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Not all NBA trades have happy endings. While some have equitable returns for both squads, there are those that end up unbelievably lopsided.
Here are 10 of the worst trades in NBA history:
10. Charles Barkley to Phoenix Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry by Philadelphia 76ers (1992)
Stuck in mediocrity with the Philadelphia 76ers after the franchise lost Moses Malone and Dr. J to father time, Charles Barkley was a young stud who openly demanded a trade. Finally, the Sixers dealt Barkley to the Phoenix Suns in 1992 for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry.
Sure, Hornacek would later get traded to the Utah Jazz, where he played a key role during their championship runs in the ’90s, but Charles Barkley was the “Round Mound of the Rebound”—a monster rebounder and one of the league’s top scorers. Barkley’s arrival led to the rise of Phoenix in the NBA with the Suns reaching the 1993 NBA Finals after topping the league with a 62-20 record. Although the team lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, Barkley was named NBA MVP.
Phoenix made four straight playoff appearance with Sir Charles on board while the 76ers didn’t make the playoffs over the next six years.
9. Butch Lee and a 1982 first-round pick to Los Angeles Lakers for Don Ford and a 1980 first-round pick by Cleveland Cavaliers (1980)
The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t become Showtime until Magic Johnson had a running mate in Tinseltown.
Back in 1980, the Lakers traded Don Ford and a then-current draft pick for Butch Lee and a future pick. Forget who Don Ford and Butch Lee were—the 1982 pick the Lakers got became James Worthy.
Known for his Statue of Liberty dunks and for pioneering the finger roll, James Worthy’s speed and ability to finish the break made him thrive in Pat Riley’s high-octane offense, which we now know as “Showtime.”
Showtime won three NBA titles with James Worthy running the break, including the “guaranteed” back-to-back titles of 1987 and 1988. Big Game James became a seven-time NBA All-Star and was named as 1988 Finals MVP.
On the other hand, the Cleveland Cavaliers used their pick to draft Chad Kinch 22nd overall. Kinch played just one season in the NBA.
8. Scottie Pippen and a 1989 first-round pick to Chicago Bulls for Olden Polynice, a 1988 second-round pick, and a 1989 first-round pick by Seattle SuperSonics (1987)
Early in his career, Michael Jordan was a scoring machine who electrified NBA crowds with his high-flying acrobatics. Although his Bulls won memorable playoff series matchups, they were never in title contention until Batman got his Robin.
That day came in 1987 when the Bulls immediately traded No. 8 pick Olden Polynice and future draft picks to the Seattle Supersonics for Central Arkansas’ Scottie Pippen, who was the No. 5 pick in the draft. Pippen slowly broke into Chicago’s rotation until he became the prototype of what we now call the “point forward” position.
Playing sidekick to Michael Jordan, Pippen was instrumental in the Bulls’ six championships during the 1990s. He was a member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and was included in the NBA’s 50 greatest players of All Time.
Olden Polynice had superstar potential coming straight from high school, but he never fully developed that potential and retired in 2004.
7. Julius Erving to 76ers for $3 million cash by New York Nets (1976)
Julius Erving played five seasons for the New York Nets in the ABA. During those five season, the Nets won two ABA titles and Erving was named MVP three times.
When the Nets decided to join the NBA in the 1976-77 season, they allowed the Philadelphia 76ers to buy out Erving’s contract with the Nets for $3 million, or approximately the same amount they paid the NBA in expansion fees. Although this was not officially the reason for trading Erving for cash, it would appear that giving away their franchise player for cash paid for their entry into the NBA.
Dr. J paved the way for high-flyers like Dominique Wilkins, Clyde Drexler, and even Michael Jordan. Erving also won one MVP award with the Sixers in 1981 and one NBA title in 1983.
6. Robert Parish and No. 3 pick in 1980 (Kevin McHale) to Boston Celtics for No. 1 pick and No. 13 pick in 1980 by Golden State Warriors (1980)
When the Golden State Warriors traded Robert Parish and the No. 3 pick of the 1980 draft to the Boston Celtics for the No. 1 and 13 picks, that trade was still up for grabs. The Warriors selected Joe Barry Carroll with the first overall pick, which made the trade look even at that point. However, when the Celtics picked Kevin McHale third overall, the trade became one-sided.
Carroll made the All-Star team in 1987 and averaged 20-plus points in four seasons, but he never lived up to his potential and was even deemed as “Joe Barely Cares” or “Just Barely Carroll” during his playing days.
On the other hand, Parish and McHale teamed up with Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, and Danny Ainge to lead the Boston Celtics to a decade-long rivalry with the Lakers in the ’80s. That starting unit won three NBA titles in their prime.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Wesley to Lakers for Dave Meyers, Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters, and Elmore Smith by Milwaukee Bucks (1975)
In 1971, Lew Alcindor teamed up with the newly acquired Oscar Robertson to give the Bucks their only title in franchise history. After leading Milwaukee to the best record in the NBA, Alcindor also won the first of his six NBA MVPs that season. One day after winning the NBA title, Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That name change would later lead to his transfer to the LA Lakers.
Citing that the Midwest didn’t fit his cultural needs, Jabbar demanded a trade to the Lakers or the Knicks in 1974. That wish was granted in 1975 when Kareem was shipped to the Lakers along with Walt Wesley for four players that included Junior Bridgeman.
Along with Magic Johnson and James Worthy, Abdul-Jabbar would lead the Lakers to five NBA titles in the 1980s. He also won three MVP awards with the Lakers and retired as the NBA’s all-time scoring leader at that time.
4. Wilt Chamberlain to Lakers for Darrall Imhoff, Jerry Chambers and Archie Clark by 76ers (1968)
To this day, the motive for trading Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers is being disputed.
Some say that Wilt had a dispute with then-owner Irv Koslov over the alleged ownership deal promised to him by co-owner Ike Chapman, who had just passed away. Others say that Chamberlain demanded for a trade after coach Alex Hannum left. There were also other personal reasons like Wilt had become too big for Philly and he loved LA because of the women. Whatever the real reason was, Chamberlain won his only Finals MVP with the Lakers in 1972 when he led them to their first ever title since moving to Los Angeles.
Chamberlain finished his storied career with the Lakers, where he still holds numerous scoring records. However, the record that stands out the most and the one that he probably “earned” in LA was his claim to having gone to bed with over 20,000 women.
3. Dirk Nowitzki and Pat Garrity to Dallas Mavericks for Robert Traylor by Bucks (1998)
This 1998 draft-day trade is one that Mark Cuban will forever remember.
After the Milwaukee Bucks selected Robert “Tractor” Traylor with the No. 6 pick in the 1998 draft, they traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for No. 9 pick Dirk Nowitzki and Pat Garrity.
Traylor was a highly touted prospect as a member of the second version of the “Fab Five” in Michigan, but he just played seven NBA seasons and never lived up to his billing.
On the other hand, the Mavs then immediately traded Pat Garrity to the Suns for Steve Nash. With Nowitzki and Nash, the Mavs became perennial title contenders in the 2000s. Nowitzki would go on to become the greatest player in Dallas Mavericks history by winning the MVP in 2007 and leading the Mavs to their only NBA title in 2011.
2. Kobe Bryant to Lakers for Vlade Divac by Hornets (1996)
Kobe Bryant was an 18-year-old high school phenom who made the leap to the NBA in 1996. Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, Bryant was traded on draft day to the Los Angeles Lakers for Serbian center Vlade Divac. At that time, Divac was a popular Laker and a valuable contributor to the team, but Jerry West saw a diamond in the rough in Kobe Bryant.
The trade not only gave the Lakers the cap space to sign Shaquille O’Neal, but it paved the way for the arrival of the current face of the franchise.
O’Neal and Bryant would combine forces to lead the Lakers to a three-peat from 2000 to 2002, while Kobe won two more championship rings in 2009 and 2010. Bryant is now a 16-time All Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA team and a 12-time All-NBA defensive team selection. The 2008 MVP and 2009-10 Finals MVP is currently the NBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer.
1. Bill Russell to Celtics for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan by St. Louis Hawks (1956)
Widely considered as one of the greatest players in NBA history, Bill Russell is the epitome of a winner. Russell led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA titles while winning five NBA MVP awards during the ’60s. This is when the Celtics established themselves as the greatest dynasty in professional sports history. That being said, not many know that Russell wasn’t supposed to be a Celtic.
Bill Russell was selected by the St. Louis Hawks with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1956 draft. They then immediately traded his draft rights to the Celtics for six-time All Star Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. The trade turned out to be the most lopsided trade in NBA history as Russell went on to play an unmatched legendary career while the Hawks won just one NBA title in 1958.