The best players moved at the trade deadline in NBA history
With us coming close to the 2022-23 trade deadline, we decided to look back through history at the best player acquisitions that took place in the week leading up to that big day in the NBA calendar.
Major players getting traded at the deadline is pretty rare, which makes the guys on the following list so special. That’s because rosters are filled up, there’s little cap space – if any – anywhere, and hence, little flexibility to pick up max contracts without having to make a ton of other smaller moves first.
Below, check out the best players traded at the trade deadline in NBA history.
At the 2011 trade deadline, the New York Knicks were able to land the franchise player they had coveted for years in Carmelo Anthony in a major deal.
The deal included Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams and Raymond Felton getting sent to New York from the Denver Nuggets, who got back Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, a 2012 second-rounder, a 2013 second-rounder and a 2014 first-round pick, among other filler.
In the deal, the Knicks were able to land an All-NBA-level performer in Anthony, who performed magnificently the rest of that season, averaging 26.3 points and 6.0 rebounds for the rest of that campaign, one who helped guide them to the playoffs that year and for the three seasons after that.
With that said, Anthony was becoming a free agent the following offseason and made clear his intentions to join the Knicks, and yet New York still gave away a ton for him. What’s more, Anthony was never able to take the Knicks to huge heights, winning just one playoff series with the team, making how expensive the trade was for New York look not great in hindsight.
Still, Anthony is an all-timer so anytime a player of that caliber gets dealt at the deadline, it’s still a huge deal.
In 2002-03, the major move of the trade deadline involved the Milwaukee Bucks sending Ray Allen to the Seattle SuperSonics in a blockbuster move that included Allen being traded along with Ronald Murray, Kevin Ollie and a 2003 first-round pick for Gary Payton and Desmond Mason.
That deal featured two eventual NBA Hall-of-Famers changing places, which not many other trade-deadline deals can match.
Allen would prove to be a great pickup for the Sonics, too, averaging 24.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists while shooting 44.1 percent from the floor for the rest of that season.
The Sonics would miss the playoffs that year and the one after, but Allen did help lead Seattle to the second round of the postseason in 2004-05. The all-time sharpshooter made four All-Star teams during his time as a SuperSonic.
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James Harden has a chance to work his way even higher up this list if the Philadelphia 76ers accomplish what they have the potential to do, and that’s to win a championship.
The early returns were just so-so, with Harden showing up in Philadelphia injured and somewhat out of shape and with the Sixers getting bounced in the second round behind a rough Harden playoff performance – he put him just 18.6 points and shot 40.5 percent from the floor in that year’s postseason. However, this season, things are looking much brighter for Philadelphia as the team looks like a legitimate contender to win a title.
We’ll see if the Sixers are able to pull that off behind the elite duo of Joel Embiid and Harden but either way, his acquisition was a historically major one for Philadelphia.
The 1996 trade deadline saw the Miami Heat acquire Tim Hardaway, a three-time All-Star at the time, from the Golden State Warriors, along with Chris Gatling in exchange for Kevin Willis and Bimbo Coles.
Hardaway would perform well for the Heat, averaging 17.2 points and 10.0 assists the rest of the season, eventually becoming one of the best point guards in Miami history.
Hardaway would make two All-Star rosters as a member of the Heat, helping lead the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1996-97 and to six playoff appearances in total during his time there.
He also deserves a ton of credit for acclimating so well in Miami, especially considering he went from an all-offense, little-defense situation in Golden State to basically the exact opposite with the Heat, and yet, still succeeding in the process.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
One of the most interesting trades in recent memory saw the Indiana Pacers trade All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield, with more filler headed each way as part of the deal.
At first, many questioned the move on Sacramento’s part: How could you trade a second-year guard with so much promise and so much team control left on his contract for a non-superstar big man?
But at least so far, it seems to be working out just fine for both sides. Still, we put Haliburton higher up on the ranking of best NBA players acquired at the trade deadline because he remains just 22 and has so much upside, already leading the league in assists this year at 10.2 to go with 20.2 points and 1.8 steals.
In 2010-11, the then-New Jersey Nets picked up Deron Williams at the trade deadline in exchange for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks from Utah Jazz.
The Williams trade had a ton of drama behind it, too, with things getting nasty behind the scenes between the floor general and Jerry Sloan, going so sour that the duo even nearly came to blows once
Showdown between Sloan and Williams became so heated Wednesday, at least two Jazz players feared they could come to blows. Never escalated.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 10, 2011
(A tweet like that today would have at least five thousand retweets and twice as many likes. Back in 2011, it got 104 retweets and three likes. Just pointing out how different NBA Twitter used to be.)
Williams was one of the top point guards in basketball at the time, averaging 15.0 points and 12.8 assists and with four All-Star nods to his name. He would go on to make another All-Star appearance during his time with the Nets and make the playoffs three times in that span.
Williams would lead the Nets to the second round of the playoffs once while maintaining his standing as a top point guard for some time.
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Many questioned the Haliburton-for-Sabonis swap at the time, at least from the Kings’ perspective, but at least thus far, it appears to be working out splendidly for both sides, as the former Gonzaga standout has Sacramento in line to make its first playoff appearance in 16 seasons.
An All-Star big man putting up huge numbers this season – 18.8 points, 12.3 rebounds (No. 1 in the NBA) and 7.1 assists – Sabonis has brought an air of legitimacy to Sacramento’s operation, forming a fantastic big-guard partnership with De’Aaron Fox.
One of the more underrated big men in league history, Larry Nance was the big acquisition of the 1987-88 trade deadline by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who acquired him as part of a package that included Kevin Johnson and a lot of draft capital.
Nance was a great pickup by Cleveland, making two All-Star appearances with the team and getting them to the playoffs five times, including as far as the Eastern Conference Finals in 1991-92, during his tenure there.
In what was the steal of the 2014-15 trade deadline and perhaps one of the bigger trade-deadline heists in league history, the Boston Celtics picked up Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick.
Thomas would make the All-Star Game twice during his time with Boston and enjoying nearly MVP-level play for a stretch there. Thomas would average 28.9 points and 5.9 assists with the Celtics in 2016-17, and only saw his play decline do to injury.
Thomas helped Boston get to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016-17.
1998-99 saw Eddie Jones be dealt by the Los Angeles Lakers to the Charlotte Hornets for a package that included Glen Rice and BJ Armstrong in order to open up playing time for a young Kobe Bryant.
Jones would make an All-Star showing during his time with Charlotte, averaging 20.1 points and a league-leading 2.7 steals in 1999-00.
Jones helped lead the Hornets to the playoffs that season, though they were bounced unceremoniously in the first round before he departed to join the Heat the following offseason.
In 2007-08, the Nets finally decided to rebuild and began the process by trading Jason Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks along with two other players for a package that included Devin Harris, Keith Van Horn and two first-round picks.
The trade would work out magnificently for Dallas, as although Kidd only reached one All-Star Game as a Maverick, his role-playing, play-creating prowess on the 2010-11 squad, along with Dirk Nowitzki’s brilliance, helped bring Dallas the only championship in its franchise’s history.
Kidd’s late-career prime with the Mavericks included him becoming a respectable three-point shooter while remaining an elite passer and a coach on the floor.
The 2001-02 trade deadline saw the Chicago Bulls trade Brad Miller, along with Ron Artest and Ron Mercer, to the Indiana Pacers for Jalen Rose, Travis Best and more filler.
Surprisingly, Miller would become the best immediate pickup of the bunch, making the All-Star squad in the East the very next season, and enjoy a campaign that saw him average 13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
Miller would also help guide Indiana to the playoffs both of his seasons there, although they were never able to get out of the first round.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
In the 2022 trade deadline, the Portland Trail Blazers sent CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of a blockbuster deal, one of the biggest of that year’s deadline.
Over 26 games in New Orleans to close out that season, McCollum averaged 24.3 points and 5.8 assists, helping guide the team to the playoffs despite being without its best player, Zion Williamson.
McCollum is still with the Pelicans today, obviously, putting up impressive marks while guiding the team to playoff contention in the Western Conference.
We already discussed the Kidd trade to the Mavericks in 2007-08, and although Dallas ultimately won the trade thanks to their 2011 championship run, the Nets didn’t do too badly for themselves, either, picking up Harris in the process.
Harris enjoyed the best season of his career with the Nets, making the only All-Star appearance of his time in the NBA with New Jersey, in a year that saw him put up 21.3 points, 6.9 assists and 1.7 steals while performing as one of the top open-floor point guards in basketball.
Harris would only spend two full seasons with the Nets, but his impact there, albeit brief, was impressive.
Everyone remembers Rasheed Wallace’s one-game tenure with the Atlanta Hawks (and if you own that jersey, you are a legend). That came after Wallace was traded from the Portland Trail Blazers to Atlanta, where the sharpshooting big man played one game before being then dealt to the Detroit Pistons.
Detroit was savvy in making that trade-deadline acquisition, as Wallace played a major part in the team’s 2003-04 championship run. Wallace’s shooting and shot-blocking alongside Ben Wallace’s paint protection made the Pistons frontcourt downright terrifying to face.
In the Pistons’ playoff run to that championship, R. Wallace avearged 13.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while spacing the floor with 0.7 nightly triples.