Anyone can rank how teams fared at the trade deadline in a given season. It takes a special level of insanity to rank actual trade deadlines against each other. I am exactly that insane, so here goes.
First, the ground rules: I am judging the last nine seasons’ trade deadlines in terms of entertainment value and the effect they had on the league. I chose nine seasons because nba.com has transactions that far back, and I didn’t feel like looking farther for earlier seasons. For my purposes here, trades that occurred up to one month prior to the actual deadline day will be included, so the offseason and early season trades don’t count. Extra weight will be given to trades that took place closer to the deadline day – an end of January trade involving starters may not warrant as high of a ranking as a last minute trade for a sixth-man. Finally, they are presented in order from worst to best, because I hate saving the most boring countdown entry for last.
The remainder of the Palace brawl Pacers squad was split up in January of this season, but that deal falls just outside the one-month range to qualify as a deadline deal. That’s a shame, because almost nothing else happened. I ended up going with the Melvin Ely deal over a Fred Jones–Juan Dixon swap, two trades that involving players going for second round picks, and a Jake Tsakalidis deal. Why? The Spurs won the title in ‘07. Also, the other trades were terrible.
Biggest Trade: Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City (later rescinded)
# of Trades: 17 (minus one)
There was a lot of activity at the ‘09 deadline, but it’s pretty telling that the most interesting trade was one that was rescinded by the Thunder due to concerns about Chandler’s feet. This lingers as one of the biggest what-ifs in recent NBA history, as Chandler ended up finishing out the season in New Orleans before losing an injury-plagued year in Charlotte and winding up in Dallas, where he anchored the Mavericks defense en route to a title. Had the Thunder gone through with the trade, they would have been getting a guy who would become a premier center in the league in two years.
The other deals primarily involved swapping role players or worse. Probably the most interesting trade that was actually completed involved Brad Miller and John Salmons going to Chicago with Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, and cap filler headed back to Sacramento in a deal that all parties involved lost.
Biggest Trade: John Salmons to Milwaukee
# of Trades: 17
2010 featured a lot of mediocre trades, resulting in the Salmons deal taking the “biggest trade” title. It’s one of those deals that seems less interesting now than it did at the time – Salmons was the final piece in the dangerous “Fear the Deer” squad that lost Andrew Bogut before the playoffs and still managed to take the Hawks to a seventh game in round one. Otherwise this deadline was definitely quantity over quality.
Biggest Trade: Rudy Gay to Toronto
# of Trades: 13
This was ultimately a disappointing deadline that saw the likes of Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett, Paul Millsap, and Eric Bledsoe in legitimate rumors that never came together. The Rudy Gay trade happened at the end of January, and it is still the biggest because the only other trade that approached it in scale was centered around J.J. Redick. Several bench players traded hands, but only two of the thirteen deals featured players that might actually affect the league this season. The only other notable deal was Houston’s heist of Thomas Robinson from Sacramento, something of a surprise given that the Kings were expected to stay quiet due to their pending sale.
Biggest Trade: Steve Francis to the Knicks
# of Trades: 16 (minus one)
An early trade between New Orleans (then operating as New Orleans/Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina) and Philadelphia for Steven Hunter was rescinded, Ron Artest got flipped for Peja Stojakovic following the Malice at the Palace, and Steve Francis showed up to finish ruining the Knicks. I went with the Francis deal here because of how poorly his time in New York went, but there were several interesting mid-level trades, ending with a four-team role player swap at the deadline.
Biggest Trade: Baron Davis to the Warriors
# of Trades: 13
This trade deadline featured a few notable deals, including Chris Webber being sent to the 76ers for Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson, and Brian Skinner and Antoine Walker going to Boston, but I’m partial to the deal that sent Baron Davis from New Orleans to Golden State. Sure, it took a few years for this one to be relevant, but Davis was the heart and soul of the ‘07 playoff squad that knocked off the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.
Biggest Trade: Milwaukee gets Monta Ellis, Golden State gets Andrew Bogut
# of Trades: 9
The lockout season featured a deadline that was pushed from the end of February to the middle of March, and while there was a general lack of activity, there was no shortage of creativity. Golden State spent much of the deadline trying to convince Utah to accept a small trade that would allow Golden State to hold on to their top-7 protected pick due to Utah from an earlier deal. When they couldn’t pull that off, the Warriors adopted one of the most egregious tanking strategies in recent memory by flipping Ellis for Bogut, who was out for the season, allowing them to lose enough to keep the 7th pick and select Harrison Barnes. A few other notable trades featured Nene and Gerald Wallace changing teams, the latter of which is notable for costing the Nets their first round pick, which turned into Damian Lillard.
Biggest Trade: Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks
# of Trades: 13
Carmelo Anthony held the league hostage for months before he was shipped at the deadline to the Knicks with Chauncey Billups for Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Raymond Felton. Giving it a run for it’s money was the trade of Deron Williams to New Jersey. While Carmelo was discussed in trade packages for the entire season, Williams’ departure was significantly quieter, as there was no talk of Utah sending him out until it had already happened. The deal followed the resignation of Jerry Sloan a few weeks prior and marked the most significant shake-up in Utah since before the Stockton-Malone era.
Biggest Trade: Pau Gasol to the Lakers
# of Trades: 11
Here it is: the gold standard. Pau Gasol’s trade kicked off the action as he was sent to the Lakers from Memphis in exchange for a used bus pass and two dozen empty Pepsi cans (also the draft rights to his brother Marc). The move launched the Lakers to the next three Finals, where they won two. The Gasol for Gasol trade is the biggest of the season partially because it propelled the Lakers to the Finals and kept Kobe in town, but also for the flurry of high-profile moves that followed in response.
Shaquille O’Neal was sent to Phoenix for Shawn Marion, effectively marking the end of the old seven seconds or less Suns, Mike Bibby was traded to Atlanta, where he played the last two effective seasons of his career, Jason Kidd went to Dallas for Devin Harris and friends after the deal was initially held up by Devean George, and the deadline ended with two separate last minute three-team trades, one of which featured Ben Wallace headed to Cleveland.
This season, more than any other, marked a changing of the guard for the NBA, starting with Boston assembling their big three prior to the season and featuring enough high-profile player movement to write a book about. When the dust settled, the league was permanently changed, and for that, this trade deadline gets the #1 spot.