Every unbalanced NBA trade has a winner and a loser.
A Lakers fan would argue their team’s 1975 trade for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a huge win; a Milwaukee Bucks fan might still be beating their head against the wall.
When we talk about bad trades, we’re talking about deals where commentators might use the word “blunder” to describe them even before the season starts. NBA teams aren’t afraid to make big-time deals, and the 2021-22 season saw a number of huge deals shape the year.
And for one, we might use the term “unmitigated disaster.” Sorry, Lakers fans. You can’t win them all.
Russell Westbrook: Worst trade of the NBA Season
You can see the logic behind the Lakers’ trade for Russell Westbrook. It just was so, so fundamentally flawed. Westbrook’s production was declining in recent seasons, along with his sagging 3-point shot. But the Lakers couldn’t resist. “If only they had resisted,” Lakers fans might say.
The Lakers traded three solid starters and a first-round pick for Westbrook just before last summer’s draft. Westbrook proceeded to flame out with the Lakers in 2021-22. He had his worst scoring output in 12 years while his win shares flopped to a mere 1.7; all three players the Lakers sent away had better win-share seasons.
Montrezl Harrell had 7.0 win shares while enjoying one of his best seasons and landing on a Charlotte Hornets team that made the play-in tournament. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 2.8 win shares for the Wizards. Kyle Kuzma averaged 17.1 points per game for Washington and had 2.0 win shares. Even the guy selected with the draft pick the Lakers sent away, Isaiah Jackson, had 1.4 win shares during a solid debut season.
The Lakers missed the playoffs. So did the Wizards. Losses all around.
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Other Trades that Went Poorly
Bye bye, Bagley
It was an open secret that Marvin Bagley, the former No. 2 overall draft pick, was going to leave the Sacramento Kings after this season. So the fact that Sacramento general manager Monte McNair was able to deal Bagley away and get three solid players in return was something of a magic trick. It helps that Bagley was packed into the largest trade of the season, a four-team deal, shipping players around from the Clippers, Bucks, Pistons and Kings. Milwaukee landed Serge Ibaka in the trade, who should help with postseason defense. The Pistons, who landed Bagley? They earned a D-minus grade from ESPN for their role in the deal.
Harden to 76ers, Simmons to Nets
James Harden wanted out of Brooklyn; Ben Simmons refused to play (or even practice) for the Philadelphia 76ers. My malcontent for yours? It worked out … kind of … for the 76ers. Philadelphia went 14-7 with Harden in the lineup, an uptick in win percentage from before his arrival. But Harden doesn’t stay content for long. This is a clear win-this-year-or-bust move. Simmons, meanwhile, might not even suit up for the Nets, who are also trying to win this year. Of course, the Nets also got shooting from the 76ers in Seth Curry and a pure big in Andre Drummond.
McCollum to New Orleans
The Portland Trail Blazers officially tore up their roster and started to rebuild. The rebuild picked up a little steam when they traded C.J. McCollum to the Pelicans. The Trail Blazers got a usable part in Josh Hart out of the deal and a first-round pick. The thing about that first-round pick: It would have been a lot better if the Pelicans missed the playoffs. But led by McCollum, New Orleans went 13-13 down the stretch and made the playoffs, keeping their first-round pick in the process. Portland will instead get the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick in 2025.
Best trade: Lonzo Ball to the Bulls
No traded player was more important to his team’s success this season than Lonzo Ball, the young point guard dealt by the New Orleans Pelicans to the Chicago Bulls before the season started. The Bulls went 27-13 in games before Ball was injured. They were clicking. The offense was ranked fourth in the league; the defense was ranked ninth.
Then, Ball tore his meniscus, and the rehab did not go well. The Bulls went 19-23 without Ball. More tellingly, the offense dove to 19th in the league, and the defense plummeted to 24th.
In return, all Chicago gave New Orleans was some aging spare parts, but the Pelicans still made the playoffs.
Of course, Chicago’s trade for DeMar DeRozan from San Antonio had more star power. DeRozan averaged 27.9 points per game for the Bulls while racking up 8.8 win shares. But DeRozan played in nearly every Bulls game, including the slide at the end of the year.
Other Trades that Went Well
Tyrese Haliburton for Damontas Sabonis
There were other players involved, but Haliburton-for-Sabonis was the rare trade that benefitted both teams, at least in the short term. The Indiana Pacers got Tyrese Haliburton, a young, creative guard with a big personality. The Sacramento Kings got rid of their glut of young guards and picked up a two-time, All-Star big man, Damontas Sabonis, to pair with De’Aaron Fox. Both players have years left on their contracts, and both have a decade or more left in their NBA careers.
Porziņģis to Washington
Kristaps Porzingis was unhappy playing second fiddle with Dallas; the Mavericks needed to deal him and got an above-average guard in Spencer Dinwiddie and 3-point gunner Davis Bertans in return. Both teams got better, in the long run and short term, with this deal.
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