The major headline in NBA news this offseason has been the trade rumors surrounding NBA superstars. The most notable among those rumors has been the trade request of Kevin Durant, but there have been other players like Donovan Mitchell who might be on the move.
The Brooklyn Nets want a massive haul in return for Kevin Durant. Since Durant is one of the top three players in the league, the Nets expected several teams to be involved in a bidding war for the former MVP. However, trade talks have failed to escalate at all. In fact, trade negotiations have died out, convincing GMs to go on vacation and convincing fans that Durant will not be traded this summer.
Similarly, the Utah Jazz are seeking massive draft compensation in return for Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz received five first-round draft picks in return for their former star center, Rudy Gobert. For Mitchell, they would expect around six or seven first-rounders, in addition to other quality players.
There are a few reasons why these trades have not come close to being completed. The first reason is that few teams have the assets to offer what each team is asking for. The second is that the teams that do have the assets are unwilling to give up those assets out of fear of risking the future of their franchise. That leads to the question: “Should teams be sacrificing their future to trade for a superstar that might lead them to a championship, at best?”
Before coming to a conclusion, let’s look at the past to see how teams making trades affected their future. We will explore some of the most extreme outcomes of superstar trades in NBA history in terms of their positive or negative impact on the franchise. The trades considered will be the trade by the Lakers to acquire Anthony Davis, the trade by the Raptors to acquire Kawhi Leonard, the trade by the Nets to acquire James Harden, and another trade by the Nets that added Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to their roster.
Let’s begin with the summer of 2019. Anthony Davis forced his way out of New Orleans by demanding a trade. Desperate to pair a superstar alongside LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers became willing trade partners. In order to acquire Davis, the Lakers needed to trade almost all of their future away. Notable assets included Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and several picks.
Since that trade, the players the Lakers have traded away have developed into impactful NBA players. Ingram has become a perennial All-Star in the league. On the other hand, Anthony Davis helped lead the Lakers to a championship in 2020. However, the Lakers have not made it past the first round since winning that championship.
So, who won the trade? You could argue the Pelicans did, since they received a future young asset in Ingram. However, to determine who truly won the trade, you have to remember that the ultimate goal of any NBA team is to win a championship. The Lakers achieved that, so they won the trade. Even though they are struggling now, it was worth it just to win even one title. Hardly anyone remembers who was an All-Star in a particular season. Everyone remembers who wins the championship.
When the Toronto Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard, he helped lead them to a championship. The Raptors had to give up DeMar DeRozan. Kawhi left the team the same summer he led them to a championship to join the Clippers.
That being said, it was absolutely worth it for the Raptors to trade away DeRozan. Leonard helped lead the Raptors to places they had never been before. Even if they just had Leonard for one year as a rental, he helped deliver a championship.
Although there have been many trades for superstars that have benefitted NBA teams, there are also some trades that have been disastrous. Beginning with one of the most recent examples, the Brooklyn Nets acquired James Harden after he forced his way out of Houston. By uniting Harden with the elite skill of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets became one of the greatest offensive teams of all-time. They looked absolutely unstoppable.
However, things fell apart. In the 2021 playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets were eliminated by the eventual champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, in seven games. You could argue that the Nets would have won the championship if they had stayed healthy, but injuries are always something you have to consider. Too many things went wrong for the Nets that year. Unfortunately for the Nets, the drama continued into the next season. It ultimately drove Harden out of Brooklyn, and he was traded to the 76ers near the trade deadline.
Finally, we have the Nets trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. This is regarded as the worst trade in NBA history, and for good reason. When the Nets traded for Pierce and KG, they gave up their entire future, hoping that these two stars would help lead them to a championship. Unfortunately, they went up against the Miami Heat in the playoffs. Led by their Big 3, the Heat easily handled the Nets, putting their championship aspirations to rest.
Meanwhile, the draft picks the Nets traded to Boston have become the cornerstones of the Celtics franchise. The Celtics turned those picks into Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who just helped lead Boston to an NBA Finals appearance. The Nets traded for aging stars and risked their future. In this case, that did not work out well for them at all.
If a team ever has the chance to acquire a generational superstar, they should absolutely make the trade. The goal is to win a championship. By adding a superstar, such as Kevin Durant, a team instantly becomes a contender. If a good team adds a great player, they inch closer to a championship.
As long as a team wins just one championship, sacrificing the future is worth it. You could argue that winning a championship is not guaranteed by adding a superstar. While that is true, the future isn’t guaranteed, either. Injuries happen, and key players often leave their team after a few years. When you are trying to win a championship, you need to take risks. If you are lucky enough to trade for a superstar, you live with the risks associated with the future and potential failure to win a championship.
The future will take care of itself. The best thing a team can do to come closer to their ultimate goal is trade for a superstar. When talent comes around, you add it to your team. That is how you win championships. Although there have been some disasters here and there, the common recipe for championship teams is taking risks and making trades to improve their roster. That can be traced back to nearly every championship team in NBA history.
For the sake of the current Kevin Durant saga, teams should be wary about giving up too many assets for the superstar such that they no longer have a good team to support him. However, they should not be afraid to risk their future in the hope to win a championship in the near future.