Here are the most significant NBA trades – for better or worse – of the last decade:
10. Nuggets trade Carmelo Anthony to Knicks in 2011
The Anthony trade saga loomed over the league for a while, which is partially why this trade – and the next one – rank ahead of a few higher-impact deals like Chris Paul to the Rockets, Celtics trading the No. 1 pick (Markelle Fultz) to 76ers for the No. 3 pick (Jayson Tatum) and the Clippers trading a first-rounder that became No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving to unload Baron Davis’ contract. Anthony was a very good player. But New York had to give up so much to acquire him then had to pay him such a large share of the salary cap, it made winning around him difficult. The Knicks mostly weren’t up to the task. Denver got several players and picks – Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, a first-rounder used to become Andre Iguodala and a first-rounder that became Jamal Murray – that helped the Nuggets in multiple eras of winning.
9. Magic trade Dwight Howard trade to Lakers in 2012
This trade set all four involved teams in motion. After a lengthy drama, Orlando moved its big star and settled into mediocrity. The Lakers got a hobbled Howard for a year, showed cracks in their foundation, watched Howard leave for the Rockets in unrestricted free agency then stunk a while. The 76ers got Andrew Bynum, who turned out to be damaged goods and was mostly finished. That failure made The Process look appealing. Andre Iguodala helped the Nuggets win 57 games, though Denver lost in the first round.
This draft-night trade will shape these teams for a long time. Dallas will probably come out ahead. Doncic and Young are both already stars. Doncic might already be a superstar. The extra pick the Hawks got for moving down from No. 3 to No. 5 turned into Cam Reddish, whose early returns haven’t been encouraging. But Young is good enough to at least pose a challenge as this trade gets re-analyzed and re-re-analyzed over the next decade.
7. Celtics trade Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Nets in 2013
Of all Brooklyn’s ill-fated moves of this era (Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson) this was the coup de grace. With pick swaps, the Nets pushed the limits of the Stepien rule – and paid for it. Brooklyn wound up sending Boston the No. 17 pick in 2014, No. 3 pick in 2016, No. 1 pick in 2017 and No. 8 pick in 2018. Garnett and Pierce were over the hill, and their big contracts left the Nets stuck. The Celtics meanwhile gained assets essential to acquiring Kyrie Irving and Jason Tatum. Ironically, Boston built a winner far quicker than Brooklyn.
6. Pelicans trade Anthony Davis to Lakers in 2019
Davis’ trade request sabotaged the Pelicans’ season and created a stir that hovered over the whole league. Davis got his wish, joining Los Angeles. New Orleans got major return. And the Lakers got a second superstar to pair with LeBron. It’s a little risky with Davis approaching unrestricted free agency. But if he leaves, it changes only the winners of the trade. It’d still be a big deal.
5. New Orleans Hornets trade Chris Paul to Clippers in 2011
This trade is most infamous for the trade it wasn’t. Ostensibly acting as governor for the league-owned Hornets, NBA commissioner David Stern nixed a trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers. Lakers fans still haven’t forgiven Stern, and theories run rampant about what he truly meant by “basketball reasons.” Paul led the Clippers to their best era in franchise history, throwing lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Though the Clippers never advanced past the second round, Paul helped the beleaguered franchise gain credibility, paving the way for L.A. to get Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
4. Spurs trade Kawhi Leonard to Raptors in 2018
This trade won Toronto a championship. It’s hard to beat that. Though some have downplayed the risk – especially in hindsight – the Raptors took a real chance by disrupting their very-good status quo to raise their ceiling. They stayed only one season, but Leonard and Danny Green – an underrated accompaniment – delivered immediately. By getting so little (DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a draft pick that became Keldon Johnson) for its superstar, San Antonio might have sealed the end of its empire.
3. Pacers trade Kawhi Leonard to Spurs in 2011
The Spurs didn’t want to move Hill, a nice example of their developmental system. Leonard became the crown jewel of San Antonio’s culture. He grew into the Spurs’ best player, winning 2014 NBA Finals MVP as they lengthened their dynasty. San Antonio and Indiana were right about Hill’s potential. He became a quality starter on the championship-contending Pacers that fought the Heat hard, but twice came up short. For a while, this trade seemed like a win-win. But Leonard was so good, the Spurs came out way ahead, even considering his unpleasant departure from San Antonio.
2. Clippers trade for Paul George in 2019
L.A. surrendered an unprecedented package – five first-round picks, two first-round pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. Worth it for just George? No. But this trade cinched the Clippers getting Kawhi Leonard, too. There’s no guarantee this works out for L.A. Leonard and George are each locked up only two seasons. But this trade created an instant championship contender. That’s worth the potentially massive cost. Oklahoma City got a huge jump on its rebuild, gaining a threatening bunch of picks for a team that once drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in quick succession.
1. Thunder trade James Harden to Rockets
This trade undermined a budding dynasty in Oklahoma City and established Houston as a force for years to come. We’ll never know how Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden would have developed together. But considering the Thunder never won a title with any of them, it’s natural to wonder, “What if?” Questions about why Oklahoma City made this trade, particularly centered on the luxury tax, continue to this day. Even Rockets general manager Daryl Morey admits he didn’t foresee Harden becoming this good. But Houston targeted Harden and gets all the credit for landing a superstar just before everyone realized he should be valued like one.