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Trading an Unhappy Superstar


We've looked at this before and we'll look at it again, the history of superstar trades. They're rarely equal and the more a team waits, the more it loses. For those Magic fans (and media) who (still) think they can get equal value for Dwight Howard in a trade: don't bank on it.

The history of superstar trades suggest that it's rare that a team gets anything more than good young players, draft picks and cap space (via expiring contracts and trade exceptions) when an unhappy superstar wants out. And it's particularly the case when a player demands a trade to one team and the GM admits it.

In trading Johnson a week ago, Atlanta saved more than $75 million in cap space over the next four years.The Magic are unlikely to save that much (although they will get a better young player and more picks), but unlike the Hawks (or the Jazz a year ago), the Magic waited and waited, fired their GM and their coach, hired a new GM and then made the deal. The Magic would be wise to take the Nets offer because, as each of the succeeding offers has shown, it gets worse.

There have been a few exceptions but It's rare stars are traded straight up for stars. There's always some extra baggage to balance things and as such trades show, it's often doesn't turn out as good as it looks on paper, at least for one side. Some thought Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury would be win-win's. They weren't. Here's a summary of an unlucky 13 superstar trades (plus a Nets-centric deal) over the past eight years...starting with last Monday's Joe Johnson trade. He may not have been unhappy, but a change of scenery can't hurt.

Here's the list. Draft picks, if exercised, are shown in parentheses. Players marked with an asterisk had expiring deals or an option.

--July 2, 2012: The Brooklyn Nets agree in principle to acquire Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks in return for Anthony Morrow*; Jordan Farmar* who will be bought out for a reported $1.5 million at the Hawks' expense; Jordan Williams, Johan Petro and a signed-and-traded DeShawn Stevenson, who gets a three year deal with only the first year guaranteed, plus the Rockets lottery protected 2013 first-round pick.

--December 15, 2011: The Los Angeles Clippers acquired Chris Paul plus the Hornets and Grizzlies' second round picks in 2015 from the New Orleans Hornets for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman*, Al-Farouq Aminu and the Timberwolves' unprotected 2012 first-round pick (Austin Rivers).

--February 23, 2011: The New Jersey Nets acquired Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first round picks, their own (Enes Kanter) and the Golden State Warriors in 2012, protected 1-7, and $3 million in cash.

--February 21, 2011: the Denver Nuggets acquired Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov, a future first-round pick, the right to swap first rounders in 2016; the Warriors’ 2012 second-round pick (Quincy Miller), the Warriors’ 2013 second-round pick, and $3 million in cash, all from the Knicks and Kosta Koufos from the Timberwolves

The New York Knicks received Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams*, Anthony Carter* and Renaldo Balkman from Denver and Corey Brewer from the Timberwolves…who they then released.

Minnesota got Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry*, who they then released, and $3 million in cash from New York and the Nuggets’ 2015 second round pick.

--November 3, 2008: The Detroit Pistons acquired Allen Iverson from the Denver Nuggets for Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess* and Cheikh Samb*.

--February 18, 2008: The Dallas Mavericks acquired Jason Kidd, Malik Allen*, and Antoine Wright* from the New Jersey Nets for Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop*, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, a signed and traded Keith Van Horn*, two future first round picks (Ryan Anderson and Damion James), and cash considerations believed to be $3 million. The Nets also received a $3.3 million trade exception.

--February 6, 2008: The Phoenix Suns acquired Shaquille O'Neal from the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion* and Marcus Banks.

--February 2, 2008: The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol and a 2010 second round draft pick from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown*, Javaris Crittenton, a signed and traded Aaron McKie*, the draft rights to the #48 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Marc Gasol, and two future first round picks (Donte Greene and Greivis Vasquez).

--July 31, 2007: The Boston Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green*, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff*, Sebastian Telfair, the return to Minnesota of the future first round pick (Jonny Flynn) that was initially traded to Boston on January 26, 2006, and a future first round pick from Boston (Nikola Pekovic). Simultaneous with the trade, Kevin Garnett removed his ability to opt out after the 2007-2008 season and then signed a multi-year contract extension with the Boston Celtics which will begin in the 2009-2010 season.

--June 28, 2007: The Boston Celtics acquired Ray Allen and the draft rights to the #35 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Glen Davis, from the Seattle Supersonics for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, the draft rights to the #5 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Jeff Green, and the better of Boston's own 2008 second round pick and Portland's own 2008 second round pick (Trent Plaisted).

--December 19, 2006: The Denver Nuggets acquired Allen Iverson and Ivan McFarlin* from the Philadelphia 76ers for Andre Miller, Joe Smith*, and two 2007 first round draft picks (Daequan Cook and Petteri Koponen).

-- December 17, 2004: The New Jersey Nets acquired Vince Carter from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and two first-round draft picks (Joey Graham and Renaldo Balkman).

--July 15, 2004: The New Jersey Nets signed Kenyon Martin to a seven-year, $91 million contract with a $1.5 million signing bonus and a player option after the 6th season, then traded him to Denver for three future first round picks (Joey Graham, Renaldo Balkman and Marcus Williams). The Nets also received a $5.2 million trade exception.

--July 14, 2004: The Los Angeles Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant*, and a future first round draft pick (Jordan Farmar).

There are a lot of lessons to be learned here. If you look at the draft picks (not the draft rights) included in these deals, very, very few of them turned out well. What does work is cap space and good young players...particularly for small market teams like the Magic. The Hawks are somewhat different in that they, like the Nets of the pre-Prokhorov days, are a team for sale. Their owners are trying to shed expensive long-term assets.

The two picks the Lakers received from the Grizzlies were not major players in the team's post-trade success. Donte Greene and Greivis Vasquez aren't even with the team any longer. But Marc Gasol, who Memphis had scouted in Spain, turned into a great asset. More importantly, the cap space the Grizzlies freed up helped them acquire and sign Zach Randolph and sign Rudy Gay.

One of the two picks the Nets acquired in the Jason Kidd deal worked out, Ryan Anderson, but not for them. The other, Damion James, is no longer a Net property either. Devin Harris played well for two years, besting his averages in Dallas and making the All-Star team. The cap space the Nets received has been either frittered away on bad deals like Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro or stashed away on one year deals.

Neither of the picks the Timberwolves got from the Celtics paid off. Jonny Flynn is a free agent after playing a bit with the Rockets and Nikola Pekovic, while still in Minnesota, is okay (unless guarded by Johan Petro and Shelden Williams and then becomes a superstar.) Al Jefferson, who was the key player in that deal, eventually went to Utah for more cap space.

The two picks the Raptors coveted in the Vince Carter trade turned into Joey Graham and Renaldo Balkman. They could have turned into Danny Granger and Rajon Rondo, but they didn't. Rob Babcock's successor as Raptor GM, Wayne Embry was smart enough to send one of those picks along with Jalen Rose to the Knicks in a salary dump, giving him extra cap space. Isiah Thomas was dumb enough to take Balkman (one place above Rondo).

The deal the Nuggets made for Carmelo Anthony is the classic case and probably the one the Magic should emulate. It was focused on getting good young players..and some cap space and picks, lots of each actually.

Denver received three players who were averaging 15 points a game at the time in Danilo Gallinari (22), Raymond Felton (26), and Wilson Chandler (23), plus a seven-footer with potential, Timofey Mozgov (24). All were either on rookie deals or short-term contracts. Felton became Andre Miller, who became a free agent. The Nuggets controlled Chandler's RFA rights when he returned from China, he signed a contract with the Denver Nuggets reportedly worth $37 million for 5 years. And all the cap space from the deal helped them sign both Hilario and Gallinari to long-term deals (before they realized their mistake and sent Nene packing). Who won this trade? Too early to tell. Of the four picks the Nuggets acquired -- the Knicks first rounder in 2014, the swap of first first rounders in 2016 and the Warriors' two second rounders in 2012 and 2013 -- only the 2012 second round has been exercised. That turned into Quincy Miller, a decent pick. Not to mention James Dolan is $6 million poorer.