The NBA trading season usually starts on draft night and intensifies on the first day of the free agency. So far this off-season we’ve seen Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan trade to the Chicago Bulls, Spencer Dinwiddie to the Washington Wizards, and Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The teams are constantly discussing possible trades and doing their due diligence – seeing who is available in the league and measuring interest in their own players. Every now and then these talks lead to a big deal that shakes up the power structure of the NBA. However, sometimes the conversations fizzle out for various reasons, leaving fans dreaming of what could have been.
So let’s examine five of the biggest trades in NBA history that almost happened.
Amar’e Stoudemire to the Golden State Warriors – This is really more of a Steph Curry deal, but it was rumored that Curry hadn’t played a game so we’ll take it as a Stoudemire deal. The deal would have sent Stoudemire and the 14th pick on the 2009 draft to Golden State in exchange for the rights to Curry. Had that deal gone through, Curry and then Suns CEO Steve Kerr would have worked together much earlier, but it would have ruined the Warriors’ dynasty. This would have rocked the league.
Scottie Pippen to the Toronto Raptors for Tracy McGrady – The Chicago Bulls have received a lot of bad press since The Last Dance aired in 2020, and it became public knowledge that they tried to swap pippen and rightly so. The less explosive of the two deals was this one, a 1997 draft-day deal that would have sent Pippen to Toronto in exchange for McGrady. According to McGrady, Michael Jordan ultimately broke the deal. In a vacuum, that wouldn’t have been so bad for Chicago, but in reality it could have resulted in Jordan retiring or leaving Chicago early, leaving a championship on the table.
Chris Paul to the Golden State Warriors – This is another curry-related trade, and it was allegedly instigated by the Golden State. In 2011, the Warriors attempted to wrap Curry and Klay Thompson in exchange for Paul. The Warriors planned to add Tyson Chandler as well to form a quasi-super team. Imagine? Some people close to the warriors are still denying this rumor as they should. Either the curry trade probably wouldn’t have resulted in Golden State winning a championship, but it would also likely have made Kevin Durant either stay in Oklahoma City or sign elsewhere. Who knows how far the butterfly effect goes?
This one is interesting because of the immediate impact it had on Barkley when it was clear he wasn’t going to get through. According to Barkley, speaking with Zach Lowe on The Lowe Post, Barkley responded to a call from his agent who drew his attention to the deal by partying with friends over a drink. Later that day, Barkley received another call from his agent informing him that the deal did not go through. « And I’m drunk like [explorer] and we have a game that night, » Barkley said.
Ultimately, Barkley was dealt to the Phoenix Suns later that season. He led the Suns to the NBA finals the following year. By comparison, the 1992 Lakers roster was relatively sterile, so it probably worked better for Barkley not to be dealt to Los Angeles. Even so, it led to one of the most weird trading stories in NBA history. And imagine Barkley in Los Angeles …
The Pippen-for-McGrady rumor dates back to 1997. This was an alleged draft-day deal in 1994, shortly after Pippen refused to play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the New York Knicks to return, and long before Pippen, Jordan, and the Bulls rejoined for the second three-peat. Good thing that never happened. According to ESPNs J.A. When asked if Adande had returned to the Bulls with Kemp, Jordan said, “Probably not. I could have played with Shawn, but I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable as I did with Scottie. »
Had this deal been approved, will Jordan return to the NBA? If not, is he still considered the best of all time (with only three championships)? Or is he sticking to baseball? Fortunately, we’ll never know.
This one is pretty straight forward. Garnett wanted to leave Minnesota and the Timberwolves began accepting offers for Garnett’s services. Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told Lakers owner Jerry Buss that he would like to trade with the Lakers, but he needed his general manager Kevin McHale to sign out.
According to an oral tradition of Garnett’s career from Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, « … didn’t know if I wanted him in the West » – so who knows how close that was to doom. On The Posecast, Ray Allen said that Garnett looked likely to Los Angeles and that KG tended to join the Lakers, but he eventually changed his mind when Boston acquired Allen. If that deal had taken place, the impact could have been huge, robbing Boston of the 2008 championship and likely giving Kobe Bryant and the Lakers at least one more title.
While Paul was almost dealt out to the Warriors for Curry and Thompson, this deal is better known because of the drama involved. This deal has been closed. Paul was supposed to join Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Instead, NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed the deal on behalf of the Hornets as the New Orleans deal, operated by the league, did not bring fair value as former owner George Shinn tried unprecedentedly to bring the team to the NBA for sale. If you weren’t a fan of the NBA in 2011, you’ve missed out on one hell of a situation.
Ultimately, this could also have robbed the Lakers of a championship. The deal would have allowed Los Angeles to keep Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum while adding Paul. The team lost to Oklahoma City Thunder (4-1) in the second round, but would the addition of Paul have given the Lakers enough firepower to defeat the Thunder (and LeBron James and the Miami HEAT)? We will never know.
In 2007, Kobe Bryant was almost traded to the Chicago Bulls. Why? Bryant was incredibly frustrated with the inaction of the Lakers management. It escalated to the point where he and his family were raiding homes and schools in the Windy City, according to Bryant. When some fans asked Bryant if he was staying in Los Angeles, he told them to « buy a Bulls uniform. »
In 2018, BasketballNews.com’s Alex Kennedy spoke to Bryant on The HoopsHype Podcast about how trading would have affected his career.
« Ah, yes, it would have changed a lot, » said Bryant. “I think we would still have won championships in Chicago. I think so, but I feel like everything happens for a reason. Honestly, the biggest shock to me was that Shaq didn’t know [I wanted to be acted on]. That was the biggest surprise to me that he wasn’t aware of it! I think if he had known how serious I was about going elsewhere, he would never have asked for a trade [from the Lakers]. But when he got traded, that stopped me from going elsewhere because there was no way Jerry Buss was going to lose Shaq and me that summer. So if he had known how serious I was about my exit, I don’t think he would have asked for a trade. »
Ultimately, the timing worked out to Bryant’s advantage. Shaquille O’Neal was sold to Miami HEAT in 2004, which resulted in Bryant negotiating things with management. And Bryant did well professionally as he won two more championships in Los Angeles and stayed with the Lakers for the rest of his career.
Trade rumors captivate sports fans more than anything else. Most don’t come to fruition, and that’s fine. They captivate us, distract us and allow us to imagine ideal results for our favorite teams, even if they were never really that close. Any of the above deals would have rocked the league and produced vastly different results for a number of franchises.
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