The NBA draft can be helter skelter by nature, but that’s what makes it fun. The new draftees arrive bringing hope, but more importantly, the trade chatter is what adds the extra spice to this important night on the NBA calendar. Some of these trades have led to future championships and the birth of some of the signature dynasties in the NBA. Here’s a look at the 10 biggest draft night deals in NBA history.
1. 1956 Draft: St. Louis Hawks trade draft rights of Bill Russell to the Boston Celtics for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley.
Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics made a huge trade, acquiring the second overall pick Bill Russell for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. Out of this trade, the Celtics won 11 championships in 13 years as Russell manned the middle for several championship squads. Russell was a five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star. The trade wasn’t completely one-sided. Hagan and Macauley both were on the 1958 St. Louis Hawks team that won a championship. Hagan also made five All-Star teams and was named to the Hall of Fame.
2. 1996 Draft: The Charlotte Hornets trade draft rights of Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac.
Vlade Divac was a really good center and a consistent piece to some really solid Lakers teams in the early ‘90s. Despite his solid play, it’s impossible to compare his impact to the play of Kobe Bryant. When you think about the Lakers history, it’s difficult to ignore what Bryant had achieved in 20 years with the franchise after Jerry West led the charge to acquire the teen phenom.
The all-time leading scorer in Lakers history and a five-time champ, Bryant’s highlights and moments are unrivaled. 81 points in a game, game-winning shots in the playoffs, and a career-closing 60 point performance stand out immediately.
3. 1987 Draft: Seattle Supersonics trade draft rights of Scottie Pippen and a 1989 first round pick (Jeff Sanders) to the Chicago Bulls for draft rights of Olden Polynice, a 1989 first round pick (B.J. Armstrong) and a 1988 second round pick (Sylvester Gray).
There isn’t a trade that better defines the Chicago Bulls dynasty than the move to acquire seven-time All-Star Scottie Pippen in 1987. A long-armed defender, Pippen became one of the best two-way players in NBA history. He was the perfect running mate to Michael Jordan, helping lead Chicago to six championships in the ‘90s. Polynice was serviceable in his 15-year career, but not the kind of player to brag about in this uneven deal.
4. 1998 Draft: Milwaukee Bucks trade draft rights of Dirk Nowitzki and Pat Garrity to the Dallas Mavericks for draft rights of Robert “Tractor” Traylor.
Little was known about Dirk Nowitzki when he arrived to the NBA in 1998. After a lukewarm rookie season, the Nowitzki developed into a consistent superstar. The seven-footer brought a unique mix of perimeter shooting with quick athleticism for a big man. With Nowitzki leading the team, Dallas won at least 50 games 11 consecutive seasons. This included a title in 2011 and a Finals appearance in 2006.
Dirk’s individual dominance and consistency stand out in his 21 seasons. The 2007 NBA MVP, Nowitzki made 14 All-Star teams and is sixth all-time in scoring. In addition to Nowitzki, the Mavericks also acquired the draft rights to Pat Garrity who they flipped to the Phoenix Suns in the trade that brought Steve Nash to Dallas.
5. 1980 Draft: Golden State Warriors trade Robert Parish and draft rights of Kevin McHale to the Boston Celtics for draft rights of Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown.
To think that two of the Boston Celtics Big Three of the eighties came in the same trade is astounding. Robert Parish and Kevin McHale both became key cogs in Boston’s ultra dominant frontcourt with Larry Bird after a draft night deal with the Golden State Warriors.
What stands out in this trade was how Carroll was viewed as the consensus number one pick at the time. Auerbach and Boston held the first pick, but had no interest in Carroll. Auerbach went as far as attempting to convince Ralph Sampson to leave Virginia early and make himself available for the draft. After Sampson and his family rebuffed Boston’s overtures, The Celtics settled on trading down in the draft, dealing the first pick (Carroll) and the 13th pick (Brown) to Boston for the third pick (McHale) and Parish. Boston’s Plan B led to three titles in five Finals appearances in the 1980s.
6. 2011 Draft: Indiana Pacers trade draft rights of Kawhi Leonard, Dāvis Bertāns and Erazem Lorbek to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill.
The San Antonio Spurs have made a killing in the draft with sneaky good finds late like Tony Parker (27th in 2001) and Manu Ginobili (57th in 1999) It wasn’t a surprise that the Spurs continued their draft success when they acquired the 15th pick from the Indiana Pacers and drafted Kawhi Leonard. Though it involved Greg Popovich favorite George Hill departing San Antonio, the trade widened the Spurs’ championship window for several years.
The Pacers had the built-in argument that they already had wings Danny Granger and Paul George on the roster, but from a talent perspective, this trade hurts. Though Hill was solid as the starting point guard on two Conference Finals teams in Indiana, it’s hard to compare him to a two-time Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year in Leonard.
7. 2007 Draft: Seattle Supersonics trade Ray Allen and draft rights of Glen Davis to the Boston Celtics for draft rights of Jeff Green, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and a 2008 second round pick (Trent Plaisted).
This wasn’t the first time that Ray Allen was involved in a draft night deal. He was traded for Stephon Marbury during his own draft in a swap between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks.
It’s undeniable how significant it was for Boston to acquire Ray Allen during the 2007 draft. The trade caused a chain reaction. Allen’s arrival in Boston persuaded Kevin Garnett to accept a trade to Boston from the Timberwolves, forming the Big Three in Boston. The partnership between Allen, Garnett and Paul Pierce resulted in a championship in 2008 and a Finals appearance two years later. The Celtics got to have their cake and eat it too, re-acquiring Jeff Green from Seattle Oklahoma City in 2011.
8. 2018 Draft: Atlanta Hawks trade draft rights of Luka Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks for draft rights of Trae Young and a 2019 first round pick (Cam Reddish).
Most critics will kill the Hawks for dealing Doncic, but the emergence of Young has softened the blow of severe criticism. That’s why there is usually more angst directed towards the Sacramento Kings. Sacramento opted to take the oft-injured Marvin Bagley with the second pick in the 2018 draft. Still, it’s reasonable to criticize the Hawks for their decision to not keep Doncic.
Building a championship contender around the 6’7” Doncic is easier than the 6’1” Young. Doncic’s size allows him to guard multiple positions. The main concern around Young is finding the right perimeter defenders to lighten the defensive burden on the diminutive guard. Though Cam Reddish’s value is TBD after an inconsistent rookie season, it’s clear early on that Doncic is the better player, giving Dallas the edge in this draft deal.
9. 2017 Draft: Philadelphia 76ers trade draft rights of Jayson Tatum and a 2019 first round pick (Romeo Langford) to the Boston Celtics for Markelle Fultz.
Though this trade happened before draft night, it’s impossible to pass up adding this draft related move between the Celtics and 76ers. Boston traded down from the number one pick to acquire the better player and also acquired a future draft pick that became Romeo Langford. You can’t talk about this trade without acknowledging how rare Markelle Fultz’ situation is. The top pick in the draft, Fultz had all the tools coming out of the University of Washington.
A 40 percent shooter from three in college, Fultz changed his shooting form. He underwent a case of the yips and a shoulder injury that eliminated his three-point shooting ability. In a league that prioritizes shooting and spacing, Fultz’ value plummeted. On the other end, Tatum is an All-NBA talent. A tall wing, he’s versatile and is one of the best young wings the league has to offer. In 2019, the Magic traded Fultz for a disappointing return of Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second round pick and a 2020 first rounder.
10. 1993 Draft: Orlando Magic trade draft rights of Chris Webber to the Golden State Warriors for draft rights of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and three future first round picks.
The Penny Hardaway, Chris Webber swap was a big move that suited both teams. The Warriors were a team loaded with perimeter stars like Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin but needed a frontcourt star to complement their backcourt. Orlando featured a young force of nature in center Shaquille O’Neal. An elite point guard would be on the franchise’s mind.
The Warriors dealing three first round picks to acquire the first overall pick in Webber was risky. The early returns on Webber were good. He was Rookie of the Year and helped the Warriors reach 50 wins in his first season. A failed relationship with head coach Don Nelson led to a quick exit for Webber after just one season.
Meanwhile Hardaway formed a dynamic “one-two punch” with center Shaquille O’Neal that transformed Orlando from team of the future to a championship contender in just two years. After the first few years, the trade had swung heavily in Orlando’s favor. Hardaway had been an All-NBA first teamer and Orlando had used two of the three first round picks in the trade to offload point guard Scott Skiles and free up the cap space to sign Horace Grant. The hopes of a dynasty in Orlando would quickly dissipate though as O’Neal defected and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, while Hardaway’s play declined due to injury.