Blockbuster trades alter the destiny of NBA franchises as much as it changes the future of superstar players. Some blockbuster trades led to stars winning NBA titles while some players blossomed into bigger stars in their new cities.
In the history of the NBA, there have been many blockbuster trades that have been consummated. However, some were nearly done but never actually got over the line.
Let’s take a look at the top blockbuster trades in the NBA that never came to fruition:
Charles Barkley to the L.A. Lakers
Before he was traded to the Phoenix Suns, Charles Barkley was supposed to be going to Tinseltown. In 1992, Barkley said he received a call from his agent saying that the Sixers were going to move him to Los Angeles. Because he got excited, Barkley started drinking after lunch.
Three hours later, his agent called him up again and told him that Philly had backed out and the deal was off. Barkley ended up playing for the Suns that night and he played drunk. That didn’t matter though as he still scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sir Charles ended up getting traded to the Phoenix Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang. He would lead the Suns to the 1993 NBA Finals where they lost to the Chicago Bulls. Had the Lakers trade materialized, Los Angeles would’ve sent James Worthy and Elden Campbell for Barkley and Ron Anderson.
Scottie Pippen to the Seattle SuperSonics
During Michael Jordan’s first retirement, issues were surrounding Scottie Pippen and the Bulls were anticipating possible conflict over a new contract for Toni Kukoc. Meanwhile, the Seattle SuperSonics duo of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton started to show kinks in their partnership, and coach George Karl wanted to break it up before it got worse.
A deal was in place and Pippen was supposed to be reunited with the team that traded him on draft night. The Sonics would finally get their hands on Pippen, a talent which they shouldn’t have traded in the first place. But the Sonics owner Bob Ackerly decided against his basketball staff who favored the deal.
Pippen remained with the Bulls and he would help Jordan lead Chicago to three more NBA titles. The Sonics made it to the Finals in 1996 but the Bulls beat them in six games. If that trade pushed through, the Bulls would’ve gotten Kemp and Ricky Pierce and the teams would’ve exchanged draft picks that year.
Tracy McGrady to the Sixers
The Philadelphia 76ers nearly paired Allen Iverson with Tracy McGrady in 1999 and the duo could have become one of the most explosive backcourts ever. But Toronto reportedly got cold feet after journalist Stephen A. Smith broke the news out and the Raptors backed out from the deal.
The deal was probably the biggest mistake in Billy King’s GM career. Although King was infamous for trading the Nets’ draft picks for a washed-up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce when he was in Brooklyn, the T-Mac trade would have been huge for Philly. When McGrady was traded to Orlando, he became a star. The Sixers would’ve become a serious contender for years with a prime Iverson and an up and coming McGrady.
Back in 1999, McGrady had almost the same statistics as Larry Hughes and Toronto was supposed to add a draft pick to complete the trade. While McGrady became a star right after he was dealt with the Magic, Hughes never really became a star in the league although he was a solid role player throughout his career.
Kobe Bryant to the Detroit Pistons
Kobe Bryant ended his career playing 20 seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers which was the longest tenure for a player with one team until Dirk Nowitzki later broke that mark. But while we could never imagine what Kobe would look in another uniform, that almost happened in 2007.
Bryant demanded a trade in 2007 and the Lakers had a deal in place to send him to the Detroit Pistons for Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, and a boatload of draft picks. Both teams already agreed to the trade but there was one hitch: Kobe had a no-trade clause in his contract and he wasn’t going to wave it.
When Bryant demanded a trade, he had a list of preferred destinations and Detroit wasn’t one of them. Lakers owner Jerry Buss also reportedly convinced Bryant to stay in L.A. Bryant did and he would win two more NBA titles in 2009 and 2010 with Pau Gasol as his partner.
Chris Paul to the L.A. Lakers
In 2011, the Los Angeles Lakers completed a three-team deal that would have landed them Chris Paul. Under the agreement, the Charlotte Hornets would get Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, and a draft pick from the Rockets. Houston would get Pau Gasol in the trade.
Technically, this trade did happen but only briefly because it was “vetoed” by NBA commissioner David Stern due to “basketball reasons”. Five years later, Stern would reveal that there was no cancelation made because there was nothing to void in the first place as he didn’t approve of the trade.
Paul was eventually dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 first-round draft pick. As for the Rockets, the trade paved way for the James Harden trade while the Hornets wouldn’t have drafted Anthony Davis if the trade went down.
James Harden to the Golden State Warriors
When the Oklahoma City Thunder decided that they would trade James Harden, GM Sam Presti’s first call was to the Golden State Warriors. Presti wanted Klay Thompson plus a draft pick. The Warriors would consider the deal if the Thunder picked up Andris Biedrins or Richard Jefferson knowing that they would pay the luxury tax in 2014 with Harden’s deal. Presti never called back.
Harden ended up in Houston where he blossomed from a Sixth Man of the Year winner to an MVP. The Beard could not break out in OKC because he played alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. When Mike D’Antoni gave him the chance to run the Rockets, he flourished.
It would’ve been interesting how Harden would have fared if he ended up getting paired with Steph Curry. For sure, the Warriors would have been a different team with a ball-dominant Harden playing for them. I think the Warriors made the right move as they wouldn’t have been the same team if Thompson weren’t around during their title runs.
Kevin Love to the Golden State Warriors
After the San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals, the Big Three era ended and LeBron James was a free agent. The Warriors were coming off a 51-31 season where they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Lob City Clippers. Coach Mark Jackson was fired and Golden State was looking to make roster changes to take the next step forward.
Kevin Love was coming off 26 points and 12 rebounds season and Warriors GM Bob Myers was looking at Love to help the team get to the next level. At first, he was reluctant to trade Thompson but because they needed a big move, he was ready to deal his sharpshooter to Minnesota.
But Jerry West didn’t approve of the deal and because he was an adviser for the Warriors at that time, the front office listened to his voice. West felt that Thompson was going to be a special player and that he and Curry would make a great backcourt someday. West was right.
Kevin Garnett to the Los Angeles Lakers
Before he was sent to Boston, Kevin Garnett almost became a Laker. Los Angeles was ready to send Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and additional pieces had the Timberwolves agreed. Well, Minnesota did agree to the Lakers’ initial offer but it was Garnett himself who didn’t want to go to Los Angeles.
KG cited that there was friction between Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson during that time and he didn’t want to go to a bad situation. In a sense, Garnett was correct because when he went to Boston, he won his only NBA ring there when he played alongside Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo.
As for the Lakers, they would get the big man they needed in Pau Gasol and he helped Kobe win back to back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010. It’s interesting to note that the Lakers faced Garnett and the Celtics during the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2009 with both sides taking one win each.