The 15 Most Lopsided Trades In NBA History

Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson (photo. Zach Wolfe)

The trade deadline truly brings out the worst in desperate franchises looking to make a hasty deal. The main facilitator behind huge deals made at the deadline is the fact that the main player the deal is surrounding may leave during free agency, leaving the team he plays for with nothing other than an open roster spot. Rather than risk that, teams will instead pull the trigger and trade their star player for what usually turns out to be a couple of draft picks, aging veterans or unproven players.

They receive items like that in exchange because they’re desperate and the other team knows it.

But this list of the ten most lopsided trades goes far beyond deadline deals. It also includes just all-around what-were-you-thinking deals. The type of deals that decades later still leave heads being scratched and thoughts of what-could-have-been?

This list does not include the exchange of draft picks–draft picks are involved, but we tried to steer clear of trades centered around picks–so don’t expect to see the infamous deals that sent Kobe Bryant from Charlotte to Los Angeles and Dirk Nowitzki from Milwaukee to Dallas… or the worst one involving Bill Russell. It wasn’t Charlotte’s fault that they didn’t realize the 18-year-old out of high school would become one of the 15 best players ever, nor was it Milwaukee’s fault that the skinny German kid would turn out to be a prolific shooter well into his 30s.

This list is more about the deals that sent established players from one place to another, rather than the trades where general managers are screaming “If we only knew” to themselves. This is dedicated more to incompetence and questionable decision-making than the luck of the draw in draft-day deals.

We salute those who made the NBA interesting in the duldrums of the regular and offseason by listing ten deals that were so egregiously lopsided that we continue to question them to this day.

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15. Los Angeles trades Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins to Washington for Kwame Brown and Laron Profit.
Imagine if the Los Angeles Lakers decided to hold onto Lamar Odom and Caron Butler after the deal that sent Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat, rather than sending Butler to Washington after one season. One thing is for sure: Kobe Bryant isn’t demanding a trade from the Lakers if he has Butler running small forward and Odom running power.

It’s still bewildering as to why the Lakers traded away a 24-year-old Caron Butler after averages of 15.5 points and 5.8 boards per. It’s even more bewildering as to why the Lakers traded Butler away for the likes of Kwame Brown and Laron Profit.

It’s not as if Kwame was on the cusp of finally breaking out. He played only 42 games and averaged seven points and 4.9 rebounds the year before, yet the Lakers deemed it a good idea to trade away a promising young player for one of the biggest draft busts ever.

As expected, Brown was a significant disappointment and locally despised by the fanbase. He’d play two-and-a-half seasons with the Lakers, averaging no better than 8.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per, before getting sent to Memphis in an improbable deal that brought in Pau Gasol.

Butler, on the other hand, would spend four-and-a-half eventful years with the Washington Wizards and form one of the league’s better trios with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. He’d average better than 20 points per game twice and would make his only two All-Star Games with Washington.

In case you were wondering, Laron Profit played 25 games with the Lakers and was out of the league after one year with the team.

14. Deron Williams traded by the Utah Jazz to the New Jersey Nets for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, cash, a 2011 first-round draft pick (Enes Kanter was later selected) and a 2013 fist-round draft pick (Gorgui Dieng was later selected).
It’s looking more and more like Deron Williams was simply a product of Jerry Sloan‘s system than he was a legitimate All-Star that rivaled Chris Paul as the league’s top point guard.

Since leaving the Utah Jazz for the grey pastures of the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, Williams has done little to boost his stock, and has actually been pushed far out of the top five point guards conversation. In fact, it’s arguable he’s even in the top ten at this point.

Raking in nearly $20 million per season, Williams has failed to make the past two All-Stars Games and is currently averaging 13.4 points and 6.6 assists, the lowest numbers he’s put up since his rookie season. Shaun Livingston, his backup, has had a far more encouraging season at a far less price.

While the Utah Jazz isn’t well-off either, although they’ve been winning games lately with Trey Burke healthy, they do have a far more promising future and cap space. In the deal that sent Deron to New Jersey, the Jazz received Derrick Favors, a rebounding machine who dominates the paint, Devin Harris, who turned out to be past his prime, and a pair of first-rounders.

Favors, at the age of 22, is averaging 12.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game this year. One of those first-rounders was flipped into Enes Kanter, who is among the league’s best rebounders at the age of 21, while the other pick, which was turned into Gorgui Dieng, was traded to Minnesota for Trey Burke.

While the Nets window is open for two or three years at most, Utah can develop Burke, Favors and Kanter over the next decade and become a powerhouse once again.

13. Boston Celtics get Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk; Phoenix Suns get Joe Johnson
Hard to believe Joe Johnson, the owner of one of the most egregious contracts in sports history, was once a middling player looking for playing time on a mediocre Boston Celtics team.

That was the case in the 2001-02 season, though, as Johnson, a 20-year-old at the time, started 33 out of 48 games for a Celtics team that was giving more minutes to the likes of Kenny Anderson and Tony Battie. Johnson didn’t exactly help his case, however, when he was shooting 27 percent from three and averaging 6.3 points per contest.

Rather than wait it out for the player they spent a lottery pick on in the 2001 Draft, the Celtics simply decided to trade Johnson away for a 30-year-old Rodney Rogers and a journeyman in Tony Delk, whose stint with Boston represented the fifth team he played for in seven years.

Neither player accomplished much in their time with Boston. Delk managed to have the best shooting season of his career in 2003, but was traded the next season along with Antoine Walker for Raef Lafrentz, while Rogers played 27 games with Boston in the half-season he played with the Celtics.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns received Joe Johnson and were converted into a respectable team that consistently made the playoffs in part because of Joe’s shooting touch that we’ve all become familiar with.

Johnson averaged 40 minutes per game in two of three full seasons he played with Phoenix, while shooting 48 percent on five three-point attempts per contest in his final year with the club in the 2004-05 season. By the time he left, the Suns were a 62-win club that made the Western Conference Finals. The Celtics, meanwhile, continue to flirt with mediocrity before finally landing Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in miracle deals that resurrected the franchise for the first time in two decades.

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