Home History Corner Ranking 5 Biggest Trades in NBA History

Ranking 5 Biggest Trades in NBA History

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The NBA has seen some of the biggest trades over the years involving high profile names and gigantic exchange fees. Many of these trades have been immensely successful, with bookmakers successfully capitalizing on the NBA odds, and turned the wheel of fortune for all parties – for the players involved and the franchise they joined.

Although not every blockbuster trade is meant to be a success, particularly decisive ones have even shaped franchise trajectories. Here are the 5 biggest trades in NBA history that rewrote the record books.

#5. Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat

Shaquille O’Neal’s high-profile trade to the Miami Heat came as a shock to many, given he was already deemed a legend in purple and gold. By the time the iconic duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had clinched a triplet of championship between 2000 and 2002, almost every other franchise in the NBA feared their indomitable partnership on the court.

With their chemistry on and off the floor, it seemed the two Lakers greats were absolutely untouchable. However, bedlam broke loose when things started going downhill following the 2003 NBA season.

Despite their regular season domination in the league, the LA Lakers seemingly fell short in the playoffs and after the 2004 NBA Finals loss – things started heating up between Shaq and the front office. The 7-footer alleged that the franchise wanted to accommodate Kobe better, and the relation between Shaq and the Lakers reached a breaking point when he blatantly demanded a trade right after the end of the 2003-04 season.

The Dallas Mavericks were the first to move for the three-time Finals MVP but backed-off when the Lakers demanded Dirk Nowitzki in return. Eventually the Miami Heat managed to land Shaquille O’Neal, who was already a three-time NBA Champion, two-time scoring Champion and three-times Finals MVP. Meanwhile, the Lakers received Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, and a future first-round draft choice in the trade.

And Shaq did not disappoint, he would become the driving force of the Miami-based franchise and propelled them to their first ever Championship glory in 2006, while Kobe Bryant’s Lakers struggled without their 7-footer center. Despite the expectations and controversy surrounding the trade, Shaquille O’Neal lived up to the hype and handed the much-coveted Larry O’Brien trophy to his franchise.

#4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers

When the Milwaukee Bucks traded Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Los Angeles Lakers, it was already a widely-talked about move. The fact that Abdul-Jabbar was possibly the most instrumental player in their squad and had led them to their first ever Championship glory in 1971, raised eyebrows all across the league when the trade was finalized.

Following a disastrous 1974-75 season in which he had to partially sit out due to injury, it was the Bucks center who originally put up the trade request. The Lakers were the first to lunge in for the superstar, already a three-time MVP, a Finals MVP and two-time scoring champion by then.

The Bucks traded reserve center Walt Wesley and Abdul-Jabbar for center Elmore Smith, guard Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman, along with an undisclosed exchange fee.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s move to Los Angeles turned out to be immensely successful. Across the next 15 seasons of one of the longest individual careers in the league, he went on to claim five more Championship rings, three more NBA MVPs, another Finals MVP and retired as the all-time scoring leader in league history with the purple and gold.

#3. Dennis Rodman to the Bulls

Dennis Rodman was already a rebounding beast by the time he rose to prominence with the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs. So when he was traded to the Chicago Bulls prior to the 1995-96 season, Spurs fans did not take the move kindly.

Rodman was partly traded because of his irregular habits and perennial conflicts with the team’s front office. The Bulls received the star forward, who had already won two Championships with the Pistons, in return for center Will Perdue and it needless to say that the trade was a blockbuster move.

Dennis Rodman would go on to team up with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to form one of the most formidable tridents in the NBA. Together they clinched the second three-peat of Championships in franchise history and were absolutely indomitable on the offense.

#2. LeBron James to the Heat

The infamous ‘LeBron James to the Miami Heat’ trade and one of the most high-profile sign-and-trade moves in the history of the NBA. LeBron’s widely televised ‘The Decision’ shook the entire Cavs fanbase, making him a controversial figure in the eyes of the Cavaliers faithful.

The telecast itself, broadcast from the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, garnered $2.5 million for the charity along with $3.5 million in advertising revenues. Bron, who was already a superstar, was the final piece in the Heat’s roster that saw them rise back to prominence as title contenders. The Cavaliers received two second round and two first-round draft picks with an option to swap first round picks with the Heat in 2012 as part of the sign-and-trade move.

Officially signing with the franchise on July 10, 2010, LeBron James led the Heat to four consecutive Finals, winning two as Finals MVP in 2012 and 2013. Although the greatest small forward of all-time would eventually make a return to his hometown in 2014, the level of dominance the trident of LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade displayed with the Heat in those four seasons remains the ultimate highlight of their franchise history.

#1. Bill Russell to the Boston Celtics

The fact that Bill Russell was only a rookie when Celtics HC Red Auerbach mapped a masterplan to land the future-Hall of Famer in Boston might undermine the magnitude of the trade. However, the ingenuity with which Auerbach made the trade possible is rivaled by one a few.

In the 1956 NBA draft, the legendary Celtics HC who is considered one of the greatest coaches of all-time, set his sight on the 6-foot-10 center with a solid resolve to land him in the team by whatever means necessary. Unfortunately for the Celtics, they didn’t have the first round picks required to sign Russell who would definitely be an opening round choice.

The kink that originally drove Auerbach’s ploy to succeed was the point that the talented center requested a $25,000 signing bonus to whichever franchise drafted him. Red Auerbach, with the help of Celtics boss Walter A. Brown pulled all the necessary strings to keep the Rochester Royals from drafting Russell as the first overall pick, knowing that they would refuse to pay the sum.

Consequently, the St. Louis Hawks drafted Bill Russell as the second overall pick, and that is when Auerbach played his cards. Needless to say, the Hawks sensed the desperation in the Celtics HC and demanded they trade Cliff Hagan and star center Ed Macauley for their newly drafted rookie. Letting Macauley go was easier than not for Auerbach as the center had previously requested a move to St. Louis so he could remain closer to his son who was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, although franchise owner Walter A. Brown was completely against the idea.

What unfolded next would be written in the NBA history books, emblazoned in gold and silver. Bill Russell formed the cornerstone of the Celtics dynasty winning 11 NBA Championships across his 13-season gilded career in the league. And it all came to be for Red Auerbach who orchestrated possibly the greatest trade in NBA history.

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