10 Most Impactful Trades In NBA History

Miami Heat Introduce LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade
Miami Heat Introduce LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade
Dushyant Srivatsa

Winning an NBA title involves a lot of pieces to fill up the puzzle. Other than the players doing their job on the court, the management and executives of the team need to be at their A-Game as well. In certain cases, they look to the draft or a free agent to find a cornerstone of their franchise or even a player to support an existing franchise player. In other cases, they look to make the smartest trade available to them. This list could be either the best trades or the worst ones depending on who you support.

Here are some honorable mentions. Some of these trades left an impact, but never resulted in a title. Others, haven't managed to win a title, but still, have time to do so:

Steve Nash (Mavericks to Suns), James Harden (Thunder to Rockets), Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen (Timberwolves/Supersonics to Celtics), Tracy Mcgrady (Raptors to Magic), Mark Aguirre (Mavericks to Pistons), Jason Kidd (Suns to Nets), Alonzo Mourning (Hornets to Heat), Kawhi Leonard (Pacers to Spurs), Clyde Drexler (Trailblazers to Rockets)

Having said that, let's get to the top 10 most impact trades in NBA history:

#10 Shaquille O'Neal (Los Angeles Lakers to Miami Heat - 2004)

Shaquille O'Neal Press Conference
Shaquille O'Neal Press Conference in 2004

After eight seasons and a three-peat with the Los Angeles Lakers, "Shaq" was traded in a shock deal to the Miami Heat in 2004. The deal involved Caron Butler, Brian Grant and Lamar Odom, along with a first-round draft pick in 2006 (Jordan Farmar).

This set the stage for both teams to win titles in the coming seasons.

The Heat, who had the dynamic duo of O'Neal along with a young and rampant Dwyane Wade saw success first by winning the title in 2006.

The Lakers though, reached the Finals three times in a row between 2008-2010 winning the title twice in the process. Odom, who was directly involved in the trade, was an integral piece of their title runs. The trade also allowed them to free enough cap space to sign Pau Gasol in 2008.

This trade in many ways benefited both teams and resulted in a total of four finals appearances and three championships between the two.

#9 Dirk Nowitzki (Milwaukee Bucks to Dallas Mavericks)

What could have been?
What could have been?

This is one of the most lop-sided trades in the history of the league.

In 1998, the Milwaukee Bucks held the ninth pick in the Draft and went with the young twenty-year-old German. They decided to trade up though, for the number six pick Robert Taylor. This would go on to become the biggest mistake the franchise had made since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Robert Traylor was in the league only for another eight years. He averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in his career and the Bucks traded him after just two seasons.

Dirk, on the other hand, is currently in his twentieth season with the Mavericks and has become an icon not only in the franchise but among the current and following generations of stretch-forwards.

He won a championship and Finals MVP in 2011. He is a thirteen-time All-Star and was named the regular season MVP in 2007. He will also retire as arguably the greatest player to come from Europe. It's safe to say that the Mavericks made a smart decision to trade down to the ninth pick and show their faith in a young twenty-year-old European sharpshooter.

#8 Dennis Rodman (San Antonio Spurs to Chicago Bulls)

Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman

Most people ignore that in 1995 Michael Jordan returned towards the end of the regular season. They reached the second round of the playoffs where they lost to the Orlando Magic. During the off-season, the Bulls were looking for some strength in the paint having lost Horace Grant in 1994. They took a gamble on the volatile 34-year-old Rodman sending Will Perdue and some cash in return. The gamble paid off and the system worked wonders.

There were some questions asked when the trade was made because most people felt that Rodman would not be able to see eye-to-eye with Pippen and Jordan due to his past affiliation with the Detroit Pistons during their rivalry with the Bulls in the late 80s. This was soon put to rest.

Rodman averaged 14.9,16.1 and 15.0 rebounds a game for the next three seasons and was a constant menace to any opposing offense. He also had the uncanny knack of getting into the opposition's head and thus make Jordan and Pippen's work on the other end much easier.

Bulls were able to clinch another three-peat between 1996-1998.

#7 LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat)

Miami Heat Introduce LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade
Miami Heat Introduce LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade

Most people think that this was a free-agent signing. This actually was a sign-and-trade for one of the greatest players of all time.

In 2010, the Miami Heat sent two first-round picks, 2012 second-round pick (from Pelicans), future second-round pick (from Thunder), option to swap 2012 first round pick and a large trade exception ($15 million) to Cleveland in exchange for LeBron James.

The results of the trade were felt immediately. Miami, who hadn't reached the Finals since 2006, made the Finals four times in a row, winning it twice in the process.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, on the other hand, went from being title contenders to holding the first pick in the draft in the season following James' departure.

The trade eventually benefited Cleveland too. They held the first pick for three of the next four years. They picked Kyrie Irving in 2011. They also were able to trade Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love. The Wiggin-Love deal was eventually the final piece that LeBron required to move back to his hometown in 2014.

#6 Kevin Mchale & Robert Parrish (Golden State Warriors to Boston Celtics)

Kevin McHale (L) and Robert Parish (C)

This was a very interesting trade at the time. The Celtics had the NBA's Rookie of the Year Larry Bird but had aging players around him such as Dave Cowens and Pete Maravich.

This changed in 1980 when Red Auerbach made a deal with the Golden State Warriors to send both of Boston's first round picks (1st and 13th) for the Warriors' pick (3) and Robert Parrish who was in his fourth year in the league.

This went on to be the most lopsided trade of the decade.

The Celtics chose Kevin McHale with the third pick and the results were immediate with Boston winning a title the following season. They would also reach the Finals four more times in the 80s, winning two of them.

The Warriors chose Joe Barry Carroll (1) and Rickey Brown (13) with their two picks. Carroll wasn't a bad player and even made an All-Star appearance. Brown, on the other hand, averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds for his career.

On the whole, this trade resulted in three championships in the 80s for the Celtics. Golden State, on the other hand, had to wait till 2015 for another Finals appearance.

#5 Scottie Pippen (Seattle Supersonics to Chicago Bulls)

Supersonics V Bulls
#33 Scottie Pippen

In 1987, Michael Jordan had just played three years in the league. He was still growing as a player and a person. The Bulls also recognized that if they were to make a deep run in the playoffs, he would require help.

Scottie Pippen wasn't seen as a must-have in the 1987 draft, but due to his athleticism and versatility, the Bulls were eager to snap him up.

So when the Seattle SuperSonics selected Pippen with the No. 5 overall pick, the Bulls sprung into action. Chicago sent center Olden Polynice, a second-round pick in the 1988 draft, and a first-round pick in the 1989 draft to Seattle; in exchange, the Bulls received Pippen and a 1989 first-round draft pick.

It's safe to say that Chicago got the better end of the deal with Pippen helping Jordan and the Bulls to six titles. He was also a seven-time All-Star and was named in the NBA's 50th anniversary All-Time team.

Polynice, on the other hand, finished with an average of 7.8 points and 6.7 rebounds for his career and the Sonics still haven't managed to win a title. They did, however, reach the Finals in 1996 where they ironically lost to the Bulls in six games.

#4 Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia 76ers to Los Angeles Lakers)

Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain

This trade had most of the world scratching their heads. In the 1968 season, Chamberlain had just averaged 24.3 points, 23.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game. He also led the 76ers to a championship in 1967.

The Lakers, led by Jerry West and Elgin Baylor had just lost the 1968 NBA finals to the Boston Celtics and were looking for the final piece of their puzzle to beat the seemingly immortal Celtics.

This led to them sending Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff to Philadelphia for Chamberlain.

The Lakers took some time to gel as a unit. They found it particularly tough in Wilt's first season in L.A. He was even benched a few times during the regular season. Los Angeles made the finals in 1969 and 1970 but lost both times.

Finally, it all paid off in the 1971-1972 season when the Lakers went an incredible 69-13 and won the NBA Finals by beating the New York Knicks.

This can be considered as the worst trade ever made by a team when looking at it from Philadelphia's perspective. The three players they received had a combined total of two All-Star appearances while playing for the 76ers.

#3 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks to Los Angeles Lakers)

Los Angeles Lakers
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (R)

After the end of Wilt Chamberlain's career, the Lakers needed to reload their team to get back to the top of the league.

At around the same time, Abdul-Jabbar had expressed his feeling that Milwaukee did not fit his cultural needs and requested a trade to either Los Angeles or New York.

Hence, a trade for Abdul-Jabbar that involved sending Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters had been arranged in 1975.

The deal was huge. Abdul-Jabbar spent the rest of his fifteen-year career in Los Angeles. He won five titles whilst in L.A. and three MVP awards along the way. He also became the highest scorer in the history of the NBA finishing with 38,387.

The Bucks had to rebuild after the trade and did a very good job at it. They landed players such as Bob Lanier, Sydney Moncrief and Marques Johnson who were all multiple time All-Stars.

This ensured that the Bucks would also be extremely competitive for the coming years but unfortunately could not replace a player with the same caliber as Abdul-Jabbar. They are still looking for their first title since the trade took place.

#2 Kobe Bryant (Charlotte Hornets to Los Angeles Lakers)

Kobe Bryant (Center)
Kobe Bryant (Center)

The 1996 NBA draft was stacked with huge names such as Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Antoine Walker, Stephon Marbury and Ray Allen.

The Lakers at the time were trying to snatch Shaquille O'Neal from Orlando and couldn't really afford to use any more cap space to get themselves a trade for a player in the lottery but West was convinced that the seventeen-year-old Kobe Bryant would be the perfect partner for O'Neal.

With many teams skeptical of drafting a player straight out of high school, there wasn't any real interest from teams for Bryant.

Charlotte, who had the 13th pick, required a big man to replace Alonzo Mourning. The Lakers had Vlade Divac. The deal seemed perfect for the Hornets who had no intention of drafting Bryant with their pick.

The deal was agreed the night before the draft and the Lakers informed the Hornets whom to draft five minutes before the pick had to be made.

This deal resulted in the Lakers freeing enough cap space to sign O'Neal as well to form one of the greatest duos in NBA history. This also cemented Jerry West as not only one of the greatest players of all time, but also one of the greatest executives the league had ever seen.

#1 Bill Russell (St.Louis Hawks to Boston Celtics)

Bill Russell (Image courtesy:
Bill Russell (Image courtesy:

This was an extremely unfortunate situation for the St.Louis Hawks. They held the second pick in the 1956 draft and with the Rochester Royals deciding to go for the two-time All-American Sihugo Green, the Hawks didn't have enough money to sign Bill Russell from San Fransisco.

Luckily for the Celtics, they did. They shipped Cliff Haegen and Ed Mcauley to St.Louis in turn for the 6'10" center. Boston also managed to draft Tom Heinsohn and K.C Jones in the same draft.

The trio was an integral part of the Celtics dynasty the followed. Jones and Heinsohn won eight titles each. Russell, on the other hand, won eleven championships during his thirteen seasons in the league.

The Hawks did win a title after the draft had taken place and reached the finals on three other occasions. They lost to Boston on each of those attempts in the final.

Edited by Yash Matange
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