In professional sports, one of the most exciting things that can happen from a fan’s perspective is a blockbuster trade. These deals can alter not just the fates of the franchises involved, but can shape the direction of the entire league. The biggest deal of this offseason so far was the trade that sent Kevin Love to the Cavaliers for the last two No. 1 overall picks, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, plus the Wolves also landed Thaddeus Young from the Sixers as part of the transaction.
It will be years before we can accurately judge who won the trade, but if the Cavs hoist the NBA Championship trophy next Spring they will certainly be thrilled with the results. The Wolves haven’t been to the playoffs the last 10 seasons, so for them the deal was about building for the future and trying to change the losing culture in Minnesota.
I’ve been taking a look back at some of the bigger deals that have transpired in recent NBA history. So far I’ve examined the trades that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers; Deron Williams to the Nets; Kevin Garnett to the Celtics; Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks; Chris Paul to the Clippers; Stephon Marbury to the Knicks; and the trade that sent Shaquille O’Neal from the Lakers to the Heat.
Not all big trades involve established players and stars, but they still carry a high risk. Trading away prospects and draft picks ramp that risk up even higher than when dealing away established NBA talent, since it is so difficult to accurately predict how a player’s production will transition from college to the pros. It’s with this in mind that I look back at the June 2006 Draft night trade between the Bulls and the Blazers that landed LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland.
I’ll begin by running down the players involved:
The Bulls were infatuated at the time with Thomas’ athleticism and defensive potential, which led then-GM John Paxson to take a chance and deal Aldridge, whom the Bulls selected with the No. 2 overall pick, for Thomas, who was selected No. 4 overall. The Bulls were more enamored with Thomas’ physical tools and potential, but this trade shows the risks involved when dealing away draft picks prior to seeing them perform at the next level.
The Bulls were just beginning to climb out of the post-Michael Jordan era blues at the time of the trade. Here’s a look at their records in the seasons leading up to this deal:
- 2001/02: 21-61
- 2002/03: 30-52
- 2003/04: 23-59
- 2004/05: 47-35 (Lost in first round to the Wizards)
- 2005/06: 41-41 (Lost in first round to the Heat)
The acquisition of Thomas was supposed to strengthen the Bulls’ frontcourt and help the franchise take the next step back toward contention, but Thomas never lived up to his potential and has been outperformed by Aldridge every season of their careers.
Here are Thomas’ career stats:
- 2006/07: 5.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.6 APG, and 1.1 BPG. His slash line was .474/.000/.606.
- 2007/08: 6.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.2 APG, and 1.0 BPG. His slash line was .423/.167/.741.
- 2008/09: 10.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 1.9 BPG. His slash line was .451/.333/.783.
- 2009/10: 9.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 1.6 BPG. His slash line was .462/.000/.687.
- 2010/11: 10.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.7 APG, and 1.6 BPG. His slash line was .471/.000/.787.
- 2011/12: 5.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.6 APG, and 1.1 BPG. His slash line was .367/.333/.759.
- 2012/13: 4.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.7 APG, and 0.6 BPG. His slash line was .353/.375/.839.
The Bulls’ records for the seasons that Thomas was on the roster were:
- 2006/07: 49-33 (Lost in second round to the Pistons)
- 2007/08: 33-49
- 2008/09: 41-41 (Lost in first round to the Celtics)
- 2009/10: 41-41 (Lost in first round to the Cavs)
Thomas was injured four games into the 2009/10 season, and he missed nearly six weeks with a fractured forearm. During this stretch he was replaced in the starting lineup by Taj Gibson, who performed well enough to make Thomas expendable. On February 18, 2010, Thomas was traded to the Hornets for Flip Murray; Acie Law; and a 2014 first-rounder (Jusuf Nurkic).
That offseason the Hornets signed Thomas to a five-year, $40MM deal. Thomas would spend another three seasons with Charlotte, averaging double-figures in points only once. His time in Charlotte and his NBA career would come to an end on July 10, 2013 when the Hornets waived Thomas using the amnesty provision to make room for the franchise to sign Al Jefferson.
Murray only appeared in 29 games for the Bulls, and averaged 10.1 PPG and 2.9 RPG. This was his last season in the league and he’s since split time between the NBA D-League and playing overseas.
Law appeared in just 12 games for the Bulls, averaging 5.5 PPG and 1.3 APG. After the 2009/10 season he became a free agent, signing a one-year deal with the Grizzlies, who would release him after 11 games.
The first-rounder that Chicago had acquired from Charlotte was part of the 2014 NBA Draft night trade with the Nuggets that sent the rights to Doug McDermott and Anthony Randolph to the Bulls for Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris, and the least favorable of the Bulls’ pair of second rounders in 2015 (Chicago has both its own second-round pick and Portland’s second-rounder that year).
Viktor Khryapa didn’t provide much of a return for the Bulls. In parts of two seasons with the franchise, he appeared in a total of 42 games, averaging 2.9 PPG and 1.9 RPG. Khryapa only played an average of 9.3 minutes per contest while in Chicago. He expressed to management his frustrations about his lack of playing time, and in February of 2008 he and the team reached a buyout agreement. Khryapa has been out of the NBA ever since.
From the Bulls’ side of things, this is a deal that I’m sure they would like to change if they could. It’s hard to predict what the team’s won-loss records would have been the first two seasons after the trade was made, and if Chicago would have still been in line to draft Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose in 2007 and 2008, respectively, if it was Aldridge and not Thomas manning the power forward position. But when simply comparing the assets that changed hands, the Bulls have to regret this deal when looking back.
The Blazers were floundering as a franchise in the seasons prior to this trade. Here’s a look at their records prior to acquiring Aldridge:
- 2001/02: 49-33 (Lost to the Lakers in the first round)
- 2002/03: 50-32 (Lost to the Mavs in the first round)
- 2003/04: 41-41
- 2004/05: 27-55
- 2005/06: 21-61
Portland had quite a busy draft night back in 2006, acquiring Aldridge as well as Brandon Roy in a separate deal with the Wolves. Roy would go on to win Rookie of the Year honors for the 2006/07 season, when he averaged 16.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 4.0 APG. Aldridge didn’t begin his career quite as successfully, but by his second season he already began to show flashes of being the star player that he has evolved into.
Here are Aldridge’s career numbers:
- 2006/07: 9.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.4 APG, and 1.2 BPG. His slash line was .503/.000/.722.
- 2007/08: 17.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, and 1.2 BPG. His slash line was .484/.143/.762.
- 2008/09: 18.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, and 1.0 BPG. His slash line was .484/.250/.781.
- 2009/10: 17.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, and 0.6 BPG. His slash line was .495/.313/.757.
- 2010/11: 21.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, and 1.2 BPG. His slash line was .500/.174/.791.
- 2011/12: 21.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, and 0.8 BPG. His slash line was .512/.182/.814.
- 2012/13: 21.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, and 1.2 BPG. His slash line was .484/.143/.810.
- 2013/14: 23.2 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, and 1.0 BPG. His slash line was .458/.200/.822.
Here’s how the Blazers have fared since acquiring Aldridge:
- 2006/07: 32-50
- 2007/08: 41-41
- 2008/09: 54-28 (Lost in first round to the Rockets)
- 2009/10: 50-32 (Lost in first round to the Suns)
- 2010/11: 48-34 (Lost in first round to Mavs)
- 2011/12: 28-38
- 2012/13: 33-49
- 2013/14: 54-28 (Lost in the second round to the Spurs)
Aldridge has been a big part of the turnaround in Portland, which has had a few setbacks, most notably the selection of Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant back in 2007, and Roy’s retirement due to injuries back in 2011. Aldridge is on track to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, and even if the Blazers don’t re-sign him, they still win this deal.
The second-rounder that Portland acquired from Chicago was used in a trade with the Knicks, which saw New York receive Zach Randolph; Dan Dickau; Fred Jones; and the pick that was used to select Demetris Nichols. In return, the Blazers received Steve Francis; Channing Frye; and a 2008 second-rounder that was used to select Omer Asik.
As far as trades go, the Aldridge one wasn’t a multi-player deal involving numerous teams, but it was still a rather important one–especially for Portland. The Blazers haven’t advanced past the second round during Aldridge’s tenure in Portland, but it’s difficult to argue that he is the cause. The Bulls most likely lament this deal, especially since Thomas is out of the league altogether, while Aldridge is entering his prime and has made three consecutive All-Star games. But in all fairness, had Derrick Rose not fallen under the injury bug, Chicago may well have won an NBA title in the last few years.
It’s interesting to see the difference in production each franchise received from players taken a mere two selections apart. It also makes one wonder which of this year’s draft night trades will be looked back at as being steals or huge misfires. Will the Cavs regret dealing away Wiggins? If Cleveland fails to win the title, Love doesn’t perform up to his previous levels, or if he leaves as a free agent after the season, then they absolutely will. But if they finally hang a championship banner from their rafters, then they will consider it absolutely worth doing.
As for some of the other teams that took a gamble this year, time will tell if the Nuggets will regret trading McDermott to the Bulls, or if the Magic will rue dealing Dario Saric to the Sixers for Elfrid Payton. As the Aldridge-Thomas trade has demonstrated, a few spots in the draft order can yield remarkably different results down the line. It’s a risk anytime a deal is made, and sometimes it’s even more so when gambling with draft selections. Cleveland certainly better hope that Wiggins doesn’t become a superstar, or they need to win at least a couple of titles if he does. Otherwise, there will be some angry Cavs fans in a few years.
Note: If there’s a particular trade that you would like to see me take a look back at, please feel free to sound off in the comments section below or hit me up on Twitter at @EddieScarito.