With the James Harden superstar trade officially done, another blockbuster deal is in the books. Throughout NBA history, trading players of this caliber is a rarity. Especially midseason. Only so many superstars have moved in the NBA’s 75-year history. Today we will be looking at these trades and counting down the five best superstar trades of all time.
For this list, we will be ranking only teams who were receiving the superstar in question, not the teams giving them away. We will look at what the team gave up to acquire the player and how much the player helped the franchise. Trades of his nature from the past few years will not be counted as they are too early to judge.
Top Five Blockbuster Trades in NBA History
5. Shaquille O’Neal Heads East to Miami
The year is 2004. Tensions are high in the Los Angeles Lakers locker room. They had to choose between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The Lakers chose to go young and shipped O’Neal off to the Miami Heat in exchange for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, and a future first which became Jordan Farmar.
Butler and Odom were both good players. Some would even say they bordered on all-star status in certain seasons. But Grant was out of the league two years after the trade and not much ever became of Farmar. As old as the Shaqtus was he could still play at a high level. He made two all NBA first teams in Miami. O’Neal’s biggest accomplishment as a Heat was helping the Heat win their first-ever championship.
So although the Heat did lose a few good pieces, they shouldn’t regret this trade for a second.
4. Kevin Garnett Goes to Beantown
In 2007, Kevin Garnett‘s 12-season tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves came to an end. The Big Ticket got shipped to the Boston Celtics in exchange for a massive package of players. Minnesota received Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, and two first-round picks. While the list of names is large, the amount of true impact players traded for Garnett remains minimal. Jefferson ended up as an all-star caliber player later in his career while the rest were good role players at best. Even the two picks that Boston sent out didn’t become anything significant. Johnny Flynn and Wayne Ellington became a bust and a bench player respectively.
So even if Boston had only gotten an average all-star back for that it wouldn’t have been a terrible trade. Luckily for them, they instead got a superstar who would go on to win defensive player of the year his first season in Beantown and lead the Celtics to two NBA finals and one championship. Garnett will forever be remembered fondly by Bostonians as the best superstar trade in franchise history.
3. Moses Malone to the City of Brotherly Love
In 1982, Moses Malone was arguably the best player in professional basketball. Coming off an MVP campaign and only two years removed from an NBA finals appearance, Houston had its franchise player for years to come. However, the Houston Rockets had recently come underneath new ownership and decided that they didn’t want to pay Malone as much as he wanted. So rather than let him walk for nothing in restricted free agency, Houston made a sign-and-trade with the reigning eastern conference champions; the Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia got the reigning MVP and only had to give up Caldwell Jones, who would leave Houston after only two seasons, and a first-round pick. The pick ended up becoming Rodney McCray, an average player.
The Sixers were coming off a season in which they almost won the title and replaced their average starting center with one of the best centers of all time. They instantly became the favorites. Philadelphia went on to win 65 regular-season games and following that up by winning the title. Malone won both the regular season and finals MVP awards. Safe to say the Sixers felt pretty good about their superstar trade.
2. Wilt Chamberlain Returns to Philadelphia
Wilt Chamberlain began his career with the Philadelphia Warriors until his third season when they moved to their current home in the Bay Area. By his 6th season, the Warriors were experiencing turmoil both on and off the court and decided to trade Chamberlain to the Philadelphia 76ers, formerly known as the Syracuse Nationals.
The 76ers’ robbery of Moses Malone somehow wasn’t the first time they made a superstar trade for pennies on the dollar. In 1965, the Warriors gave Chamberlain to Philadelphia for Paul Neumann, Connie Dierking, and Lee Shaffer. None of these players were of any note and only Neumann even lasted beyond that season with the Warriors. Shaffer preferred to retire rather than play in the Bay.
On the other hand, Chamberlain would go on to become the second player to ever win three consecutive MVPs. He won one in each of his three full seasons as a Sixer. Chamberlain even led the Sixers to their first championship in Philadelphia while setting the then NBA record for wins with 68 making this one of the better trades all time.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Goes to Hollywood
To this day, this superstar trade remains inexplicable. By 1974, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was already a Hall-of-Fame lock. He had three MVPs, made two NBA finals (winning one), and was only 27-years-old. Jabbar was tired of playing for the Milwaukee Bucks and wanted to move on to a big market. Specifically, New York (his home state) or Los Angeles (where he played college basketball). After one last injury-riddled season in Milwaukee, his wish was granted.
The Los Angeles Lakers got the best player in the NBA for shot-blocker extraordinaire Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, and rookies Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman. At face value, these players the Bucks acquired are mostly pretty good. Smith was an excellent rim protector and rebounder who provided the Bucks with one season of his service. Bridgeman was a serviceable starter who could score in bunches and Winters would go on to make two all-star games with the Bucks.
However, this package was not for just any player or even any superstar. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is highly regarded as arguably the greatest player of all time and for good reason. Despite being the oldest player in the trade, he would be the last to retire and won three MVPs, one finals MVP, and five championships over his 14 seasons in Los Angeles. Not to mention become the all-time leading scorer and make the all-star team in 13 of his final 14 seasons, making this one of the best trades in NBA history.
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