Three years ago, the Brooklyn Nets believed they needed to complement their core group of Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson with better players if they wanted to contend in the Eastern Conference. So they did what any organization would do: they hit the phones looking for a trade partner, and found one in the Boston Celtics. And they proceeded to work out what could become the worst trade in NBA history.
The Celtics sent two future hall-of-fame players, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along with Jason Terry and D.J. White to Brooklyn in exchange for five players plus the Nets’ first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. In addition, Boston also got the rights to swap first-round picks in 2017.
Garnett was 37 years old when he was traded and promptly saw his Player Efficiency Rating drop from 19.2 in his last year with Boston to 13.3, his first with the Nets. He would return to Minnesota during the 2014-15 season. Pierce was 36 the year he was traded and gave Brooklyn one season of 13.5 points and 2.0 assists per game, both career lows at the time.
Still, the trade was actually close to an even swap for Brooklyn in the short term ( … before the Celtics used a draft pick). The players Brooklyn got produced 6.6 win shares during the 2013-14 season, and the players they gave up had 5.8 win shares for Boston.
Then Celtics got to draft James Young in 2014 and Jaylen Brown at No. 3 overall in 2016, two players who have contributed over two wins combined. And then it all fell in the Celtics’ favor. The Nets nosedived this season, winning just 20 games, thus giving Boston the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft.
The top pick in this year’s draft, likely either Washington’s Markelle Fultz or UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, is a potential franchise-changing talent. Since 2007, the average production of an overall No. 1 pick is .136 win shares per 48 minutes, roughly equivalent of how All-Stars Paul George (.127), Klay Thompson (.128) and Al Horford (.137) performed during the 2016-17 regular season.
And with no impact first-round players coming in, Brooklyn will probably again be in the top 10 in the draft order in 2018.
We won’t know what these future draft picks will turn into, but this is certainly one of the most lopsided NBA trades over the past decade, with the potential to become one of the worst of all time.
Other trades that look better by comparison include:
Los Angeles Clippers traded Baron Davis and a 2011 first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon in 2011
Clippers lost out on 38.1 win shares since the trade
The Cavs had to take on the remainder of Davis’s contract but hit the jackpot when the Clippers won the lottery with just a 2.8 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick. Cleveland used that pick to draft Kyrie Irving.
Irving produced 16 win shares from 2011-12 to 2013-14, impressive enough to help lure LeBron James back to Cleveland in 2014. Since then, the Cavaliers have made the NBA Finals twice, winning it all in 2016.
Williams and Moon, meanwhile, combined for 2.5 total wins shares after the trade.
The Nets gave up Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and a top-three protected 2012 first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Gerald Wallace in 2012
Nets lost out on 40.2 win shares since the trade
Maybe the Nets should just stop trading picks.
Wallace played just one full season with the Nets, averaging 7.7 points and 2.6 assists per game, producing 3.1 win shares for the season. Portland used the first-round pick on Damian Lillard, the 2013 Rookie of the Year and two-time All-NBA point guard.
The Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick
Thunder lost out on 77.1 win shares since the trade
Hindsight is 20/20, but at the start of the 2011-12 season the Thunder had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden on the same team. Unfortunately, Oklahoma City’s front office was staring at a large luxury tax penalty if the team kept them all, prompting Thunder General Manager Sam Presti to ship off Harden to Houston.
One of the Thunder’s draft picks turned out to be Steven Adams, but his total career win shares to date (19.9) are four less than Harden produced this past season alone. Since joining the Rockets, Harden has averaged 27.4 points, 7.6 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, and had one of his best seasons yet in 2016-17, making him one of the favorites to be named MVP after setting a career-high in win shares a season ago.
The Dwight Howard mega deal of 2012
76ers lost out the most on this trade: 13.7 win shares
This was a trade between four teams with the Orlando Magic winning by default.
The Los Angeles Lakers received Dwight Howard, Earl Clark and Chris Duhon. Howard spent one tumultuous season in Los Angeles, averaging 17.1 points and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds per game. But Coach Mike Brown was fired and a late-season injury to Kobe Bryant facilitated the Lakers getting swept in the first round of the playoffs. Then, Howard joined the Houston Rockets in free agency.
The Denver Nuggets received Andre Iguodala, who set a career-low 15.2 PER at the time before joining the Golden State Warriors the following year.
The Philadelphia 76ers received Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson, but Bynum missed the entire 2012-13 due to a knee injury and never played a single game for the franchise. Richardson did not play during the 2013-14 season.
The Orlando Magic received Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Christian Eyenga, Josh McRoberts, Maurice Harkless, Denver’s second-round pick in 2013 and a protected future first-round pick from Denver (2014), Philadelphia (2015) and the Lakers (2017).
Vucevic, the lone holdover, has been a solid starting center for the club — 15.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, producing a total of 26.2 win shares — but the Magic have not made the playoffs since this trade, and have started the rebuilding process over again.