A few players could shift the balance of power in the NBA simply by changing zip codes and uniforms.
One of those players is Kevin Durant.
That’s why the deal that sent KD from the Brooklyn Nets to the Phoenix Suns will be considered one of the blockbusters of all blockbuster trades in league history. Not only because Durant is a generational talent, but because, even at 34 years old, he's still producing as if he is in the prime of his career and has three years remaining on his contract – not that the term "under team control" has much significance in the trade-request era.
That's not to say players of Durant's caliber rarely hit the trade market. Of those named on the NBA's Top 75 players of all time, 45 were traded at some point after making their debut in the league. Some may have been in the twilight of their Hall of Fame careers, but others still were very much in their prime.
Here are the biggest blockbuster trades in NBA history, some of which altered the landscape of the league. Excluded from the list are draft-day trades before the player was established in the league, so no Kobe Bryant (to the Lakers for Vlade Divac) or Bill Russell (to the Celtics for an Ice Capades performance). Also excluded are sign-and-trade deals in which the star player involved was on the move regardless, so no LeBron James (to the Heat for draft picks).
Wilt Chamberlain – 1965 and 1968
What kind of return did the San Francisco Warriors receive for trading a player who averaged 41.5 points and 25.1 rebounds per game over his first six-plus seasons? Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer and cash.
The Warriors dealt Wilt Chamberlain, the league's reigning five-time scoring leader, to the Philadelphia 76ers in a mid-season deal, shedding his burdensome $75,000 annual salary.
"Chamberlain is not an easy man to love," Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli said after the trade, per Sports Illustrated. "I don't mean that I personally dislike him. He's a good friend of mine. But the fans in San Francisco never learned to love him. I guess most fans are for the little man and the underdog, and Wilt is neither. He's easy to hate, and we were the best draw in the NBA on the road, when people came to see him lose. I traded him because of cold, hard facts -- I was making money for everyone but myself."
Two years later, Chamberlain helped the Sixers defeat his former team in the 1967 NBA Finals to win the championship.
One of the NBA's earliest "Super Teams" was formed a year later when Chamberlain was dealt by the Sixers to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff. The 32-year-old Chamberlain joined forces with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, forming a "Big 3" that in 1972 led the Lakers to their first championship in 18 years. Chamberlain was named Finals MVP after averaging 19.4 points and 23.2 rebounds in the series.
Oscar Robertson – 1970
Oscar Robertson, in his 10 seasons combined for the Cincinnati Royals, nearly averaged a triple-double, posting 29.3 points, 10.3 assists and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Whether due to his anticipated contract demands or his clashing with new coach and Celtics legend Bob Cousy – the New York Times reported the two had differences over playing style and injury severity while a Roberston biographer claimed Cousy was jealous of Robertson for breaking his records – the Big O was traded to Milwaukee for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson. Robertson, in his first season with Milwaukee in 1971, teamed with Lew Alcindor to lead the Bucks to their first championship.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 1975
Baseball has the “Curse of the Bambino.” Basketball has the “Curse of the Kareembino.”
Well, maybe not. Doesn't have as nice of a ring to it, and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trade was under much different circumstances than the deal that sent Babe Ruth the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees. But, the two trades produced somewhat similar results. The trade sending Abdul-Jabbar from Milwaukee to Los Angeles for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters helped turn the Lakers into a powerhouse while the Bucks would go more than 50 years before winning their next championship.
Cultural difference led to Abdul-Jabbar wanting out of Milwaukee after the 1975 season, with NBC's Marv Albert reporting at the time that New York and Los Angeles were the All-Star center’s preferred destinations.
“Live in Milwaukee? No, I guess you could say I exist in Milwaukee,” Abdul-Jabbar said at the time. “I am a soldier hired for service and I will perform that service well. Basketball has given me a good life, but this town has nothing to do with my roots. There’s no common ground.”
A 28-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged 30.0 points, 14.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.3 blocks during his final season in Milwaukee, won his fourth MVP award in his first season with the Lakers. He'd go on to earn two more MVP awards and five championships while with the Lakers en route to becoming the league's all-time leading scorer.
Julius Erving – 1976
Long ago, the Nets traded a star of Kevin Durant's caliber.
Shortly after Erving led the New York Nets to the ABA championship, the league merged with the NBA. Each former ABA team had to pay $3.2 million to enter the NBA, and the Nets were forced to give the Knicks an additional $4.8 million for encroaching their territory. With Erving holding out for a new contract in the days leading up to the 1976-1977 season, Nets owner Roy Boe offered Dr. J to the Knicks in exchange for waiving the $4.8 million fee. The Knicks rejected the offer.
Boe then dealt Erving to the 76ers for cash to help cover the organization's merger expenses. Erving helped lead the Sixers to the NBA Finals in his debut season with the team. It was the first of four Finals trips for the Sixers with Erving, who led the team to a championship in 1983. The Nets, meanwhile, won 22 games during their first season in the NBA before moving to New Jersey.
Shaquille O'Neal – 2004
Shaquille O’Neal rebounded just fine from his breakup with Kobe Bryant.
Years of bickering, power struggles and Hollywood drama between a star duo that had won three straight championships came to an end when the Lakers traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom and two draft picks.
At the time of the trade – which came shortly after a Lakers team featuring Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone and Gary Payton lost in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons – a 32-year-old Shaq had career averages of 27.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 blocks. In his first season in Miami, while the Lakers finished 34-48, O’Neal averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds and teamed with Dwyane Wade to lead the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals. The following season, Shaq and D-Wade delivered the organization's first NBA championship.
Other notable NBA blockbuster trades:
Charles Barkley – 1992
Traded by the Philadelphia 76ers to the Phoenix Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry.
Dennis Rodman – 1995
Traded by the San Antonio Spurs to the Chicago Bulls for Will Perdue.
Scottie Pippen – 1999
Traded by the Chicago Bulls to the Houston Rockets for Roy Rogers and a 2000 second-round draft pick.
Patrick Ewing – 2000
Traded by the New York Knicks to the Seattle SuperSonics as part of a four-team deal for a package centered around Glen Rice.
Jason Kidd – 2001
Traded by the Phoenix Suns with Chris Dudley to the New Jersey Nets for Stephon Marbury, Johnny Newman and Soumaila Samake.
Ray Allen – 2003
Traded by the Milwaukee Bucks with Ronald Murray, Kevin Ollie and a 2003 first-round pick to the Seattle SuperSonics for Gary Payton and Desmond Mason.
Tracy McGrady – 2004
Traded by the Orlando Magic with Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to the Houston Rockets for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato.
Allen Iverson – 2006
Traded by the Philadelphia 76ers with Ivan McFarlin to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two 2007 first-round picks.
Kevin Garnett – 2007
Traded by the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Boston Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and two 2009 first-round picks.
Chris Paul – 2011
Traded by the New Orleans Hornets with cash and a 2015 second-round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and a 2012 first-round pick.
Carmelo Anthony – 2011
Traded by the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks as part of a three-team deal for Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, cash, a 2012 second-round pick, a 2013 second-round pick, a 2014 first-round pick and a 2016 first-round pick.
Dwight Howard – 2012
Traded by the Orlando Magic with Earl Clark and Chris Duhon to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a four-team deal that sent a package including Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vučević, Al Harrington and picks to Orlando. As part of the trade, the Lakers sent Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers, who dealt Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce – 2013
Traded by the Boston Celtics with Jason Terry, D.J. White, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, a 2014 first-round pick, a 2016 first-round pick, a 2017 first-round round draft pick and a 2018 first-round pick.
Kyrie Irving – 2017
Traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Žižić, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2020 second-round pick.
Kawhi Leonard – 2018
Traded by the San Antonio Spurs with Danny Green and cash to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Pöltl and a 2019 first-round pick.
Paul George – 2019
Traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Los Angeles Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, a 2021 first-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 first-round pick and a 2026 first-round pick.
Anthony Davis – 2019
Traded by the New Orleans Pelicans to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a three-team deal Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, De'Andre Hunter, cash, a 2022 first-round pick, a 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 first-round pick.
James Harden – 2021
Traded by the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets as part of a four-team deal that sent Rodions Kirics and a 2021 first-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 first-round pick, a 2026 first-round pick and a 2027 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets. As part of the trade, the Nets sent Jarrett Allen to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Caris LeVert to the Indiana Pacers.
James Harden – 2022
Traded by the Brooklyn Nets with Paul Millsap to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2027 first-round pick.
Rudy Gobert – 2022
Traded by the Utah Jazz to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2025 first-round pick, a 2026 first-round pick swap, a 2027 first-round draft pick and a 2029 first-round draft pick.
Donovan Mitchell – 2022
Traded by the Utah Jazz to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Ochai Agbaji, Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, a 2025 first-round pick, a 2026 first-round pick swap, a 2027 first-round pick, a 2028 first-round pick swap and a 2029 first-round pick.
Kyrie Irving – 2023
Traded by the Brooklyn Nets with Markieff Morris to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2027 second-round pick, a 2029 first-round pick and a 2029 second-round pick.
(Trade details per Basketball Reference)