Remember watching Tyrus Thomas during LSU’s run to the Final Four in the 2006 NCAA Tournament? The man was an animal, destroying top overall seed Duke during a Sweet 16 matchup and then hanging 21 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and blocking three shots against Texas in a regional final. He went from being a complete nobody during the preseason to looking like a surefire NBA star.
So what happened? He was drafted No. 4 overall by the Blazers and immediately traded to Chicago (along with forward Viktor Khryapa) for the rights to LaMarcus Aldridge, the No. 2 pick. From there, Thomas proceeded to get hurt seemingly every month, fight coaches, and never become a full-time starter, while Aldridge is now one of the best post players in the league, a two-time All Star who just averaged 21.1 points a night this year. Think the Bulls are still regretting this one?
Or how about in 2001 when Pau Gasol was chosen third overall by Atlanta and then shipped to the Grizzlies in exchange for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. From there, Gasol went on to produce what is shaping up to be a Hall of Fame career. Abdur-Rahim had three productive seasons in Atlanta, averaging around 20 points a night in all of them, before being traded to Portland. That hardly makes up for the loss of the Spaniard.
Those awful trades spawned the idea for this piece. What are some of the worst recent draft day trades? There have been a lot. Here are five more of the worst ones.
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Rockets trade RUDY GAY for SHANE BATTIER
Houston had landed in the lottery due to injuries to their star players Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Heading into draft night in 2006, the Rockets could’ve definitely used an infusion of talent right away, especially on the wing. They were coming off a season where David Wesley (!) had started 59 games for them while Keith Bogans was one of their core swingmen. Who would happen to slide down to eighth overall, gift-wrapped perfectly for Houston? Rudy Gay, the 6-8 athlete out of UConn, who has become one of the best players from the 2006 class (still not saying very much, though).
Yet Gay would never don white and red. He was shipped away to the Memphis Grizzlies that very same night in return for veteran forward Shane Battier. Battier, however, wasn’t a complete bust for the Rockets. He played a pivotal part of the team’s playoff run in 2009 that saw them advance to the Western Conference Semifinals and stretching the Lakers to seven games. All Gay did was become an offensive force, leading the Grizzlies in scoring before he was traded to the Toronto Raptors midway through this season.
The problem with this deal, and while we love Battier, is that the Rockets desperately needed size, youth and athleticism on the perimeter. They also had a bunch of castoffs masquerading as third scorers; after T-Mac and Yao, Houston had zero playmakers. Under Jeff Van Gundy, they were always going to be good defensively, which was the main sticking point in getting Battier, but Gay would’ve given them the jolt they needed to get out of the first round.
Grizzlies trade KEVIN LOVE for O.J. MAYO
Usually when you draft a player ahead of another team, it’s because you want that player yourself. This wasn’t the case in the 2008 Draft. The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted heralded shooting guard O.J. Mayo third overall and with the fifth pick in the draft, the Memphis Grizzlies selected the talented Kevin Love. Both teams seemingly got the player they wanted, but within minutes of Love’s selection, word was spreading that Memphis would not be his final landing spot. Soon Love and Mayo were swapped for each other, along with Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins going to Minnesota while Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric and Greg Buckner joined Mayo with the Grizzlies.
We have seen in the past five years how mistaken the Grizzlies were. Kevin Love has become, arguably, the NBA’s top power forward and a nightly double-double machine. Mayo hasn’t been a bust, but by his third year, he was regulated to a sixth man role. As great a low post tandem as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have became in Bluff City, just imagine for a second what Gasol and Love would look like if they were playing together.
Suns trade RAJON RONDO for cash
The Phoenix Suns don’t necessarily have the best track record of drafting, and keeping, star players. They traded away Steve Nash and Jason Kidd early in their careers. In 2005, the Suns had the No. 21 pick and used it to select Rajon Rondo. Before I delve further into this trade let me say this: if you’re a fan of a team and the Suns trade a point guard they draft to you, then odds are that you are receiving a future All-Star in return. While Rondo was not seen by many scouts as developing into a future All-NBA team member, the fact is that the only thing the Suns got in return for this pick was cash and a future first-rounder. That makes it abominable in hindsight (and was just a small part of a long line of stupid mistakes the Nash-era Suns made).
With former Celtics assistant general manager Ryan McDonough — one of the big reasons Rondo ended up in Beantown — now on board in Phoenix, maybe they will do a better job of keeping talent at home.
Bucks trade DIRK NOWITZKI for ROBERT TRAYLOR
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the greatest European players to ever set foot on a NBA court. He has won a MVP, a NBA championship, a Finals MVP, is an 11-time All-Star selection and has been the mainstay in the Dallas Mavericks success the past 12 years. However, he was almost a Milwaukee Buck. With the ninth pick in the 1998 Draft, the Bucks selected the then-skinny 20-year-old from Germany and then proceeded to throw him away for 40 cents on the dollar. If you were to merge Pat Garrity and Robert Traylor into one player, they still wouldn’t be half as good as Nowitzki has proven to be. The Bucks haven’t had a player with the star power of Nowitzki since Sidney Moncrief was putting his versatility and defensive expertise on display for them. It’s been 15 years since this trade happened, but I bet a day doesn’t pass where the Bucks don’t think about what could’ve been.
Hornets trade KOBE BRYANT for VLADE DIVAC
Kobe Bryant is the closest thing one could ever come to being another Michael Jordan. Five NBA Titles, one MVP, two Finals MVP, 12-time All-Defense, 15 All-Star appearances, four All-Star Game MVPs, career per-game averages of 25.5 points, 5.3 boards and 4.8 assists. The Black Mamba has easily put himself in the discussion for top-five all time in NBA history during his 17-year career, and it’s far from over. This Achilles injury won’t keep him off the court forever.
During the 1996 NBA Draft, all the hype and hoopla was around No. 1 overall selection Allen Iverson. Yet the best player in that draft was selected 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets. Kobe Bryant, at 17 years old, took his draft hat and strutted across stage like a man who planned to remain in the spotlight for years to come, even if that wasn’t going to be in Charlotte. The Hornets weren’t big fans of Bryant at the time and shipped him quickly off to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac. While Divac was no scrub during his day, this trade turned out to be utterly one sided in the end. Divac and the Hornets went on to make two playoff appearances while Bryant has been responsible for five new championship banners that hang in the Staples Center.
What are some of the worst draft day trades you can remember?
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