, Toronto cashed in on his sole season up north. Just note some of the highlights:
- Kawhi knocked down the game seven and series-ending triple against the 76ers (effectively known as “The Shot”)
- After dropping two games, Kawhi led the Raptors back against the top-seeded Bucks
- Won the NBA finals (Toronto’s first title), and Kawhi was named Finals MVP (side note – the first to win finals MVP in both NBA conferences)
What has San Antonio done? The Spurs were knocked out of last years postseason in the first round. As for this season, they were on pace to miss the postseason, effectively ending coach Gregg Popovich’s 22-straight playoff appearances. Not to mention the league-wide rumblings of DeRozan’s displeasure in San Antonio.
For a one-season rental, this trade was nothing short of perfect for Toronto. As for the Spurs, the pieces acquired have not set them up for future success. The Spurs’ disregard for any Los Angeles based trade only adds to the burn. Pieces such as Brandon Ingram are prime examples of what “could have been”, and that’s why this trade is the third worst trade of the decade.