The NBA Trade Deadline is great because, for one week, everyone gets to throw around dizzying, bizarre, usually unrealistic trade hypotheticals. But then, sometimes they actually happen. And when they do, for the most part, they fall into these nine categories.
1. The “You Drove Our Coach Insane” Trade: Utah Ransoms Deron Williams To The Nets
The discontented star is one of the oldest narratives in professional sports — in human history, even; just ask Achilles. (I have his email if you need it.) And occasionally, a star will be discontented at the same time that he’s reaching his peak abilities, and right after he acted like such a bonehead that he caused his team’s long-tenured coach to step down rather than continue to deal with him. At this point, the discontented star will be worth a billion gold coins, also known as first-round picks, and some desperate miserable team somewhere in the NBA will happily give a billion gold coins as well as one of their legs, severed just above the knee, in exchange for that discontented star. Then that star, no longer discontented, will be a diminished version of what he once was, because the world is a cruel and meaningless void. Deron Williams is America.
2. The “I’m An Idiot” Trade: The Celtics Reacquire Antoine Walker
Oh, Danny Ainge. First, you trade Antoine Walker, the cornerstone of your team and primary reprobate, to the Mavericks nine days before the start of the 2003 season. Then you get him back at the 2005 trade deadline. (You will once again trade him away in 2006, but let’s not get hung up on that.) Not only was this trade a weird mea culpa toward the bonkers Walker, but it also saw the Hawks — the second team Walker played with since being traded by Ainge originally — just being like, OK, this isn’t going to work, we’ll take that first-round draft pick. Antoine Walker is a Greek tragedy.
3. The “State Of The NBA” Trade: Juwan Howard For Christian Laettner (Also Known As: The Trade For The Sake Of Trading)
Sometimes, a trade represents more than just basketball things — exchanging one player for another, or four players for another four players, or one player for a booster pack of Pokemon cards. Sometimes, a trade represents THE ZEITGEIST, i.e. basketball as a philosophical enterprise, i.e. the Spirit Of The League. For example, exchanging Juwan Howard and a bunch of dudes for Christian Laettner and a bunch of dudes is like the American Graffiti of the early-2000s NBA: a bunch of steroidal contracts and supplemental players being treated like leading men. This is how the league was at the time, filled with curiosities like Laettner and overvalued goes like Howard, and the trade ended up being emblematic of that era.
4. The “Bet The Farm And The House And Our First-Born Son, Benjamin” Trade: The Knicks Give Everything For Carmelo Anthony
When the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony at the trade deadline back in 2011, they essentially gave away four starting-quality players and a first-round pick for him plus 21 Chauncey Billups games. That’s not making a trade: it’s throwing all the furniture off a boat to keep it from sinking. Was the boat actually sinking? Doesn’t matter, because the Knicks still did it, pairing Melo and Amar’e Stoudemire in a match so romantic that there would be trade rumors flying like locusts by the next deadline. In the long run, it looks like the trade has more or less worked out for a very competitive New York squad. But for a while, it seemed as though New York had more or less conned themselves out of everything they owned.
5. The “Oh My God This Looks Horrible In Retrospect” Trade: Clippers Trade A First-Round Pick Away, Pick Ends Up Becoming Kyrie Irving
The trickiest thing about trades is that, even if they look perfectly defensible and great when they happen, you can’t tell the future. Just ask the Nuggets and Pacers, who back in 1980 exchanged George McGinnis for Alex English and a first-round pick, respectively; McGinnis would immediately become a shell of his former self, while English would go on to become one of the best players in Nuggets history. And occasionally, a trade will happen that seems pointless and silly, a salary dump at best, and then two years later you’ll look back and realize that was once pointless and silly is now remarkably lopsided. In 2011, the Clippers traded Baron Davis and their first-round pick for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. That first-round pick would become Kyrie Irving, meaning that the Clippers basically gave away Kyrie Irving for the right to dump Baron Davis’ contract. Thanks to the subsequent addition of Chris Paul and other pieces, the Clippers redeemed themselves from this disaster, and the sending away of Davis did allow them the cap room to achieve that. But on a personnel level and with the virtue of hindsight, this might be one of the most uneven trades ever made.
6. The “This Looks Way Better In Retrospect” Trade: Pau Gasol For Picks And Marc Gasol
In 2008 and 2009, the prevailing notion in the NBA was that the Memphis Grizzlies, in sending Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton — yeah, the Javaris Crittenton that would eventually be charged with murder — and two first-round draft picks, had basically given the Lakers a gift. Fast-forward to 2013. Pau helped the Lakers to two straight championships, but now the team’s a laughable disaster, and the Grizzlies are a strong contender in the West largely because of Marc Gasol. Was the trade still a boon for the Lakers? Sure. It’s just that history has revealed it to also have been a savvy move for the Grizzlies, who wouldn’t have won a championship with Pau anyways and now look well-suited for the future.
7. The “We Just Need One More Guy” Trade: Dikembe Mutombo Joins Allen Iverson in Philadelphia
Trade deadline deals usually don’t revolve around the league’s leading teams, for obvious reasons; if you’re leading the league, why do you need to make a trade? But the NBA is nothing if not chaos, and teams will sometimes pull off deadline deals that elevate them from top-tier to topmost. In 2001, the 76ers managed to add Dikembe Mutombo to a squad that already had the NBA’s best record — the deal was spurred by the injury of starting center Theo Ratliff, who was one of two pieces Philly packaged for Mutombo — and it got them to the championship, where they fell to the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, which, no shame there.
8. The Coup: The Pistons Trade For Rasheed Wallace
Every so often, a trade works out perfectly. It takes a decent team and turns them into a dominant franchise, sets them on track for a half-decade of success, and turns a questionable career into one that defines an era. And it involves a really hilarious dude. That’s what happened when the Pistons traded bit pieces to the Celtics and the Hawks in exchange for Rasheed Wallace in 2004. Sheed, who had only played one game for the Hawks prior to the deal, ended up helping Detroit to a championship that season and then the Eastern Conference Finals or better in each of the next three, making the Pistons, along with the Lakers and the Spurs, the emblematic team of the 2000s. Without Wallace, it’s highly unlikely that Detroit could have had the same stranglehold on the East that they did, and the change of scenery also allowed him to exorcise the self-created ghouls from his troubled eight years with the Jail Blazers. It also did the league good, because Rasheed Wallace is glorious, and his success is good for everyone. Ball. Don’t. Lie.
9. The “Schrempf” Trade: Trade For Detlef Schrempf
Do the Schrempf as often as possible. Indiana did it in 1989. Do the Schrempf.