The draft is the body before the body is cut. You can’t see what is going on inside. Is there a tumor that will bring sickness and disease? Or, is the body perfect, healthy, strong? Draft day trades are a gamble for GM’s who like to believe they are geniuses. Draft day trades are no different than dropping 2G’s on the roulette table at Vegas. You wait for that wheel to turn and your number to come up. Sometimes it does. Often times it doesn’t. For those trades that lead to Hall of Fame players, the triad of skill, good scouting and luck are in play. And the Basketball Gods love you.
The best of the bunch.
Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac. (1996 Draft)
After this trade was finalized in 1996, Bob Bass, the GM of the Charlotte Hornets, theorized that the Kobe trade would go down in NBA history as the most lopsided trade ever executed. He was spot on. But not in the way he thought. Bass is a trivia question: what stupid GM traded Kobe Bryant on draft day? But in his defense, the Hornets wanted to get into the playoffs and stay there. They needed size and some skill around the rim. Vlade was an All-Star. The Hornets did get into the playoffs that first year but Vlade didn’t stay around long, just another year after that, while Bryant was a Laker ten times as long.
Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice. (1987 Draft)
What more can you say about this Seattle disaster. Scottie Pippen. Olden Polynice. No brain surgery needed. But let me unpack. The Sonics and the Bulls swapped draft picks in the 1987 draft. The Sonics drafted Pippen. Jerry Krause Bulls GM loved Pippen. He scouted him in the pre-draft camps. Pippen was long and athletic and could defend. The Bulls drafted Olden Polynice, a decent big man but not best of ______. The swap was NBA historic. Can you see Jordan and Polynice going up against the Bad Boys? Nah. Just the thought of Scottie Pippen playing with Shawn Kemp makes me dizzy.
Dirk Nowitzki for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. (1998 Draft)
Don Nelson was in love with Nowitzki from the first workout and was determined to have him on the Mavericks. In 1998, Nowitzki was an outlier. A seven footer who made deep threes. Milwaukee had a new coach, George Karl. Karl had no interest in a young German. He needed a playoff appearance. He had Ray Allen, Ricky Pierce and Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson on the roster. He needed size up front and Traylor, who had a stellar career playing for Michigan, seemed a good fit. Traylor, though, struggled with the athleticism in the NBA and only had a two year run with Milwaukee. He died tragically at the age of 34 in Puerto Rico. Traylor was beloved on every team he played on. Nowitzki, the Don Nelson get, developed into a MVP, champion and legendary player.
Kawhi Leonard for George Hill. (2011 Draft)
The scouting reports on Kawhi Leonard said he was a great defender, the best in his draft class, but his offense would be a work in progress. Gregg Popovich was willing to take that gamble. Defense to the Spurs is like offense to Mike D’Antoni. George Hill was a good player for the Spurs but he was never going to be an All-Star point guard. Kawhi Leonard had the potential to develop into a good player but even Popovich didn’t expect this Kawhi. As for the Pacers, they were looking at need. They already had a small forward in Paul George who they believed would be an All-Star. They needed a defensive point guard. Three years after Kawhi was traded, he was Finals MVP. George Hill was traded after a nice Indy stint, winding up in Utah and from there he landed in Sacramento and was traded to Cleveland. It doesn’t matter that Kawhi wants out of San Antonio and into Los Angeles, he’s Kawhi and that draft night trade by the Spurs paid dividends.
Pau Gasol for Shareef Abdur-Rahim (2001 Draft)
The Atlanta Hawks traded the number three pick, Pau Gasol, to the Memphis Grizzlies for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Not to hate on Abdur-Rahim, he was a solid NBA player. But he wasn’t a seven footer who could finish with his right or left, was offensively skilled around the rim, could run the floor and rebound. Abdur-Rahim was a veteran but he never was the type of player who was anything more than a quality role player; he wasn’t a star in his prime or a descending star out his prime. The Hawks, therefore, were average with Abdur-Rahim when they could have been average waiting for Pau Gasol to develop. Gasol helped the laughing stock Grizzlies establish a culture and compete for the playoffs. The trade of Gasol a few years later landed Memphis Gasol’s brother (Marc), who has been a staple for the franchise.
Rajon Rondo for 2007 Draft Pick (2006 Draft)
The Suns nabbed Steve Nash and he’s been the best draft pick they have ever pulled off the board. In 2006, the Suns drafted Rajon Rondo and traded him for a 2007 first rounder who would be Rudy Fernandez. Fernandez would leave the NBA and return to Spain. All Rondo did was win a title, anchor the Celtics, defend his position. But besides that, Rondo’s point guard skills, his court vision, his passing, his aptitude, puts him at the top of the point guard class. Rondo is a defensive point guard. Steve Nash was an offensive point guard. The two could have been a dynamic tandem. In those Spurs playoffs series, the Suns needed Rondo.