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Worst Trades in NBA History
April 13, 2020

Sometimes, NBA teams gamble on a trade in an attempt to better their franchise. There are times when those trades work out for the best. Some trades can help teams get to the playoffs or even make a run to an NBA title. This article is not about those trades. This is about the trades that will be remembered as the worst in the history of the league.

Pippen for Polynice

Before Oklahoma City moved from Seattle, the old Supersonics made a huge mistake in the 1987 draft. The Sonics had the fifth overall pick which they used on a relative unknown out of Central Arkansas – Scottie Pippen. Instead of holding on to Pippen, the Sonics decided they would rather have 6-11 Olden Polynice. So, Seattle traded Pippen to Chicago where he became a seven-time All-Star and would win six NBA titles alongside a guy named Michael Jordan.

Polynice started seven games in three years for Seattle. Though the trade didn’t work out for the Sonics, Polynice did play 17 years in the league but his career averages of 5.0 points and 4.5 rebounds pale in comparison to the success of Pippen.

Dirk Nowitzki for a Tractor?

The Milwaukee Bucks drafted German star Dirk Nowitzki in 1998 with the ninth overall pick. In one of the most lopsided moves in NBA trade history, the Bucks sent Nowitzki to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The 6-foot-9-inch Traylor would bounce around three different teams over eight years in the league.

Nowitzki would go on to become the only NBA player ever to play for a single franchise for 21 seasons. In those 21 years, Nowitzki was a 14-time NBA All-Star. He won the league’s MVP in 2007 and the NBA Finals MVP in 2011 when he led the Mavericks to a league title. Nowitzki will wind up in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. Traylor will never even come close.

The Big O

Long before they were the Sacramento Kings, the franchise was located in Cincinnati and was known as the Royals. They had an outstanding guard by the name of Oscar Robertson. The Big O, as he was known, averaged no less than 24.7 points, 8.1 assists, and 6.0 rebounds per season for the Royals, but Cincinnati decided to trade him to Milwaukee in 1970. In return, the Royals received two players – Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson – that are long forgotten in NBA history.

Moses Out of Portland & Buffalo

The Portland Trail Blazers have a history of strong draft picks. In 1975-76 they had finished 37-45 and had a star in Bill Walton (when he was healthy) whom they drafted No. 1 overall in 1974. The following season, the Trail Blazers were able to pick two future stars in the dispersal draft, which was made up of players from the old ABA.

Portland got Maurice Lucas and Moses Malone. The team decided to keep Lucas but trade Malone to the Buffalo Braves for a draft pick and Rick Robey. The Braves were then dumb enough to trade Malone to Houston. Malone would go on to play 19 years in the league, win three NBA MVPs, and the 1983 NBA Finals MVP.

Wilt to L.A.

Fresh off averaging 24.3 points, 23.8 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game, Wilt Chamberlain was part of a blockbuster deal that sent him from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Why the 76ers would give up a player of Chamberlain’s abilities is still unknown, but Philadelphia received Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark, and Jerry Chambers. Chamberlain would go on to win another NBA title and an NBA Finals MVP in 1972 on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Kareem to L.A.

The Lakers have a history of obtaining big men in one-sided trades. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had led Milwaukee to the 1970-71 NBA title while averaging 31.7 points and 16.0 rebounds per game. Despite being one of the league’s dominant players, the Bucks shipped him off to Los Angeles in 1975 for four players that never delivered in Milwaukee – Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith, and Brian Winters.

Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers to five NBA championships and won the NBA Finals MVP award in 1985. He retired in 1989 and is in both the College and Pro Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Worst Trade Ever

Bill Russell played 13 years in the NBA all with the Boston Celtics. Boston was not the team that drafted him though. That honor goes to the St. Louis Hawks, now located in Atlanta. The Hawks drafted Russell second overall in the 1956 NBA draft. St. Louis quickly traded Russell to Boston for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley, both of whom were white.

Russell would go on to help Boston win 11 NBA championships in his 13 seasons. Hagan and Macauley would both go on to Hall of Fame careers, but between the pair they totaled just two NBA championships.

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