The best trades in NBA history

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

March 24th, 2021

The NBA’s trade deadline is fast approaching, which has made us think about the best deals in league history. Some of these moves helped lead franchises to glory, while others reshaped the landscape of the entire league. Let’s take a look!

5. Mark Aguirre to the Pistons (1989)

Trade details: Traded by the Dallas Mavericks to the Detroit Pistons for Adrian Dantley and a 1991 first round pick.

Detroit had gotten to the cusp of glory in the late-1980’s, but it wasn’t until Mark Aguirre came to town that the Bad Boys won it all. The Pistons dealt Adrian Dantley to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Aguirre, who came to be a valuable member of back-to-back championship teams in 1989 and 1990.

4. Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to the Celtics (1980)

Trade details: Traded by the Golden State Warriors with a 1980 1st round draft pick (Kevin McHale) to the Boston Celtics for a 1980 1st round draft pick (Rickey Brown) and a 1980 1st round draft pick (Joe Barry Carroll).

Many trades on this list consisted of a team finding a missing piece. In this one, Boston Celtics president Red Auerbach orchestrated a brilliant move that got him two franchise players. He traded his No. 1 overall pick to the Golden State Warriors for Parish and the No. 3 pick, which turned out to be McHale. Those two, along with basketball icon Larry Bird, helped form the nucleus of a squad that won three NBA titles.

3. Kobe Bryant to the Lakers (1996)

Trade details: Traded by the Charlotte Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac.

Talk about killing two birds with one stone. The Lakers were looking to move Vlade Divac in an attempt to free up cap space that would be used to acquire Shaquille O’Neal. They found a willing trading partner in the form of the Charlotte Hornets, who, in return, sent along the draft rights to a guard from Lower Merion High School. Shaq and Kobe would, of course, win three NBA titles together.

2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers (1975)

Trade details: Traded by the Milwaukee Bucks with Walt Wesley to the Los Angeles Lakers for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith, and Brian Winters.

In 1975, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who would eventually become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, was shipped to L.A. after six seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. Kareem would help lead the Lakers to five titles during the 1980’s, and retired in 1989 with six championship rings.

1. Scottie Pippen to the Bulls (1987)

Trade details: Traded by the Seattle SuperSonics with a 1989 1st round draft pick (Jeff Sanders) to the Chicago Bulls for Olden Polynice, a 1988 2nd round draft pick (Sylvester Gray) and a 1989 1st round draft pick (B.J. Armstrong).

Michael Jordan’s longtime wingman could have been a Seattle SuperSonic. The Bulls traded up to snag Pippen in the 1987 NBA Draft, and while he took a few seasons to come around, the small forward became an indispensable part of both Bulls teams that three-peated during the 1990’s.

Without Pippen, does Michael Jordan ascend to the heights he reached during his career? It’s a fascinating question, and because I’d argue the answer to that question is no, this has to top the list.