NBA Draft Day

Remembering the Most Notable NBA Draft Day Trades

Relive the excitement and drama of the biggest NBA draft day trades in history.

NBA draft day is one of the most important days in a team’s calendar. It’s the day when teams get a chance to add young talent to their roster, but for many of those teams, that young talent can make or break their future. 

However, for some teams, the draft day is not just about picking the best college kids; it’s also about making blockbuster trades that can change the course of the upcoming season. Here, we remember some of the most significant draft day trades in NBA history.

The Impact of Draft Day Trades on NBA Teams

In the NBA, draft day trades can be game-changers. They can help teams create championship contenders, shift power dynamics in the league, or set the foundations for future success. Draft day trades are all about taking chances and making bold moves. While they come with a degree of risk, the potential rewards can be a NBA title(s).

Top Most Memorable NBA Draft Day Trades

While there have been many significant draft day trades throughout NBA history, some stand out as the most memorable. Let’s take a look at our most historic.

The 1993 Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway Swap

In 1993, the Orlando Magic and the Golden State Warriors swapped their top draft picks. The Warriors selected Chris Webber with the 1st pick and traded him to the Magic for the 3rd pick, Penny Hardaway, and three future draft picks. Hardaway’s arrival in Orlando sparked a new era for the Magic, who were infants in the league, pairing Penny with Shaq. The duo went on to make a Finals run together, falling to the Olajuwon-lead Rockets in 1995.

However, Hardaway’s knee injury in 1997-1998 started to derailed his career, and he was eventually traded to the Suns for the ’99 season.

Webber, on the other hand, had a successful career in the NBA, playing for five different teams and making five All-Star appearances. He was also named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1994 and was a key member of the Sacramento Kings teams that made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2002.

The 1996 Kobe Bryant Trade to the Lakers

Kobe Bryant was selected with the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets, but he was quickly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac. The trade turned out to be one of the best in Lakers history, as Bryant went on to become one of the greatest players in NBA history, winning five NBA championships and numerous individual awards, all in LA’s purple and gold.

Divac also had a successful career in the NBA, playing for four different teams and making one All-Star appearance. He played a prominent role on that previously mentioned 2002 Sacramento Kings team, and was the GM for them after his playing career, stepping down in 2020.

The 1998 Dirk Nowitzki Move to the Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki was selected with the 9th pick in the 1998 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, but he was quickly traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Robert Traylor. The trade laid the foundation for the Mavericks’ success in the 2000s and made Nowitzki a legend with his patented one-legged fadeaway.

Nowitzki played his entire 21-year career with the Mavericks, making 14 All-Star appearances and winning the NBA championship in 2011. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history and will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2023.

Scottie Pippen’s Journey to the Chicago Bulls 

The Seattle Supersonics had drafted Pippen with the 5th pick and traded him to the Bulls for Olden Polynice and draft picks. This trade turned out to be one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history, as Pippen went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career in Chicago, winning six NBA championships alongside Michael Jordan.

After joining the Bulls, Pippen developed into one of the best all-around players in the league. He was a versatile defender, capable of guarding multiple positions, and a great scorer, capable of attacking the basket or hitting jump shots. Pippen was also an excellent passer, frequently setting up his teammates for easy baskets. His ability to do it all on the court made him an essential piece of the Bulls’ championship teams.

Ray Allen’s Trade to the Milwaukee Bucks

In 1996, Ray Allen was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 5th pick in the draft. However, he was immediately traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for Stephon Marbury. The trade turned Allen’s career around, as he became a star in Milwaukee and went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career, winning two NBA championships with the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.

After joining the Bucks, Allen quickly established himself as one of the best shooting guards in the league. But for those who don’t know hoop, Ray Allen was also a great athlete, capable of attacking the basket and finishing with authority. Go look that up on YouTube, he wasn’t just a pretty jumpshot. His scoring ability helped the Bucks become a playoff team, and he earned All-Star honors three times during his time in Milwaukee.

Pau Gasol’s Move to the Memphis Grizzlies

Pau Gasol was selected with the 3rd pick in the 2001 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks, but was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. This trade turned out to be a steal for the Grizzlies, as Gasol became a franchise player in Memphis. He led the team to the playoffs a handful of times and earned All-Star honors playing for the Grizzlies in 2006.

Gasol was a skilled big man who could score both inside and outside. He had a soft touch around the basket and was a great passer for a player his size. His success in Memphis eventually led to a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won two NBA championships alongside Kobe Bryant.

These draft day trades not only changed the course of these players’ careers but also impacted the NBA as a whole. They serve as a reminder of the importance of finding the right fit in the NBA and how a single trade can change the entire trajectory of a player’s career.

Honorable Mentions:

Kawhi Leonard traded to the San Antonio Spurs (2011):

Kawhi Leonard was originally selected with the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. However, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs on draft night in exchange for George Hill.

Leonard went on to become a key player for the Spurs, helping them to win an NBA Championship in 2014 and earning Finals MVP honors for his performance. He was later traded to the Toronto Raptors in 2018, where he led the team to their first NBA Championship in 2019 and won his second Finals MVP award.

Kevin Love traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves (2008): 

Kevin Love was selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the 5th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, but was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a package that included O.J. Mayo. Love went on to become an All-Star in Minnesota before winning an NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Bill Russell traded to the Boston Celtics (1956): The St. Louis Hawks drafted Bill Russell with the second overall pick in the 1956 NBA Draft and traded him to the Boston Celtics for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley. Russell would become the cornerstone of the Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years.

Vince Carter traded to the Toronto Raptors (1998): Vince Carter was originally drafted by the Golden State Warriors with the 5th pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, but was immediately traded to the Toronto Raptors for Antawn Jamison. Carter became a superstar in Toronto and is often credited with putting Canadian basketball on the map.

Rajon Rondo traded to the Boston Celtics (2006): Rajon Rondo was originally selected by the Phoenix Suns with the 21st pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. However, he was traded to the Boston Celtics on draft night, along with Brian Grant and cash considerations, for a future first-round pick. Rondo would play a key role in the Celtics’ 2008 Championship run.

Luka Dončić traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young (2018): In one of the most recent notable draft day trades, the Atlanta Hawks drafted Luka Dončić with the 3rd overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young, who was selected with the 5th pick, and a protected future first-round pick. Both Dončić and Young have since become All-Stars and are leading their respective teams.

Pau Gasol traded to the Los Angeles Lakers (2008): This wasn’t on draft day, but Pau again was a part of a notable trade that has had a significant impact on the NBA landscape which included the Grizzlies latest draft pick. The Memphis Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol and a second round pick to the Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, two first round picks, and the rights to Marc Gasol (Pau’s brother). Pau played a pivotal role in helping the Lakers win two NBA Championships in 2009 and 2010. It also gives us any reason to share the below Stephen A. Smith video. 

The Role of Front Office Competence in Draft Day Trades

While draft day trades are often strategic moves made by general managers; luck, timing and sometimes the NBA gods can play a significant role in the success or failure of these deals. The success or failure of a draft day trade often hinges on the ability to evaluate players accurately. Teams that have strong scouting departments and can accurately assess players’ potential have a better chance of success. Some of us NBA fans, are not so lucky.

Even with that, sometimes we sadly watch players careers combust in front of our very eyes. Injuries can derail even the best-laid plans. That is why we do not count championships before they are earned. We can never tell what is going to happen. I mean the list goes on with NBA players or athletes in general who we wish never got hurt and played to their fullest potential.

The Influence of Team Needs and Roster Construction

Finally, the success or failure of a draft day trade depends on a team’s needs and roster construction. A trade that works well for one team may not work for another, depending on their current roster. Teams must carefully evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and identify the right players to target. And again, we have seen teams that perform beneath expectations and have disappointed their respective fanbases. That is a story for another day.

Draft day trades are high-risk, high-reward moves that can change the course of a franchise’s future. As we’ve seen throughout NBA history, these trades can create championship contenders, shift power dynamics in the league, and shape the careers of NBA legends. They require skillful negotiation, careful scouting, and a little bit of luck. The key is to identify the right players to target and make bold moves that the horrible Twitter GM’s are not making. 


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