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NBA AM: The Largest Trades in NBA History

Patrick Ewing was involved in one of the biggest trades in NBA history. Here’s a look at the all-time largest deals.

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If there’s one thing NBA fans love more than anything else, it’s a good trade. Fantasy sports and video games have allowed us to satiate our appetites by pretend-trading to our hearts’ collective content, but nothing beats a good real-life deal. That’s why so many of our Basketball Insiders chat questions start with, “What do you think of this four-way trade I came up with?”

We love the enthusiasm, but the reality is that those three-way and four-way trades are hard to make happen because all three (let alone all four) teams rarely walk out of negotiations feeling like they’ve won. Still, there have been some monster trades over the years, and here’s a look at the largest of them:

#5 – Nine-player deal between Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves (March 11, 1999)

Milwaukee Got: Sam Cassell and Chris Gatling from New Jersey; Paul Grant from Minnesota.
New Jersey Got: Stephon Marbury, Bill Curley and Chris Carr from Minnesota; Elliot Perry from Milwaukee.
Minnesota Got: Terrell Brandon from Milwaukee; Brian Evans and a draft pick from New Jersey.

How It Panned Out: Marbury played the best two-and-a-half seasons of his career in New Jersey, but an eventual trade for Jason Kidd, followed by two consecutive Finals appearances for the Nets, only added to Starbury’s legacy as a postseason failure. Cassell spent four happy and healthy years with the Bucks—again, the best of his career—and Terrell Brandon lasted a few more solid years as a Wolve before injuries forced him to retire. In all, it was a pretty fair trade for all teams involved, though Minnesota giving up on the promise of Marbury so early in his career certainly wasn’t something the organization did with smiles on their faces.

#4 – Nine-player deal between Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks (August 17, 2000)

Golden State Got: Danny Fortson from Boston; Adam Keefe from Utah.
Boston Got: Robert Pack, Hot Rod Williams and cash from Dallas; first-round draft pick from Utah.
Utah Got: Donyell Marshall from Golden State; Bruno Sundov from Dallas.
Dallas Got: Dana Barros from Boston; Bill Curley from Golden State; Howard Eisley from Utah.

How It Panned Out: It looked at first as though the Warriors were going to be the easy winners of this trade as Fortson started that season averaging over 16 boards a game, but that only lasted six games, at which he point Forston hurt himself and missed the rest of the season. The next two seasons in Oakland were significantly less exciting, and eventually he ended up in Dallas for a year before finishing his career in Seattle circa 2007. Marshall was as advertised for Utah, a solid starting power forward, and Barros never actually played a single game for Dallas. The Mavs ended up re-packaging him to Detroit for Loy Vaught.

#3 – Eleven-player deal between Houston Rockets, Vancouver Grizzlies and Orlando Magic (August 27, 1999)

Houston Got: Steve Francis and Tony Massenburg from Vancouver; Don McLean and a first-round draft pick from Orlando.
Vancouver Got: Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Brent Price, Antoine Carr and a first-round pick from Houston.
Orlando Got: Michael Smith, Rodrick Rhodes, Lee Mayberry and Makhtar Ndiaye from Vancouver.

How It Panned Out: This trade happened only because Francis refused to play in Vancouver, so the Grizzlies sort of had their hand forced and ended up taking back nowhere near enough value for a kid who would end up being one of the league’s most exciting young players in a matter of only a couple seasons. Francis had a perfectly respectable career in Houston, but really nobody else on the list is worth saying too much about. It was a great trade for Houston, a horrible trade for the Grizz and a seemingly meaningless trade for Orlando.

#2 – Twelve-player deal between New York Knicks, Seattle SuperSonics, L.A. Lakers and Phoenix Suns (September 20, 2000)

New York Got: Glen Rice, Travis Knight and a first-round pick from L.A.; Vladimir Stepania, Lazaro Borrell, Vernon Maxwell, a first-round pick and two second-round picks from Seattle; Luc Longley from Phoenix.
Seattle Got: Patrick Ewing from New York.
L.A. Got: Horace Grant, Chuck Person, Greg Foster and Emanual Davis from Seattle.
Phoenix Got: Chris Dudley and a first round pick from New York.

How It Panned Out: Ewing’s time in New York was up, and it was time for him to go at least while some value could be claimed for the future Hall-of-Famer. The Knicks got plenty of it in the form of four draft picks (who ended up being Kareem Rush, Jamaal Tinsley, Michael Wright and Eric Chenowith) and Glen Rice, who put up reasonable numbers in his one season as a Knick. As for Ewing, his time in Seattle was short and disappointing. The Sonics let his contract expire after the season, and Ewing signed with the Magic for a final season before retirement. Horace Grant, meanwhile, helped the Lakers win a second consecutive NBA title in 2001, perhaps giving the Lakers the best part of this trade from a big picture standpoint.

#1 – Thirteen-player deal between Miami HEAT, Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets and Utah Jazz (August 2, 2005)

Miami Got: Antoine Walker from Boston; Jason Williams, James Posey and Andre Emmett from Memphis; the draft rights to Robert Duenas from New Orleans.
Boston Got: Qyntel Woods, the draft rights to Albert Miralles and two second draft picks from Miami; Curtis Borchardt from Utah.
Memphis Got: Eddie Jones from Miami; Raul Lopez from Utah.
Utah Got: Greg Ostertag from Memphis.
New Orleans Got: Rasual Butler from Miami; Kirk Snyder from Utah.

How It Panned Out: Five-team trades are essentially unheard of in the NBA, which is why this one is particularly special in its outrageous complexity. Clearly the HEAT came out of this the big winners, taking back three of the four most talented players in the deal and winning the NBA championship that very year. Eddie Jones, meanwhile, didn’t work out in Memphis, so after biding his time (a lot of which was inexplicably spent on the bench) for about 18 months in Tennessee, he got his release from the Grizzlies and ended up right back in Miami, though too late to get himself a ring on the team with which he had the longest tenure.

Honorable Mention:

Nine-player deal between Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks (August 18, 2003)

Dallas Got: Antawn Jamison, Danny Fortson, Chris Mills, and Jiri Welsch.
Golden State Got: Nick Van Exel, Avery Johnson, Popeye Jones, Evan Eschmeyer and Antoine Rigaudeau.

Nine-player deal between Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets (February 17, 1997)

Dallas Got: Shawn Bradley, Robert Pack, Khalid Reeves, and Ed O’Bannon.
New Jersey Got: Sam Cassell, Jim Jackson, George McCloud, Chris Gatling, and Eric Montross.

Something worth noting in all of this: every single one of these seven trades happened in the eight years between 1997 and 2005, and an overwhelming majority of those occurred between 1999 and 2000. What an insane 12 months that was for trades.

Another noticeable pattern: moves this big tend to happen in the offseason as opposed to the trade deadline. All but two of these seven deals happened when no official basketball was being played, which likely is a testament to the fact that general managers and team presidents have more time to work out these complicated offers when games aren’t actually happening.

While the three-team trade grows increasingly common, larger trades than that are hard to come by. Thirteen players still stands as the record, but that won’t stop the hoops-loving masses from playing with Trade Machines to see if they can come up with a 14+ player trade that works.

And if you weren’t already thinking about it, now you are. Take this as a challenge in the days counting down to the start of training camps.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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