NBA Draft Night Trades: Championship Caliber and Those To Come


Earlier this week, ESPN radio co-hosts Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo were discussing the breaking news at the time that Joel Embiid was going to need surgery for his broken foot. The head of his class, Embiid was considered a perfect match for the Cleveland Cavaliers at Number 1 just a week prior to the draft. Russillo, an NBA specialist who has recently joined ESPN’s telecast of NBA Tonight this past season, like any other analyst, broke down how far Embiid would fall. He continued saying how brutal it would be for 76ers fans to once again draft an elite prospect to see him sit the year again after surgery, after trading for Nerlens Noel after last year’s draft. “Can’t take another big man and stash him for the year, can you?” Van Pelt belted. Hence, reflecting on what would be Joshua Harris’ commentary to 76ers fans if he took Embiid; “Thank you, you were incredible for being patient, we were awful – were going to play him [Noel] with your rookie of the year [Michael Carter-Williams], and do the same thing to you again.”( (Friday June 20 – SVP and Russillo)) Another scenario they batted around was that Danny Ainge would take him at six, where the Celtics were looking to trade that pick in the first place to part ways with players such as Jeff Green or Jared Sullinger.

It got me thinking about draft night trades. The NBA is a unique forum when it comes to acquisitions on the night when most teams are selecting what will be considered their next big thing. Yet, in the last 10 years, draft night trades and acquisitions have become commonplace. In 2013, there were 16 trades made the day of the draft, the highest the NBA has ever recorded. After 2005, there have been on average over 10 trades per draft. Yet in the early and mid-1990’s, there were on average less than five. Yes, we can see that NBA ownership strategy has shifted to package players for picks or expiring contracts that players have opted out of. We can see teams assembling their resources for packages clearly with LeBron and Carmelo recently opting out. But, which teams have capitalized on these moves in terms of championships? And which teams have yet to see the fruit of their labor?


Championship Caliber


1953 NBA Draft

Bill Russell joined the Boston Celtics in the 1953-1954 season, after winning two national championships at UCLA. The Big Man we all know as the face of the NBA found himself holding up a St. Louis Hawks jersey that night before Red Auerbach scooped him up. Auerbach traded away former All-Star Ed McCauley and Cliff Hagan to get Russell, an especially big risk as Russell was untested in the league at this point. Russell went on to captain the most dominate team in NBA history, leading the Celtics to 11 NBA Championships in 13 professional seasons.

1987 NBA Draft

Robin to Chicago’s Batman, Scottie Pippen has every bit to do with the Chicago Bull’s success throughout the 1990’s as MJ himself. Yes, the lights didn’t shine as brightly on Pippen, but when he joined the Bulls in 1987 after he was selected by the Seattle Supersonics and moved for Olden Polynice and a future 1st or 2nd round pick, he had an immediate impact, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He earned All-Defensive First Team honors from 1991-97.

1998 NBA Draft

The acquisitions of Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash in the 1998 Draft were the most influential moves the team has made in its 35-year history. In a three-team trade, the Mavericks acquired Nowitzki from Milwaukee for their sixth pick, Robert Traylor and then moved their 19th pick, Pat Garrity to Phoenix for three-year starter Nash. The two led the team to five straight playoff appearances, the team’s first in 10 years before Nash re-signed with Phoenix in 2004. Nowitzki was voted NBA MVP in 2006 and went on to lead Dallas to its first title in 2011.


Yet to Impress


2006 NBA Draft

The Portland Trailblazers have stumbled through the Draft in the past ten years. The selection of two of the highest touted prospects ended in short stints with Portland. The selection of Brandon Roy with the sixth pick in 2006 and Greg Oden with the first pick in 2007 saw only Roy play one full season with the team. Roy has since retired from the league due to chronic knee issues and Oden played in less than 10 games this season with the Miami Heat. Portland traded for LaMarcus Aldridge in 2006, selected second overall by the Chicago Bulls, for Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa, creating quite the stable piece at Power Forward. Aldridge has come into form in the past few seasons, scoring over 20 PPG in the past four and averaging a double-double this past year. Aldridge and forthcoming star Damian Lillard could not get past the NBA Champion Spurs, but are making headway in the Western Conference. Hopefully the stability that Aldridge and Lillard provide will help Portland fans forget that they let reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant fall to the Seattle in 2010 behind Oden.

2008 NBA Draft

The most gigantic deal on draft night history was the selection of Kevin Love by the Memphis Grizzlies with the fifth overall pick. Rival USC player, OJ Mayo was selected third by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was later moved for Love, as well as Memphis star shooter, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins in return for Mayo, Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric and Greg Buckner. Mayo had a few solid years in Memphis, teaming up with young talents Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, as well as grizzled veteran Zach Randolph, leading to the upset of the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. Yet, Mayo is on his third team in as many seasons. Love is another story, playing for an embattled franchise that has not been able to make the playoffs since losing Kevin Garnett to free agency. Love has been a bright spot, averaging over 26 PPG in 2 of the last 3 seasons. Entering the last year of his four-year deal, Love is expected to be traded in the coming weeks.

2009 NBA Draft

Ty Lawson was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 18th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft. Ricky Rubio was selected fifth overall and if he signed with the team, he was expected to fill the point guard role the following season. Lawson was traded to the Denver Nuggets for a future first round pick. Lawson has averaged over 16 PPG and 6 APG in the past three seasons and has led the team to four playoff appearances. After Carmelo Anthony forced his way out in a trade to the New York Knicks in 2011 and Andre Iguodala only played one season in Denver in 2013, leaving for Golden State after Denver recorded a franchise high 57 wins, the team has kept it in relatively good form. Although the team missed the playoffs this year, highly touted free agent Aaron Afflalo was traded back to Denver on Draft Day 2014 after a year in Orlando where he had his best season to date, possibly leading to more playoff runs by Denver in the more than deep Western Conference.

What are we to expect from the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Nerlens Noel? Blake Griffin has been quite the success story for the Los Angeles Clippers since being drafted number 1 overall in 2009, only to sit until the 2010-11 campaign as rookie of the year and has led his team to the playoffs three straight seasons. Yet, as we mentioned earlier, Greg Oden has not played a full season after he was selected first overall in 2007. Sitting your first season is a scary prospect for many teams and trading to get a player who will not play a game for almost a year and half after acquiring him is about as risky as it gets. Especially when you let a player like Jrue Holiday walk in a trade to New Orleans..

What are we to expect of the selection of Joel Embiid with the third selection to the Philadelphia 76ers? Will he sit the year? Will Embiid fit the system as Noel melds into power forward role as the 2014-2015 season approaches? We know one thing; the Sixers have about as good experience doing this as anyone and will be prepared when Embiid starts his official workouts.


About the author: Daniel Hoogenboom

Growing up on Tobacco Road, college basketball runs in my veins deeper than the two times a year Carolina and Duke get together. Although March may be the best three weeks in sports, later in the Springtime brings the season I live for -- the professional golf majors. Through all that spectating, this North Carolina native breathes the competition that match play rounds bring between my Dad and I beyond all else.