Ranking some of biggest trades of the past two decades — and how they might inform Kevin Durant’s future

Ranking some of biggest trades of the past two decades — and how they might inform Kevin Durant’s future post thumbnail image

Throughout every iteration of the NBA, some of its best and most iconic players — from Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal — have been traded during their pro careers.

Soon, the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant could become the latest all-time-great player on that list.

As the basketball world waits to see what deal could come together for the future Hall of Fame forward, we took a look at some of the biggest names to be dealt over the past 20 years and evaluated how these deals look now.

With Kevin Pelton and ESPN Stats & Information’s Matt Williams, we ranked 15 such deals individually, based on how much value the team trading away its superstar received in return, with the results then being averaged out to create the final list.


Here’s what stood out:

Leverage is huge — and can lead to massive returns: Getting Paul George, for example, allowed the LA Clippers in 2019 to then also pick up Kawhi Leonard — leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to get a massive haul in return for sending him to Los Angeles.

Picks matter more now than ever before: The structure of these deals has changed significantly. In the mid-2000s, when Tracy McGrady and Shaquille O’Neal were traded, the deals were built around players — Steve Francis in the McGrady deal, and Lamar Odom in the O’Neal trade. Over time, however — and especially over the past decade — the returns became much more pick-heavy, as teams now seek more future draft assets over present-day talent.

Let’s look at 15 of the biggest superstar trades in recent NBA history:


Denver receives: Allen Iverson

Philadelphia receives: Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two 2007 first-round picks (via Denver and Dallas)

With Iverson nearing the end of his prime and Philadelphia on its way to missing the playoffs for a second straight season, the 76ers moved The Answer to the Denver Nuggets, who hoped pairing Iverson with budding star Carmelo Anthony would lead them to the Finals for the first time.

Philadelphia, on the other hand, was finally hitting the reset button. The Sixers had made the Finals five years prior but had plateaued, averaging 41 wins in the years since. In trading away their franchise icon, they began to rebuild around then-23-year-old wing Andre Iguodala.

Ultimately, though, this return — a solid starting point guard in Miller and a couple of late first-round picks — fueled years of mediocrity. Outside of one fluky trip to the second round in 2012, when Derrick Rose tore his left ACL and the top-seeded Chicago Bulls lost in the first round to the eighth-seeded 76ers, it would still be another six years, when GM Sam Hinkie took over in 2013, until this franchise would — finally — bottom out.

14. Kawhi Leonard to Toronto in 2018

Toronto receives: Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green

San Antonio receives: DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a top-20-protected 2019 first-round pick

After Leonard blossomed into a star, he seemed like the bridge to the next generation of non stop success for the San Antonio Spurs. Instead, the two sides had a falling out over Leonard’s injury status. After playing nine games in the 2017-18 season, he was traded that offseason.

Leonard went on to lead the Raptors to an NBA title in his first and only season in Toronto, before going to the LA Clippers. And while DeRozan became a much better playmaker with the Spurs than he was in Toronto, and helped San Antonio win 48 games in his first season, the Spurs slowly descended in the standings and have shifted into a full-on rebuild.

13. Chris Paul to LA Clippers in 2011

LA Clippers receive: Chris Paul and a 2015 second-round pick

New Orleans receives: Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Minnesota’s 2012 first-round pick

This trade is memorable because of a different Chris Paul trade, to the Los Angeles Lakers, that was vetoed by then-commissioner David Stern for “basketball reasons.” Several days later, the deal with the Clippers was consummated.

The deal allowed New Orleans to shift into a full rebuild — one centered around Gordon, who at the time looked like a potential All-Star after averaging 22 points a game in his third NBA season, and a potentially juicy pick from the Timberwolves, who had won just 17 games the year before. But injuries derailed Gordon’s tenure in New Orleans, as he missed more games than he played in his five years with the franchise, while that Minnesota pick became Austin Rivers, who quickly washed out with the Pelicans, as well.


12. Tracy McGrady to Houston in 2004

Houston receives: Tracy McGrady, Reece Gaines, Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue

Orlando receives: Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato

Coming off two straight seasons in which McGrady led the NBA in scoring, he was sent to Houston in a six-player deal headlined by All-Star guard Steve Francis going the other way.

At the time, Francis was coming off three straight All-Star seasons in Houston. But after one strong season in Orlando, he quickly faded as an elite player and wound up being traded to the New York Knicks in a move that cleared salary-cap space for the Magic to acquire Rashard Lewis — who became a key part of Orlando’s 2009 NBA Finals team — that offseason.


11. Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012

Los Angeles receives: Dwight Howard, Earl Clark and Chris Duhon

Orlando receives: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Christian Eyenga, Josh McRoberts, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, a 2013 second-round pick, a 2014 first-round pick (via Denver or New York), a 2015 first-round pick (via Philadelphia), a 2015 second-round pick (via Lakers) and a 2017 first-round pick (via Lakers)

Philadelphia receives: Andrew Bynum

Denver receives: Andre Iguodala

Howard spent virtually an entire calendar year as the subject of trade talks before he was mercifully sent to Los Angeles in the summer of 2012.

Talk about a lose-lose-lose-lose. Howard and Iguodala left the Lakers and Nuggets, respectively, after one season, while Bynum never played a single game for Philadelphia, and only 26 more in his career. Orlando, on the other hand, got back a variety of draft picks — plus future All-Star Vucevic, who became the anchor of the team for the next eight years.

But the Magic haven’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since, and are now in the middle of another long-term rebuild, this time centered around this year’s top overall pick, Paolo Banchero.


10. Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007

Boston receives: Kevin Garnett

Minnesota receives: Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and two 2009 first-round picks (including Minnesota’s own pick returning to the franchise)

After spending the first 12 years of his NBA career with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Garnett, who had a no-trade clause, wound up going to Boston.

On the player side, Jefferson, who averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds in his age-22 season, came back to Minnesota in return, and he spent the next few years paired inside next to future star Kevin Love. And on the pick side, Minnesota — no stranger to the lottery — received its own pick in 2009, which projected to be a valuable one.

That proved to be the case, as the Timberwolves landed the sixth overall selection. But Minnesota passed on Stephen Curry, who was taken No. 7 — twice, first with the No. 5 pick, where the team selected Ricky Rubio, and then at No. 6, when the Wolves took Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn, who played a total of 163 NBA games in his career.


9. Shaquille O’Neal to Miami in 2004

Miami receives: Shaquille O’Neal

Lakers receive: Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, a 2006 first-round pick and a 2007 second-round pick

O’Neal’s relationship with Kobe Bryant had run its course, so the Lakers traded the future Hall of Fame center to Miami in one of the biggest trades in league history.

But while Butler was eventually sent to Washington in an ill-fated deal for 2001 No. 1 overall pick Kwame Brown, Odom went on to become one of the pillars of the next great Lakers dynasty, alongside Bryant and Pau Gasol, reaching three NBA Finals and winning a pair of championships.

Houston receives: Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City receives: Chris Paul, a 2021 first-round pick, a 2024 first-round pick (top-four protected), a 2026 first-round pick (top-four protected) and two pick swaps

While Westbrook and Paul were already surefire Hall of Famers, when this deal was consummated in 2019 Paul was coming off an injury-plagued season in Houston and still had more than $100 million owed to him. That was why it took a boatload of picks and swaps from Houston for OKC to agree to the deal.

But Paul played brilliantly in Oklahoma City, leading the Thunder to a surprise No. 5 seed in 2020 before being traded a year later. The Thunder played this perfectly, amassing a war chest of picks that they are only just now beginning to use, netting guard Josh Giddey and center Chet Holmgren in the past two drafts.

Boston receives: Kyrie Irving

Cleveland receives: Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick and Miami’s 2020 second-round pick

A year removed from helping the Cavaliers win their only NBA title, Irving famously wanted a bigger role and out of Cleveland — and got his wish by being dealt to the Celtics.

The prize of this trade at the time was the unprotected Nets pick, which had a strong possibility of being a top-five selection. (Brooklyn went 20-62 in 2016-17.) But the Nets wound up being slightly better than expected (28-54), so it became the eighth pick, which Cleveland used to draft Collin Sexton.

And Thomas, dynamic in his two-plus seasons in Boston, was never the same player in Cleveland, or elsewhere, after a hip injury derailed his career.


6. Kevin Love to Cleveland in 2014

Cleveland receives: Kevin Love

Minnesota receives: Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and Thaddeus Young

Philadelphia receives: Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute and Cleveland’s 2016 first-round pick

After LeBron James arrived back in Northeast Ohio, the final piece of his new Big Three was Love, who came to Cleveland after spending the first six years of his career in Minnesota.

The big piece going back to Minnesota was Wiggins, who had just been selected with the top overall pick in the 2014 draft. He and Karl-Anthony Towns eventually made it to one playoff series together — after the arrival of Jimmy Butler in another deal — but won only a single playoff game before Wiggins was eventually rerouted to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell in 2020.

5. Carmelo Anthony to New York in 2011

New York receives: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Sheldon Williams and Corey Brewer

Denver receives: Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, New York’s 2012 second-round pick, New York’s 2013 second-round pick, New York’s 2014 first-round pick and a pick swap with Minnesota in 2016

Minnesota receives: Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph, New York’s 2015 second-round pick and cash

The Knicks ultimately won a competition with the crosstown rival Nets for Anthony, but only one playoff series with him as the cornerstone of the franchise. The loss of the players and assets in this deal hindered the team’s ability to surround Anthony with the talent necessary to be a championship contender.

For the Nuggets’ part, in the short term, the key players in that deal — Gallinari, Chandler, Mozgov and Felton — helped win 57 games the following season. In the long term, the 2016 pick swap the Nuggets received wound up turning into one of the cornerstones of their current team: Jamal Murray.


4. Deron Williams to New Jersey in 2011

New Jersey receives: Deron Williams

Utah receives: Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, a 2011 first-round pick and a 2013 first-round pick

Almost immediately after the Nets missed out on Anthony, they struck a deal with Utah to get disgruntled star point guard Deron Williams, who became the face of the team’s eventual move across the Hudson River to Brooklyn a year and a half later. Things soured quickly, however, and he was bought out of the last couple years of his deal in 2015.

Utah, meanwhile, got the No. 3 pick in the 2010 NBA draft, Derrick Favors, plus it knew New Jersey’s pick was destined to be a high selection — and it was, resulting in the No. 3 overall pick in 2011, which became Enes Kanter. After this move, the Jazz began to retool their roster around young forward Gordon Hayward, who in 2016-17 helped lead Utah’s current streak of six straight playoff appearances — the longest active streak in the Western Conference.

Brooklyn receives: James Harden

Houston receives: Rodions Kurucs; Dante Exum; Brooklyn’s 2022, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks; pick swaps with Brooklyn in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027; and Milwaukee’s 2022 first-round pick

Indiana receives: Caris LeVert and second-round picks in 2023 and 2024

Cleveland receives: Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince

A year after getting Durant and Irving in free agency, the Nets pulled off one of the biggest trades in NBA history by sending a haul of draft picks, plus young players LeVert and Allen, to Houston, Indiana and Cleveland in order to bring Harden to Brooklyn.

A little more than a year later — and after the three of them played a grand total of 16 games together — the experiment ended with Harden traded to Philadelphia.

Houston, meanwhile, made the deal expecting to get quality draft picks long into the future — a run that began with this year’s draft when the Rockets used the 17th overall selection to add LSU forward Tari Eason to their core of Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith Jr., the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft.


2. Paul George to LA Clippers in 2019

LA Clippers receive: Paul George

Oklahoma City receives: Danilo Gallinari; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander; Miami’s 2021 and 2023 first-round picks; the Clippers’ 2022, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks; pick swaps in 2023 and 2025

By getting Paul George from the Thunder, the LA Clippers essentially were getting two superstars in one trade, as the deal helped pave the way for Kawhi Leonard to join the Clippers in free agency.

That allowed Thunder general manager Sam Presti to extract a gigantic haul from the Clippers, including control of their drafts for a five-year span in addition to then 20-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander. In three seasons with OKC, Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged 20.6 points, 5.5. rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, shot 38% from deep and become the face of the team’s rebuild.

The Clippers did make their first conference finals in 2021 but spent last season waiting for Leonard to return from a torn ACL he suffered in that 2021 playoff run.

With Leonard out, the Clippers missed the playoffs this year, providing the Thunder with the No. 12 pick, which they used to select wing Jalen Williams from Santa Clara.


1. Anthony Davis to Los Angeles Lakers in 2019

Lakers receive: Anthony Davis

New Orleans receives: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick in the 2019 draft, a 2022 first-round pick, a pick swap in the 2023 draft and the Lakers’ 2024 first-round pick with the right to defer it to 2025.

Washington receives: Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, Moritz Wagner and the Lakers’ 2022 second-round pick

Following a public trade request and eventually being shut down for the final few weeks of the 2019 season, the Lakers and Pelicans eventually came to an agreement shortly before the 2019 draft. After the Pelicans won the lottery — giving them the ability to pick Zion Williamson — and the Lakers jumped up to land the fourth pick, the deal came together.

The Lakers, of course, went on to win the 2020 title inside the NBA’s bubble at Walt Disney World Resort, in Davis’ first year with the team, but in the two years since the team has lost in the first round and missed the playoffs.

And while Ball eventually left the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade deal last summer, Ingram has become a two-time All-Star and Hart was part of the package that brought CJ McCollum to New Orleans this past season. And after playing in just 85 games in his first three seasons, including zero last year, because of injuries, Williamson is slated to make his return after signing a five-year, $193 million max extension in the offseason.



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