After weeks of speculation and bad optics, the Houston Rockets finally traded James Harden to the Nets on Wednesday, closing the book on one of the most complicated eras in the organization’s history. It was the culmination of a number of factors that have sent the organization into something of a tailspin the past few months and now offers a clean slate to start moving forward.
The blockbuster deal that sent Harden to Brooklyn — which involved four teams, multiple players, and countless assets — is a rarity in the NBA these days. Former MVPs who are still in their prime simply don’t get traded that often. Which got us thinking: how many former MVPs have been part of midseason trades?
It turns out the list is a small but distinguished one. And as you’ll discover below, it’s a mixed bag, but it’s important to keep in mind that not all were still in their prime at the time of their trade. Regardless, it’s fascinating to see some of the deals teams have finagled in the middle of a season to try and improve their roster for a title run or simply build toward the future.
In no particular order, these are the former MVPs who have been at the center of midseason trades.
Younger fans might not be familiar, but Bob McAdoo was a force of nature in his day. During his 14-year NBA career, McAdoo was a five-time All-Star and won the regular-season MVP award in 1975 as a member of the Buffalo Braves. McAdoo was actually traded several times during the regular season after that, first to the Knicks the following year, then to the Celtics in 1979.
But it was a midseason trade by the Nets that sent him to the Lakers in 1981 that would help cement his legacy. McAdoo would go on to win two championships with the Showtime Lakers in 1982 and 1985, ensuring his rightful place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
One of the most dominant athletes in any sport, the Big Dipper logged the type of career numbers that players today couldn’t even dream of. Granted, the competition wasn’t exactly on par with the elite athletes you see today, but his accomplishments are no less impressive.
Wilt was a four-time MVP winner (1960, 1966, 1967, 1968), and at the All-Star break in 1965, the then-lowly Warriors opted to send him to the 76ers, in no small part because of financial reasons. Two years later, Wilt would win his first NBA championship with Philly. The team they beat? The Warriors.
The big fella was the subject of all sorts of trade rumors during his tumultuous tenure with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and though he eventually got his wish and ended up in Miami alongside Dwyane Wade, he was never actually traded midseason while still in his prime.
As far as MVPs, it’s crazy to think that Shaq just has the one (2000), and if you were to ask him…well, you don’t even have to ask, he’s fond of telling anyone who’ll listen that Steve Nash stole at least one that he believes is rightfully his. In any case, after winning a title with the Heat — putting himself one ring ahead of Kobe for a brief period — Pat Riley traded him to Phoenix during the 2008 season where he would become the Big Shaqtus and join forces with trophy thief Nash.
Despite efforts in Cleveland and Boston, Shaq wouldn’t go on to win anymore titles or Finals MVPs, and in general, the less said about those last few stops the better.
During the early 2000s, Garnett had established himself as a dominant force in Minnesota, which culminated in his lone regular-season MVP award in 2004 and a run to the Western Conference Finals, where they would fall to the Lakers in six games. His journey would eventually take him to a championship with the Celtics in 2008 alongside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, followed by an ill-fated stint in Brooklyn.
Midway through the 2015 season, however, Garnett agreed to waive his no-trade clause so that he could return to the Timberwolves, where he would finish out his career with the organization where he spent some of the best years of prime, mentoring young talent like Karl-Anthony Towns.
Iverson is the only player on this list that has the dubious distinction of being at the center of two separate midseason trades, one right after another. The Answer had been named league MVP during the 2001 season and had led the Sixers to a Finals appearance against the eventual champs, the Lakers, but that would end up being the pinnacle of his complicated career.
Ongoing issues with coaches and management eventually led to the Sixers ending their rocky relationship in December of 2006 when they traded him to the Nuggets. Together with Carmelo Anthony, they were the No. 1 and 2 scorers in the NBA at the time, but their partnership never quite found its footing, and the Nuggets would go on to trade Iverson to the Pistons in November of 2008.
He continued on a steep decline from there, but in the years since, both his image and his legacy has recovered as he has once again become beloved among fans and players who hold dear his Hall-of-Fame career.
Derrick Rose will likely go down as one of the NBA’s biggest what-ifs. As the youngest MVP in league history, Rose took home the award in 2011 when he was just 22 years old. As with Iverson, that lone MVP season would end up being the apex of what appeared to be a legendary career in the making.
Multiple injuries and surgeries derailed things from there. Rose made stops in New York and Cleveland after his Bulls stint came to an end, and prior to the trade deadline in February of 2018, the Cavs unceremoniously traded him to the Jazz, who promptly released him. Rose, however, would go on to have a resurgence in Minnesota and has continued to prove that he can still be a contributing member on an NBA roster with his current team in Detroit.