It’s an enormous gamble for franchises to trade away their superstars because there’s almost no way to get back equal value in return. Teams usually have to settle for quantity over quality, and have to bank on the returns panning out down the line, or being able to in turn, flip the acquired assets for another team’s star player in another deal. It’s a gamble either way you look at it, and might help in explaining the turnover rate of NBA GM’s.
The current Kevin Love situation playing out in Minnesota is a great example of this. Team president and coach Flip Saunders is still trying to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on the deal, and if he does, which package provides the best return? There’s no way to get equal value for a player of Love’s caliber, at least not for the coming season. If Saunders lands the right package it will benefit the Timberwolves more in the seasons to come, rather than during the 2014/15 campaign. This is true even if they do in fact land Andrew Wiggins, as most of the current rumors suggest.
Minnesota’s quandary made me want to take a look back at some other blockbuster trades where superstars changed hands, and to examine how the trades worked out for both sides. Since we’re discussing a big man, I decided to begin this series with a look back at the August 2012 deal that sent Dwight Howard from the Magic to the Lakers.
First let’s recap the trade, and all the assets and teams involved:
- The Lakers received Dwight Howard, Chris Duhon, and Earl Clark from the Magic.
- The Nuggets received Andre Iguodala from the Sixers.
- The Sixers received Andrew Bynum from the Lakers, and Jason Richardson from the Magic.
- The Magic received Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, a 2014 first rounder from Denver via the Knicks (traded to Sixers for the rights to Elfrid Payton) and a 2013 second-round pick (Romero Osby) from the Nuggets; Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic from the Sixers; Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, a top-five protected first rounder in 2017, and a conditional second-rounder in 2015 from the Lakers (protected for picks 31-40).
Looking back at the trade from the Lakers’ perspective, it’s not as bad a deal as one would have thought, considering Howard ended up being a one-year rental. During Howard’s lone season in Los Angeles, he averaged 17.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, and 2.4 BPG in 76 appearances. His time was most notable for his displeasure with then coach Mike D’Antoni‘s offensive system, and the perception that Howard wasn’t satisfied with being the second biggest star on the team after Kobe Bryant.
Los Angeles went 45-37 in Howard’s only season, earning the seventh seed in the playoffs, where they were swept in the first round by the Spurs. Howard then left the Lakers to sign a four-year, $87.59MM contract with the Rockets.
In retrospect, the Lakers didn’t surrender all that much for their one season of Howard. At the time giving up Andrew Bynum, who was coming off of a season where he averaged 18.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, and 1.9 BPG, seemed like a gamble, considering re-signing Howard wasn’t guaranteed, but Bynum ended up missing the entire 2012/13 season, and he’s only appeared in a total of 26 games since then.
Josh McRoberts has turned out to be a valuable bench contributor, but he’s not a player who would have significantly changed the fortunes of the purple-and-gold. McRoberts was subsequently traded by Orlando to the Hornets for Hakim Warrick midway through the 2012/13 season, and most recently signed a four-year, $22.65MM deal with the Heat.
The biggest loss from the trade could turn out to be the 2017 first-rounder that went to Orlando. It’s top-five protected, which gives Los Angeles some margin for error. But unless the Lakers make a splash in free agency the next two summers, the loss of the pick will cost them a much needed cog in the rebuilding process, and will negatively impact the franchise. I would say that setback wouldn’t be worth the single season of Howard they received. The record the Lakers have compiled since the trade is 72-92, hardly the result they intended when making the deal.
The Nuggets received a big boost from Iguodala in his one season with the team. He averaged 13.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 5.4 APG while appearing in 80 contests. Denver went 57-25 that year, securing the third seed in the playoffs, before getting ousted by the Warriors in the first round.
Foye had a decent season last year, averaging 13.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, and 3.5 APG in Denver. He actually outperformed Iguodala’s totals in Golden State, thanks to Iguodala being slowed by injuries for much of the year. Still, in the long term, Iguodala is a much more valuable player, especially on the defensive end.
From Denver’s perspective this trade wasn’t a great success. The one season of Iguodala cost them two excellent years from Afflalo, who averaged 16.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 3.2 APG in 2012/13, and 18.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 3.4 APG during the 2013/14 season, numbers that surpassed anything that Iguodala has provided in Denver or Golden State. Afflalo was re-acquired by Denver this summer in a trade with Orlando which sent Evan Fournier and the No. 56 pick (Devyn Marble) to the Magic. Since the 2012 trade, the Nuggets record is 93-71.
From the Sixers’ perspective, this trade wasn’t a great deal–unless you are on board with their perceived tanking, and the assets they are gathering as a result. The acquisition of Bynum, which at the time was looked at as a win, turned out to be a disaster. Iguodala was a team leader, extremely popular in Philadelphia, and arguably the team’s best player at the time. Bynum had injury and motivation issues, and he ended up being far more trouble than he was worth during his brief stay in Philadelphia.
The loss of Harkless and Vucevic also doesn’t help the trade look any better from Philadelphia’s perspective. Harkless hasn’t set the league on fire, but he averaged 8.2 PPG and 4.4 RPG during the 2012/13 campaign, and 7.4 PPG and 3.3 RPG in 2013/14. He’s still only 21 years old and could develop into a valuable rotation piece down the line.
Vucevic, still only 23 years old, has turned out to be a very productive big man for Orlando. He put up 13.1 PPG and 11.9 RPG in 2012/13, and then 14.2 PPG and 11.0 RPG last season, far better numbers than anything from either Bynum or Richardson, who averaged 10.5 PPG and 3.8 RPG during his one healthy season in Philly.
The Sixers have gone 53-111 since the trade, a ghastly mark that stands in stark contrast to what they were envisioning when making the deal. They couldn’t have anticipated the injuries to Bynum, but that’s the risk a franchise takes with any transaction.
Finally, we come to the Magic. They were in a similar position to the one that Minnesota now finds itself in. They had a disgruntled superstar who wanted out, and they didn’t want to risk losing Howard for nothing if he left as a free agent. So, they made the difficult decision to deal away their franchise player.
After running through what the other teams received, and the minimal returns those assets provided, this might be one of the rare cases where the team trading away the best player actually came out on top.
As I’ve previously mentioned, Afflalo gave them two solid seasons, and Orlando probably should have retained him for another year, considering his talent level and affordable contract. Harkless has given Orlando decent production, and he hasn’t reached his full potential yet.
But the big prize was Vucevic. Productive big men are at a premium in the league, and he is still improving as a player. The problem will come after this season. Vucevic is eligible to sign an extension this summer, or he’ll become a restricted free agent in 2015. He won’t come cheap, and the Magic will have to decide if he’s worth the $10-15MM per season he will most likely seek in his new contract.
The final piece to this trade is Payton. If he can develop into a reliable starter, this trade will look better from Orlando’s perspective. Payton’s presence will allow Victor Oladipo to return to his natural position at shooting guard and reduce his ball-handling duties. The knock on Payton is his lack of a reliable jump shot, and with his questionable mechanics, it might not be a part of his game that will ever stand out. But if he can improve his defense, stay away from turnovers, and facilitate the offense effectively, he’ll be a valuable piece of the puzzle going forward.
Despite “winning” this trade, it hasn’t been reflected in the standings. Orlando has gone 43-121 since dealing away Howard. So, despite acquiring some intriguing building blocks, it also proves that one star player is far more valuable than a roster of good ones. Minnesota, take heed. You might have no choice but to trade Love, but no matter the return, your ranking in the Western Conference most likely won’t improve over the next few seasons.