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Pick-Six: Biggest Draft Day trades in NBA history

(AP Photo / Ron Frehm)

The course of an NBA franchise can change in an instant when the NBA Draft rolls around.

The team that won the Draft Lottery gets its pick of the litter as it looks for the superstar to lead them for years to come, while the other 29 squads try their best to navigate the waters and pick out the diamond from the rough.

Luckily for fans of those teams that don’t wind up with the first overall pick, things can change frequently in the months, weeks and even days leading up to the draft.

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Sometimes, a franchise’s future can be drastically altered by one player via a move on Draft Day without that team even making the selection themselves.

Which of those moves stands out among the rest? It’s time to find out as we break down the biggest Draft Day trades in NBA history.

6. Ray Allen gets traded on Draft Days a decade apart

Depending on how you look at it, Ray Allen had either the best or worst luck when it came to Draft Day throughout his career.

Before his impressive start to his career with the Milwaukee Bucks, Allen was initially selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the fifth overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.

Instead of joining Kevin Garnett, a fellow fifth overall pick from the year before, in Minnesota for his rookie year, Allen was dealt to the Bucks for Stephon Marbury, the fourth pick from the 1996 NBA Draft.

Looking back more than two decades later, the Bucks clearly won out on the trade. Fast-forward to 2007, however, when Allen was a member of the Seattle SuperSonics, a trade involving the Boston Celtics would impact both his career and the course of the league as a whole.

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On the night of the 2007 NBA Draft, Allen and the 35th overall pick from that year’s draft were sent to the Celtics in exchange for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and that year’s fifth overall pick, Jeff Green. 

Allen finally got his opportunity to team up with Garnett, albeit in a new city, and the duo joined Paul Pierce to create a trio that became known as “The Big Three.” The 2007-2008 Celtics went on to win the 2008 NBA Finals, and ushered in a new era of super teams that has lasted to this day.

The trade to the Celtics far outweighed the deal to the Bucks when looking at the end results as it relates to Allen’s career. But, for our purposes, both deals earn a spot on this list in a “6a and 6b” scenario, given their connection 11 years apart.

5. Dirk Nowitzki gets traded to Mavericks in 1998

As if things couldn’t get worse for the history of the Milwaukee Bucks, the franchise made another blockbuster mistake on Draft Day two years later that eventually wound up in another team winning a championship.

At the 1998 NBA Draft, the Bucks selected Dirk Nowitzki, arguably the greatest international player the league has ever seen, with the ninth overall pick. Unfortunately for Bucks fans, the team’s front office couldn’t see into the future, and decided to deal the German star to the Dallas Mavericks.

Milwaukee traded away Nowitzki and Pat Garrity, and instead landed Robert Traylor, the sixth overall pick in the draft.

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The full gist of the Mavericks’ return wouldn’t be realized for two decades, as Nowitzki spent 21 years in Dallas, took the Mavericks to the playoffs 15 times, made 14 All-Star Game appearances and won league MVP honors in 2007. He brought the city to two NBA Finals, won a title in 2011, and earned NBA Finals MVP honors that same year.

After all of that, it’s safe to say the Mavericks won that trade, and it’ll go down both as one of the biggest trades in Draft Day history, and arguably one of the biggest trades in NBA history all together.

4. Chris Webber gets traded to the Warriors in 1993

Everyone has a “magic moment” in their life that they will remember forever, and this trade was the epitome of that phrase. So much so, that it turned into a pivotal part of a “30 for 30” entitled “That Magic Moment.”

Throughout the 1993 offseason, the Orlando Magic were the center of everyone’s attention, considering their status with the first overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft.

Add in the fact that they won the NBA Draft Lottery a year prior and landed Shaquille O’Neal in the process, and basketball fans were dying to know what the front office’s next move would be.

Instead, when Draft Day rolled around that summer, fans saw the team working on the future of their franchise in a different fashion, but had to sweat things out a bit in the process.

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When the event began and the Magic were put on the clock, the team selected Michigan alum Chris Webber with the first overall pick. Minutes later, the course of their history changed dramatically, as Webber was traded to the Golden State Warriors for third overall pick Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, along with three future first-round selections.

The deal created a dynamic duo with Shaq and Penny, and in turn led to Webber signing a 15-year, $74.4 million contract with the Warriors featured a unique clause that allowed him the opportunity to leave after his first season.

He was traded to the Washington Bullets after his rookie campaign, and the Warriors ironically received three first-round picks in return.

It was a shocking move at the time that many Magic fans weren’t happy with, but the long-term results paid off as the franchise advanced to the NBA Finals a few years later.

While the Shaq and Penny tag team didn’t last, it will always go down as one of the biggest deals in Draft Day history.

3. Scottie Pippen gets traded to the Bulls in 1987

When NBA fans look back at Scottie Pippen’s career, they likely think about the Chicago Bulls sending him to the Houston Rockets after all of his contributions to one of the league’s great dynasties.

But, not many realize that it was a trade that allowed the Bulls to even create such a historic squad in Chicago, and surround Michael Jordan with the necessary tools to bring the city six championships in the 1990s.

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On the night of the 1987 NBA Draft, the Seattle SuperSonics selected Pippen with the fifth overall pick, all before shipping him off to the Bulls in exchange for Olden Polynice and future draft picks.

In 1,058 games, Polynice, the eighth overall pick from that 1987 NBA Draft, averaged 7.8 points per game with 6.7 rebounds per game in a career that spanned five different teams.

Meanwhile, in 12 seasons with the Bulls, Pippen played in 856 regular season games, averaging 18 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. He started in 173 playoff games during that span and put up similar numbers, averaging 18 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.

He won six championships, appeared in seven All-Star Games, and was a three-time All-NBA First Team member. Without a doubt, he was one of the league’s all-time greats and was a part of an all-time sports dynasty, and it all started with a single trade on Draft Day in 1987.

2. Kobe Bryant gets traded to to the Lakers in 1996

The only thing that seems worse than being one of the dozen teams that passed over Kobe Bryant in the NBA Draft is the idea that you should trade him immediately after picking him.

Unfortunately for the Charlotte Hornets, that idea became a reality when the soon-to-be NBA Hall of Famer was drafted in 1996.

After selecting the 17-year-old Bryant with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Hornets made it clear that the Philadelphia-born superstar wasn’t going to be a part of their plans moving forward.

According to Bryant himself, the Hornets “told me right after they drafted me that they had no use for me and were going to trade me.”

Instead of sticking it out with Bryant as he made his way into the league out of high school, the Hornets worked out a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers that would send their new draft pick to Hollywood in exchange for Vlade Divac.

The trade didn’t technically happen on Draft Day, due to Divac’s negative feelings towards a move to Charlotte that led to a two-week delay in the deal becoming official.

But, it unofficially goes down as one of the biggest Draft Day trades of all time.

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With five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, and seven championship appearances throughout his career, Bryant went down as one of the best players to ever don a Lakers uniform.

He spent his entire 20-year tenure in the league in Los Angeles, but technically has those few days as a member of the Hornets that fans in North Carolina will have to wonder about forever.

1. Bill Russell gets traded to the Celtics in 1956

Many consider the Kobe Bryant trade to be the biggest in Draft Day history, given where the Lakers legend stands in the conversations for the NBA’s G.O.A.T. But, it’s tough to argue with the man who holds the record for the most NBA championships to his name: Bill Russell.

The Boston Celtics great tore apart the NBA throughout his time in the league, winning league MVP honors five times and being named to 12 All-Star games. Through it all, he averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game over the span of 963 regular season games.

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With all of that talent, it must have been obvious from the start that he could go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game, right? Apparently not, as the Rochester Royals selected Sihugo Green with the first overall pick of the 1956 NBA Draft.

To make matters worse, the St. Louis Hawks took Russell with the second overall pick, and immediately traded Russell for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley.

It wasn’t all bad for the Hawks, as they advanced to the NBA Finals in 1957, 1958, 1960 and 1961, and even won a title in that second appearance in 1958. But, all four of those NBA Finals appearances came against the Boston Celtics, with Bill Russell’s squad taking three out of the four.

Who knows what could’ve been if Russell had stuck around with the Hawks, and how those other three Finals appearances would’ve played out. But, one thing is for sure: the Celtics benefitted greatly from Russell’s presence, and have the Hawks to thank for executing the biggest Draft Day trade in NBA history.

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