The NBA Draft is one of the most exciting parts of the NBA season because teams get to pick new players who could be their next superstars. But not all teams keep their picks, some draftees are immediately traded after getting picked and without being able to play for the team that drafted them.
We’ve seen so many of these draft day deals in the past and while these worked out for some teams, others found themselves at the wrong side of the transaction. Let’s take a look at some of the most lopsided draft day trades in NBA history:
Atlanta Hawks 2001 NBA Draft
The Atlanta Hawks selected Pau Gasol with the 3rd overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft and then traded him to the Vancouver Grizzlies for Shariff Abdur-Rahim. At that time, it was a deal that looked to favor the Hawks because Abdur-Rahim was Vancouver’s best player and the only bright spot in their struggling new franchise. He even made the All-Star team in 2002 while playing for the Hawks.
But while Abdur-Rahim was traded in 2003, Pau Gasol emerged as the first franchise star of the Grizzlies and led them to their first playoff appearances. Gasol moved to Los Angeles in 2008 and he helped the Lakers to three straight NBA Finals appearances, winning back to back titles in 2009 and 2010. He would go on to become one of the most successful players from Europe.
Indiana Pacers 2011 NBA Draft
The Indiana Pacers drafted a guy named Kawhi Leonard with the 15th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft and then traded him plus two other players to the Indiana Pacers for George Hill who was then a budding shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs. Hill would go on to help the Pacers with their playoff wars before he was traded to the Jazz. He’s since played for the Kings, Cavs, and this past season, with the Milwaukee Bucks.
On the other hand, Kawhi Leonard blossomed under Gregg Popovich and became one of the key members of the team. He helped the Spurs win the 2014 NBA title and was named Finals MVP that season. Leonard was named as NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016 and he also made the All-NBA First Team in 2016 and 2017. Last season, Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever NBA title and won his second Finals MVP award.
Golden State Warriors 1998 NBA Draft
In 1998, we saw a pair of high profile teammates from the University of North Carolina enter the NBA draft. The Toronto Raptors selected Antawn Jamison with the 4th pick of the draft while the Golden State Warriors picked Vince Carter one pick later. The teams would agree to a trade and Toronto added cash to complete the deal. Jamison would go on to have a successful NBA career but his accomplishments were nowhere near Vince Carter’s.
Carter would go on to become the first superstar in Toronto Raptors’ franchise history. His highlight moves and dazzling dunks created “Vinsanity”. Carter would become the face of the new franchise and he would go on to win the Dunk Contest and lead Toronto to several playoff appearances. Carter made the All-Star team from 2000-07 while playing for the Raptors. He would go on to become the first player in NBA history to play in four different decades. During the 2019-20 season, Carter played for the Atlanta Hawks in what was likely his last NBA season. Jamison retired in 2014.
Golden State Warriors 1980 NBA Draft
The Golden State Warriors acquired the 1st and 13th overall picks of the 180 NBA draft by giving up the 3rd pick and four-year center Robert Parish to the Boston Celtics. At that time, the consensus top pick was Joe Barry Carroll from Purdue and he was considered to be a generational talent. The Warriors picked Carroll and then selected Rickey Brown with the 13th pick of the draft.
The Celtics drafted Kevin McHale with their third pick and he would go on to become one of the most unstoppable post players in the history of the game. McHale, Parish, and Larry Bird would create the core of the Boston Celtics team which rivaled the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1980s. The Celtics would win four NBA titles with Parish and the big man finished his NBA career with over 23,000 points plus nine All-Star appearances. McHale would also make seven All-Star teams during his career.
Seattle SuperSonics 1987 NBA Draft
During draft day 1987, the Seattle SuperSonics traded Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice and future draft considerations. Polynice was a serviceable seven-foot center who averaged 7.8 points and 6.7 rebounds during his NBA career. But he was never a star and wasn’t able to help the Sonics win an NBA title.
On the other hand, Pippen would go on to be the Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman. Together they would lead the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles during the 1990s. Pippen would blossom into a seven-time All-Star and a three-time All-NBA First Team member. By the time his career was over, Pippen was named as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. More importantly, Michael Jordan wouldn’t have won all those titles without him.
Milwaukee Bucks 1998 NBA Draft
The Milwaukee Bucks selected Dirk Nowitzki with the 9th overall pick of the 1998 NBA Draft but immediately traded him to the Dallas Mavericks along with Pat Garrity for Robert Traylor. Traylor was the 6th overall pick of the same draft and was one of the most sought after big men in college. However, Tractor Traylor’s NBA career never took off as he suffered from weight issues before passing away in 2011. He finished with career averages of 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds and played only two seasons with Milwaukee.
Nowitzki meanwhile went on to play a total of 21 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks. After adjusting to the NBA game, Nowitzki redefined the power forward position and is the prototype for the stretch four positions. His ability to shoot the three-pointer and play from the outside started a trend that is now a norm in the modern NBA. He led the Dallas Mavericks to their first and only NBA title in 2011 and was named Finals MVP. He is considered as the most successful foreign-born player in the NBA.
Charlotte Hornets 1996 NBA Draft
The Charlotte Hornets selected a lanky 17-year old Kobe Bryant with the 13th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft but because Bryant said that he would only play of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Hornets traded him on draft day for the Lakers’ starting center Vlade Divac. Divac was a terrific player who was coming off his best season ever at 16.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He would end up playing only two seasons in Charlotte as he went on to play for the Sacramento Kings during their playoff run during the 2000s.
On the other hand, the Lakers would go on to win a total of five NBA championships with Kobe Bryant. Bryant teamed up with Shaquille O’Neal to give Los Angeles three straight championships from 2000-02 and then he led the Lakers to back to back NBA titles in 2009-10. He would win one NBA MVP award, two Finals MVP, and earn 14 All-Star game appearances. He would finish his career as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history and the best Laker ever.
St. Louis Hawks 1956 NBA Draft
The worst draft day trade in NBA history happened in 1956 when the St. Louis Hawks traded Bill Russell to the Boston Celtics. The Rochester Royals picked first in the draft and they selected Sihugo Green after Russell demanded a $25,000 bonus to the team which drafted him. The Hawks picked Russell at #2 but they traded him to the Celtics for Boston’s “top player” Ed McCauley and Cliff Hagan.
On draft day, the trade looked in favor of St. Louis as they had just added the Celtics’ best player to a team that finished second in the East the previous season. McCauley finished his career as a seven-time All-Star and even won the NBA title in 1958. However, Russell went on to lead the Celtics to a total of 11 NBA championships over 13 years. No question, this was the most lopsided draft-day trade in NBA history.