We saw some of the most frantic NBA trade activity in recent times this year, with numerous franchises ambitiously trying to bridge the gap to the Golden State Warriors. While some moves missed the mark, many have proven to be trade-table masterstrokes, paying big dividends for the winners of the deal.
Continuing our look back at 2017 in the NBA, here are RealSport’s top 10 trades of 2017.
10 The Lakers win a bundle by trading D'Angelo Russell
The Kevin Garnett trade gutted Brooklyn's stock of assets for the foreseeable future, hence they’ve resorted to other methods of getting young talent. While the last two years haven’t exactly enhanced D’Angelo Russell’s image (on or off the court), a young player who was recently taken second in the draft is a commodity that the Nets needed to chase.
They seemed to pay a high price for him, however. The Nets took on Timofey Mozgov’s enormous contract that has three years and $48 million left, while they also had to concede Brook Lopez, a serviceable center. They also gave up the second-round pick that turned out to be young sensation Kyle Kuzma.
For the Lakers, the upcoming summer is about dumping salary in the hope LeBron James and another superstar wants to wear the purple and gold. Shedding Mozgov’s contract was an excellent start to that process, and all they had to give up was a player they had lost faith in
What they’ve received back is all gravy. Lopez has been decent, averaging 13.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in only 22.9 minutes per game. And in Kuzma, they look to have found genuine NBA starting talent through a silky scorer who can stretch the floor playing at the four. This is a trade that the Lakers are undoubtedly looking back favorably on.
9 Jordan Bell for cash considerations
When Jordan Bell banked a running hook over Paul Zipser on November 24, he turned to the Oracle crowd and rubbed his fingers together for the money sign. His shot had put the Warriors up by 46 with a minute and 40 seconds over the league-worst Chicago Bulls, and the celebration was a not-so-subtle dig at the Bulls' front office, who had traded him to the Warriors for $3.5 million straight after drafting him. For a relatively small price, the Warriors have found a future star center, a position they lacked depth in.
An elite defensive player, Bell has fit seamlessly into the Warriors' lineup, and that’s exactly what the Bulls needed, too. A squad devoid of talented young players, it's absurd that the Chicago front office would sell any young player, especially to the Warriors. Shouldn’t the Warriors’ interest have been a sign that the Bulls had found something valuable?
Of course, the Bulls wanted to buy out Dwyane Wade, who they had given a ridiculous contract to a year earlier, and the cash considerations allowed them to do that. Meanwhile, they’re 8-20 after 28 games. I wonder how much they’ll sell their top five pick for next year? Maybe the Warriors could trade them Kevon Looney for it. Either way, the Bell coup was a big win for Golden State.
8 Eric Bledsoe checks out of Phoenix
Did Eric Bledsoe really not want to be in the hair salon? That question dominated the first fortnight of the NBA season. Phoenix had been blown out in their first three games, and Bledsoe sent out a cryptic tweet saying: "I Dont wanna be here” (sic).
Shortly afterwards, coach Earl Watson was fired, and Bledsoe offered up the explanation that he simply wanted to leave the hair salon he was in. Either way, it resulted in a stint on the sidelines for the point guard before Bledsoe was shipped to Milwaukee in return of Greg Monroe, a first-round pick with heavy protections, and a second rounder.
The Bucks had a great start thanks to some freakish stats from Giannis Antetokounmpo, but their form was wavering around the time of the trade. Bledsoe has been a welcome arrival, with the Bucks going 11-7 since he joined the squad. In that time, Bledsoe has averaged 17.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Most importantly, he has formed a vital one-two punch with Antetokounmpo.
7 The Bulls part ways with Jimmy Butler
With Chicago committing to a rebuild, it was time to sell their Jimmy Butler stock. So they shipped him to Minnesota where he could play again for ex-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
When the move was announced, it was assumed that a two-way star like Butler would help Thibodeau better implement his defensive strategies. However, that hasn’t been the case, with the Wolves 26th in the NBA for defensive efficiency in season 2017/18, despite sitting fourth in the West.
The Bulls sit at 9-20 on the season, so this truly has propelled them into rebuild mode, and at least they got back some young prospects. Kris Dunn has averaged 13 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, but those numbers are born from high usage rather than great efficiency. However, he has made an impressive defensive contribution, sitting in the top five percent of point guards in steals, while the Bulls are 2.8 points better defensively with him on the floor.
They also received dunk champion Zach LaVine, who is recovering from knee surgery, and swapped picks with the Wolves, moving up to take Lauri Markkanen. The Finnish rookie has been one of the better first-year players through the first third of the season, averaging 14.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in 30 minutes per game.
6 Celtics pass on Markelle Fultz, grab Jason Tatum instead
One of the most prized commodities in any sport is a number one draft pick. So why did the Celtics trade it? Simple: the player they believed to be the best in the nation was third on every other big board in the league. Markelle Fultz wasn’t the player GM Danny Ainge had his eye on, so Ainge traded places with Philadelphia, who had pick number three, extracting two more first-rounders in the process.
Still available at number three was Jayson Tatum, the electric forward from Duke, who Ainge had wanted all along. It’s a move that’s hard to argue with so far this season as Tatum has proven himself to be the best player from this year’s draft crop. Able to play at small or power forward, Tatum is a silky smooth scorer who is shooting an absurd 50.5% from 3-point range.
The 76ers would be displeased with what Fultz has brought them so far, with the top overall pick having played only four games due to a shoulder injury. The injury is simply a rough start to Fultz’s career and it would be unfair to write off the rookie just yet. Regardless, the Celtics' decision to trade down, get more first-rounders and acquire Tatum has proven a masterstroke.
5 Boogie forms the Pelicans’ Twin Towers
Sacramento finally cut ties with DeMarcus Cousins in 2017, shipping him off to New Orleans to play alongside Anthony Davis. In the deal, New Orleans received Cousins and Omri Casspi (who left for the Warriors at the end of the 2016/17 season), while Sacramento took Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a first-round pick.
The aim for the Kings was to cut ties with Cousins, who despite his brilliance often made headlines for the wrong reasons, and hope to find any diamonds in the rough from the smorgasbord of mediocre assets they got in return. Hield has been efficient with small usage this season, shooting 47% from beyond the arc and averaging 12 points per game. Evans is now in Memphis, while Galloway hasn’t set the world on fire.
Cousins, meanwhile, has been at his All-Star best since October. The league's most versatile center, Boogie is averaging 26.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game this season, proving he is worth the frustration caused by his occasional ill-discipline. While the Pelicans have been inconsistent over the first third of the campaign, Cousins has been a shining light and should, at the very least, lead them into the playoffs.
4 Knicks finally send Melo packing
Less than a week before the Knicks’ training camp began in New York, news broke that Carmelo Anthony had been traded to Oklahoma City to play with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. It ended an arduous stint for Melo with Phil Jackson in New York, as the two took not-so-subtle shots at each other via the media. With Jackson gone, the Knicks decided to clean up shop, as Melo voided his no-trade clause to form a Big Three in Oklahoma City.
The Knicks' return wasn’t enormous, with Doug McDermott and Enes Kanter being sent the other way. But, given that Anthony as an asset was so damaged after the way Jackson spoke of him through the media, it's likely they took a discount just to start a new chapter.
The Thunder have struggled to integrate Anthony, who is averaging a meager 17.3 points for his new employers, well below his career average of 24.5. The Big Three of Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Paul George have also failed to gel so far this season, with the Thunder performing well below expectations to sit at .500 after the first 30 games of the season.
While Kanter and McDermott have made predictably modest contributions, Anthony's departure marked the start of the Kristaps Porzingis era in New York. And what an era it is shaping to be, with the giant Latvian taking equally giant strides on his way to becoming a genuine superstar this season. They may not have, on paper at least, gotten too much in return for Anthony, but given Porzingis' rise, New York look to have made the right call with this trade.
3 Chris Paul to Houston
With the Golden State dynasty looking close to immortal, it means anyone hoping to challenge them needs to do something drastic. Filling a backcourt with two MVP-caliber point guards, as the Rockets did when they brought in Chris Paul to join James Harden, would qualify as drastic. And it has worked.
Paul got injured in the first game of the season against the Warriors and spent a period on the sidelines, but his return has coincided with an unbeaten 14-game winning streak. Paul and Harden’s minutes have been staggered to have at least one of them on the floor during the 48 minutes, and the two have flourished.
Harden is having another MVP-contending season, but it’s the addition of Paul that could be the difference maker. The Rockets boast a league-best record of 25-4 and have won every game Paul has played this season. Many pundits pondered whether the duo could coexist when news of Paul's trade became official, but those concerns have proven unfounded.
2 Victor Oladipo makes waves in Indiana
With over a third of this season complete, it's safe to say that the trade which sent George to OKC in return for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis should be referred to as 'the Oladipo trade'. You might think that George was the best player in the deal, but Victor Oladipo has - so far - proven otherwise.
Oladipo has been freed from Westbrook’s shackles and is putting together a career year. He’s averaging 24.4 points per games (tenth in the league) while doing it efficiently at 1.2 points per shot, including 43.3% from long range. The Pacers have been running their offense through Oladipo (his usage rate is 30.6%) and it’s working, as they’re the sixth best attack in the league.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, haven’t seen the best of George. He has been impressive defensively, helping the Thunder boast the second-best rearguard in the league, but his offensive contribution has been patchy. George is averaging 19.9 points per game, while his usage rate is lower than every season since 2013/14. Unlike Oladipo, George is yet to find the right rhythm in new surrounds.
1 Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas swap homes
Tensions between Kyrie Irving and the Cavs had been rising since LeBron arrived in Cleveland. Irving was never comfortable with not being the focal point of the team, even with the enormous success that playing alongside The King brings. The situation reached breaking point in July as it became public that Irving had requested a trade.
Boston made a move for Irving, trading Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and the Nets' 2018 first-round pick. While Thomas and Irving are similar in style, Irving is undoubtedly a better player, even if Thomas had the superior season in 2016/17.
The Cavs have reaped no rewards from the trade as yet, with Crowder below par after a tough offseason, while Thomas is yet to see any action as he recovers from a hip injury.
Irving, on the other hand, has found himself in MVP contention in Boston, posting outstanding numbers with 24.4 points, 4.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. As a result, the Celtics top the East ahead of the Cavs. That comes despite Boston losing Gordon Hayward, another big-name acquisition, for the season on opening night through injury.
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