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Step Right Up for a Great Deal

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Celtics meet rival Detroit on Wednesday, which is a reminder that, while the jury's still out on who got the best of the recent big trades (it was the Lakers), Boston's offseason acquisition of Kevin Garnett has had a huge impact on its fortunes. With that in mind, we asked for the most lopsided deals in NBA history:

Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to the Celtics

Long before McHale, as general manager of the Timberwolves, gift-wrapped Garnett, he was involved in another sweet deal for the Celts. In 1980, the ever-crafty Red Auerbach traded the first and 13th picks of the draft to Golden State for Parish and the third pick. As Auerbach expected, the Warriors opted for Purdue center Joe Barry Carroll, Utah nabbed Louisville guard Darrell Griffith and Boston added the guy it wanted all along, Minnesota forward McHale. Adding McHale's considerable services to those of Parish and Larry Bird, who had been on the team for a year, created what is widely regarded as the best front court in league history. The trio went on to three championships, the Hall of Fame and the NBA's all-time top 50 list; meantime, Carroll and Rickey Brown (the not-so-lucky 13th pick) went on to be remembered as the guys Golden State got in the deal. In fairness to Carroll, he wasn't a total stiff, averaging 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game over a 10-year career, and in fairness to Brown, it's not his fault that the Warriors decided to draft a total stiff. Even Carroll's damning nickname, "Joe Barely Cares," seems a bit ironic, given that Parish, then entering his fifth season, was considered to be a bit of an underachiever at the time of the deal. But history has spoken, and all that's left to consider is a couple of noteworthy tidbits from the trade. One is that it would never have happened without the generosity of a certain Dick Vitale, who, during a short tenure with the Pistons, gave Boston what turned out to be that No. 1 overall pick for fading scorer Bob McAdoo. No wonder the guy loves college ball so much. Also, Carroll, Brown and the Warriors actually got off to a nice start in 1980, and their road trip to Washington prompted some local rag to print a story with the headline, "Warriors Can Give Stumbling Bullets Lesson on How to Rebuild." We'd like to think The Washington Post has gotten much more astute in its NBA coverage since then.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers

Abdul-Jabbar, a three-time MVP who had led Milwaukee to a title, was swapped by the Bucks in 1975 for Elmore Smith, Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters and Dave Meyers. Those four were solid players in their own right -- in fact, Milwaukee wound up retiring Bridgeman's and Winters's numbers -- but come on. In L.A., Kareem notched five more championships, three more MVP awards and one memorable appearance in "Airplane," whereas the Bucks have yet to return to the NBA Finals.

Bill Russell to the Celtics

In 1956, the St. Louis Hawks handed Boston Russell in exchange for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan; Macauley and Hagan went on to the Hall of Fame and actually led the Hawks past Russell's Celts for the 1958 title. So, as with other deals on this list, St. Louis did get something back. It just didn't get back the greatest winner in American sports, and that kinda sorta tilts things Boston's way.

Earl Monroe to the Knicks

Didn't think we'd let this area's NBA franchise off the hook, did you? Ben Wallace for Ike Austin reeked, Chris Webber for Mitch Richmond stunk to high heaven, but the one that pulls rank in every sense was the trade of Monroe for Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth and cash in 1971. The Pearl was simply a joy to watch, and after reveling in his play for four seasons, Bullets fans had to watch Monroe take his slashing, ahead-of-its-time game to hated New York for the next nine.

Kobe Bryant to the Lakers

Our crack staff picked this 1996 beaut, in which L.A. stole Kobe from the Charlotte Hornets for Vlade Divac, over trades involving legends Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain, possibly because the Lakers have been able to employ one of the NBA's finest for an entire career, as opposed to getting him past his prime. Or maybe because it's the only deal on this list most of us actually remember, which raises the question: Have NBA GMs not named Kevin McHale gotten smarter?

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