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5 teams who won the NBA championship after a big in-season trade

The Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy on display.
The Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy on display.

NBA front offices usually go out in the NBA offseason and try to find all the pieces that they consider right for their teams to make a push for the NBA championship in the upcoming campaign.

However, it all comes down to the small details that separate winners from dreamers. Ultimately, some front offices could find a way to unlock the organization's potential by bringing in a player during the season and changing the entire plan that was prepared before the action began.


5 NBA championship teams that made big trades during the middle of the season

Last year, for example, the Brooklyn Nets seemed to have more than enough to compete in the Eastern Conference. The Nets had the likes of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the roster alongside other players who managed to make the 2020 NBA Playoffs without the team's superstars. Still, the front office went out and got James Harden in January from the Houston Rockets.

The LA Clippers also did something similar, although they went out and traded for Rajon Rondo, who they probably felt was a piece needed to control LAC's offense. Things ultimately did not work out for the Nets or the Clippers, and the teams that made it to the NBA Finals were those which carried on with their plan from the offseason.

However, the latter is not always the case. On several occasions, a mid-season trade has unlocked a team's winning spirit and taken it face-to-face with the Larry O'Brien trophy.

In this article, we will take a look at five teams that won the NBA title after making a significant mid-season trade.


#5 2018-19 Toronto Raptors

Marc Gasol #33 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.
Marc Gasol #33 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

To begin with, the Toronto Raptors' road to the 2019 NBA championship started with a big trade. That transaction put Kawhi Leonard in Canada and sent DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs.

However, a big mid-season trade helped the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors establish themselves as solid contenders. Their already strong defense was bolstered by bringing in Marc Gasol in exchange for C.J. Miles, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and a second-round draft pick.

Ultimately, Gasol helped the Raptors win the 2019 NBA championship after averaging 9.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and four assists per game in the regular season with 46/44/76 shooting splits.

During the 2019 postseason, he put up similar numbers with 42/38/87 shooting splits. In the NBA Finals, Gasol averaged 12 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while starting every game.


#4 1988-89 Detroit Pistons

The 'Bad Boy' Detroit Pistons.
The 'Bad Boy' Detroit Pistons.

The 'Bad Boy' Detroit Pistons had their core formed by Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman. But a move that was often underrated was a risky trade that sent the team's top scorer elsewhere.

During the Detroit Pistons' run to the 1988 NBA Finals (which they lost in heartbreaking fashion), Adrian Dantley, already a six-time All-Star with two scoring titles under his belt, led the team in scoring in the regular season and the NBA Finals.

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Mid-way through the 1988-89 season, on February 15th, 1989, Dantley was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Mark Aguirre. Aguirre was also a three-time All-Star and a top scorer.

The move ultimately proved to be a good one and helped the Pistons, with Aguirre helping the team win two consecutive NBA championships in 1989 and 1990. Aguirre did not score at the same level with the Pistons as he did with Dallas, but he was definitely a nice weapon to rely on in the team's offense.


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#3 2003-04 Detroit Pistons

2004 NBA champions, Detroit Pistons.
2004 NBA champions, Detroit Pistons.

Under Rick Carlisle, the Detroit Pistons reached the second round of the 2002 NBA Playoffs and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2003. During the 2003 NBA Playoffs, the team was swept by the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals, proving that Detroit had a good team but needed more to take the next step.

That next step started with Larry Brown taking over as head coach for the 2003-04 NBA season. The team got off to a 34-22 start before trading for Rasheed Wallace and becoming his third team of the season a little after the All-Star break.

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Although the Pistons were second in the East at the time and had a good defense (fifth-best in the NBA with a 96.4 Defensive Rating), the team improved its defense to 88.3 in the final 26 games of the regular season, with Wallace playing in 22 of those games.

Detroit eventually mounted a title challenge that was capped off with a 4-2 win over the Indiana Pacers (top seed in the East) in the Conference Finals and a comfortable series win (in five games) against the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal LA Lakers in the NBA Finals.

The Pistons then came within one win of repeating their run as NBA champions, and eventually made it to every Eastern Conference Finals until 2008.


#2 1981-82 LA Lakers

Bob McAdoo with the LA Lakers.
Bob McAdoo with the LA Lakers.

The 1981-82 LA Lakers' biggest move of the regular season came when the championship-winning coach from 1980, Paul Westhead, was fired 11 games into the regular season.

Pat Riley came in as Westhead's replacement and the team looked ready to compete for the championship again. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes formed the core of a stacked team.

On December 24th, 1981, as the LA Lakers were 24-7, the team traded a second-round draft pick to the New Jersey Nets for former NBA MVP Bob McAdoo. The forward was aged 30 at the time and his MVP season (1974-75) took place years ago.

However, the move proved effective for the LA Lakers in the 1982 NBA Playoffs, with McAdoo helping the team by recording a points-per-game average of 16.7 in 14 postseason games.

McAdoo provided 16.3 points per game in the team's six-game Finals series against the Philadelphia 76ers to lead the Lakers to the 1982 NBA championship.


#1 1994-95 Houston Rockets

Former Houston Rockets Robert Horry and Clyde Drexler share a laugh with former coach Rudy Tomjanovich as the team honors the 20th anniversary of back-to-back championships in 2015.
Former Houston Rockets Robert Horry and Clyde Drexler share a laugh with former coach Rudy Tomjanovich as the team honors the 20th anniversary of back-to-back championships in 2015.

The Houston Rockets were looking to defend their 1994 NBA championship in the 1994-95 campaig. The team had maintained its core from the 1994 title run, with Hakeem Olajuwon as the on-court leader and Rudy Tomjanovich on the sidelines.

Houston had a 29-17 record at the All-Star break and were playing well. However, a game after the All-Star break, the Rockets made a trade that brought in Clyde Drexler and sent Otis Thorpe to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Rockets were 30-17 before acquiring Drexler, but they only went 17-18 with him and finished sixth in the West.

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The Rockets entered the 1995 postseason without home-court advantage and looked set to be in for a tough run. But the Drexler trade eventually paid off, with the team successfully defending its crown with a unique championship run.

Houston won four series without home-court advantage and became the lowest seed to win an NBA championship. Drexler played an important role as the second option behind Olajuwon, averaging 20.5 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game in the 1995 NBA Playoffs.

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Edited by Anantaajith Ra
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