The NBA trade deadline has historically been responsible for some blockbuster deals that have played a role in helping “THIS LEAGUE!” transform into the meme that it is.
This year is certainly no expectation thanks to what transpired prior to 3 P.M. ET on Thursday.
On Monday, the Nets treated us to the first head-turning move of the week when they granted Kyrie Irving’s trade request by sending him to the Mavericks to bring his fairly messy time in Brooklyn to an end.
That meant Kevin Durant was the only member of the “Big 3” that had also included James Harden remaining in Brooklyn. However, that was no longer the case after the Nets officially went into Full Rebuild Mode and KD became a member of another formidable trio after joining Chris Paul and Devin Booker on the Suns.
Both of those trades seem to have given Dallas and Phoenix some major weapons they’ll be able to harness as they gear up for what should be a very entertaining postseason in the Western Conference. However, there’s obviously no way to know how impactful they’ll end up being until the future plays out.
With that said, we can look back at the past to examine some other transactions that had a major impact on the teams who were able to reap the benefits in a big way.
The NBA trade deadline moves with the biggest implications
The NBA trade deadline has been A Thing since 1947, but the league didn’t start keeping an official record of the players who swapped hands until 1987. As a result, we’ll be focusing on what’s gone down over the past 35 years for the purpose of this article.
However, there are still plenty of notable examples to choose from, like…
1995: The Rockets get Hakeem Olajuwon some help in the form of Clyde Drexler
The Rockets weren’t exactly hurting ahead of the trade deadline in 1995, as the defending NBA champions were sporting a 29-17 record thanks in no small part to the efforts of Hakeem Olajuwon.
However, the man who’d been named Defensive Player of the Year as well as regular season and Finals MVP thanks to his efforts in the previous campaign couldn’t do everything on his own.
That resulted in Houston sending Marcelo Nicola, Otis Thorpe, and a first-round pick to Portland in an agreement that saw the Trailblazers give them Tracy Murray and Clyde Drexler (the latter of whom had asked for a change of scenery in the midst of an underwhelming season).
The second of those newcomers may have been in the twilight of his career, but he took full advantage of his new surroundings. The Rockets were the sixth seed heading into the postseason, but the dynamic duo of Drexler and Olajuwon clicked perfectly in the playoffs to bring Houston its second title in a row.
2004: Rasheed Wallace joins the Detroit Pistons
The Trailblazers were also (kind of) involved in another notable trade deadline move involving Rasheed Wallace, who spent eight years with Portland before he was shipped off to the Hawks on February 9, 2004.
Wallace put up 20 points in his debut with Atlanta on February 18th. However, that marked the one and only contest where he suited up for the franchise, as a three-team deal involving the Pistons and the Celtics resulted in the center finding a new home in Detriot just a couple of days later.
The fiery big man was the perfect fit for a physical team that also featured Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups, and his addition gave them yet another defensive and offensive weapon who played a pivotal role in the championship run that saw them upset the Lakers in the Finals.
2008: The Lakers obtain Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies
Los Angeles’ loss in that series marked the beginning of the end for the franchise that found itself in need of a big man to replace the massive void that formed after Shaquille O’Neal took his talents to South Beach to play for the Heat before it was cool.
The Lakers failed to make the playoffs the following year for the first time since 1994 and followed up that campaign with two disappointing one-and-done postseason showings.
The team had managed to turn things a bit by the time the deadline began to loom in 2008, as they were sitting at 28-16 when the front office pulled the trigger on one of the more controversial trades in recent memory.
On February 1st, the Grizzlies and the Lakers swapped the rights to the Gasol Brothers in a trade where LA received Pau and a second-round pick in exchange for Marc, Javaris Crittenton, Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, and a couple of first-round picks.
When the news broke, it was obvious the Lakers were the clear winners of a wildly one-sided transaction that was a fairly shameless way for Memphis to free up some cap space (Gregg Popovich was just one of a few people who vocally voiced their displeasure while calling for some sort of increased oversight).
Los Angeles was unable to top the Celtics after appearing in the NBA Finals that year, but they got some major contributions from the Spanish big man who played a key role in the two consecutive titles they’d win in 2009 and 2010.
2011: The Cavaliers set themselves up for success with a draft pick
This is definitely the one entry on the list with the heaviest “Butterfly Effect” vibes, as it has less to do with a player who was traded and more to do with the player who was drafted with a pick that changed hands.
At the time of this trade, Donald Sterling had become so fed up with Baron Davis that he was willing to do basically anything to get the guard’s fairly disastrous five-year, $65 million contract off the books. As a result, he was more than happy to send him and an unprotected first-round draft pick to Cleveland in exchange for Jamario Moon and Mo Williams.
That was a pretty bold move when you consider Los Angeles was 21-37 at the time and all but assured to be a part of the NBA Draft Lottery. The decision came back to bite the now-disgraced owner and his franchise in a big way, as Cleveland ultimately ended up with the top overall pick and used it to scoop up Kyrie Irving.
It’s hard to imagine LeBron James would’ve reunited with the Cavaliers in 2014 if Irving hadn’t been on the roster, and they (along with Kevin Love) went on to secure Cleveland’s first and only championship in 2016.