No. 1 Bill Russell to the Celtics
The Boston Celtics thought incredibly highly of Bill Russell before the 1956 NBA draft and were quite hellbent on drafting him onto their roster given the chance. However, the St. Louis Hawks quickly scooped up the talented forward with the second pick, but we’re enamored with Boston center and then 6-time NBA all-star Ed Macauley.
The two teams quickly pursued a trade that would fit the best means for one another, ultimately ending with the Hawks exchanging Russell for Macauley and another talented young Boston player – Cliff Hagan. Hagan had served in the US Army for the previous three years and hadn’t yet made his NBA debut, although he was highly regarded in the professional basketball community.
Hagan would be selected to 6 all-star appearances to match that of Macauley, combining for 12 all-star appearances between the two. Russell as an individual played for only 13 years, was selected for the all-star game 12 times, and was an 11-time NBA championship. Not bad eh? The trade was quite favorable for both sides but Boston ultimately received an all-time great who impacted the way in which championships were earned.
No. 2 Kawhi Leonard and the Pacers
This trade panned out almost completely opposite as to what NBA insiders and fans perceived at first. George Hill was already a proven, solid NBA veteran who had supplied Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio fans with flashy moves as well as being a trusted ball-handler on the offensive end. The Spurs took a chance on the lengthy prospect from San Diego, letting the Pacers do the dirty work by drafting Leonard – only for him to change teams later that draft night.
A possible combination of a young Paul George and Kawhi Leonard would have provided the Pacers with an amazing staple of a young core – although the Clippers most definitely have the two at their very best in the present day.
What seemed like a solid move at the time proved that the Pacers front office thought only in the short term – as Hill would move on from the Pacers shortly after his initial arrival, leaving virtually no mark in Indiana compared to what Kawhi Leonard could have done. Leonard evolved into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time first-team All-NBA and Finals MVP, which isn’t all that bad if you were wondering.
No. 3 James Harden to the Rockets
It’s no shock that Harden is on this list if you follow professional basketball. However, the Thunder would have never traded Harden should they have had a crystal ball to let them see five years into the future.
The Thunder received sharpshooter and well-respected NBA veteran Kevin Martin, in addition to a young Jeremy Lamb and three draft picks – one of which would become star center Steven Adams in exchange for the former 3rd overall pick from Arizona State. The young trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden is no doubt extraordinary to watch highlights of in the present day on YouTube, yet it wasn’t always that way.
Prior to his trade to the Rockets, Harden was still just the premiere 6th man for the Thunder – yet still managed to average over 16 points per game in a relatively reserved role in the offense. At the time of the trade, the return from the Houston Rockets was rather exceptional if you take into account all of the draft’s picks the Thunder received – two of which were first-rounders. Harden would go on to flourish and become the continual first option for the Rockets over the next several years to the present day, in a move that has since left original Thunder fans rather speechless and remorseful.
No. 4 Kyrie could’ve been a Clipper
This one will hurt, Clippers fans. I apologize for the continuous suffering you have endured over the last several years after the breakup of lob-city, although without this trade – there very well could have never been a Lob City era in LA, so at least there is something to be grateful for?
The Clippers were coming off a 32-win lackluster season and demanded a change in any fashion – initially envisioning it through a rebuild. However, instead of sticking to that plan, the Cleveland Cavalier offered them an unprecedented offer few front office personnel could resist.
The Clippers traded their 2011 unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers, who were fresh off of losing LeBron in free agency in exchange for stellar NBA veteran guard Mo Williams and Jamario Jones. Although Jones and Williams were respected veterans in the NBA, the unprotected first-round pick the Clippers sent to Cleveland snagged the Cavs the first overall selection in 2011.
Duke guard Kyrie Irving was selected by the Cavs and began the Irving saga in a city whose morale was at its lowest after the departure of LeBron James. Kyrie Irving is still a premiere first option star/threat while both Jones and Williams have long retired since the Clippers/Cavaliers trade in 2011.
No. 5 Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics
The 2015 NBA trade deadline came down to the wire. At the time, the Phoenix Suns were loaded with back-court options that included the likes of guards Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Isaiah Thomas. The Suns were keen in their pursuit of multi-positional players who could play without the ball in their hands and made an impact instantly.
To break things down without it being overly complicated, the only notable acquisitions within the trade, the impactful players the Celtics received were Jonas Jerebko and Thomas while the Suns received Marcus Thornton and a future draft pick selection.
Isaiah Thomas would lead the Celtics into several deep playoff runs, at one point averaging over 30 points per game as the premier offensive option for the talented Boston squad. Needless to say, the Phoenix Suns would have loved to examine the crystal ball when that decision was made in the final minutes of the 2015 NBA trade deadline.