The NBA trade deadline can make or break a season for fringe championship contenders. Some moves in the past have knocked those teams squarely out of the title race, but others have kickstarted magical runs to the NBA Finals.
So, let’s take a look at some of the best trade deadline deals in NBA history and try to rank the top five based on how impactful they turned out to be.
5. 76ers land Dikembe Mutombo and kickstart 2001 NBA Finals run
The 76ers were the best team in the Eastern Conference heading into the 2001 trade deadline, but they still needed to make one splash move to become a legitimate title contender. So, Philadelphia swung for the fences by trading Toni Kukoc, Theo Ratliff, and two other players to the Atlanta Hawks for Dikembe Mutombo and Roshown McLeod.
Mutombo went on to average 2.5 blocks per game with the Sixers in 2001, and he was named Defensive Player of the Year at the end of the season. The lethal combination of Mutombo and Allen Iverson powered Philadelphia to its first NBA Finals appearance since 1983, but Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and the Los Angeles Lakers ended up winning the series in five games.
If the Sixers were able to win it all that year, their trade for Mutombo would’ve been higher on the list.
4. Rockets steal Clyde Drexler and win another championship in 1995
Clyde Drexler led the Portland Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals appearances in 11 years with the franchise. But by Year 12, he was ready to begin a new journey with a new team. At the 1995 trade deadline, Portland granted Drexler his wish by trading him and Tracy Murray to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Otis Thorpe, Marcelo Nicola, and a first-round draft pick.
Like the 2001 Sixers, the 1995 Rockets reached the NBA Finals in the same season of their trade, but Houston was able to finish the deal by sweeping the Orlando Magic in the championship series. Drexler averaged 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game in the series, so it’s safe to say this trade worked out pretty well.
3. Cavaliers luck into Kyrie Irving thanks to a 2011 trade
At the 2011 trade deadline, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Jamario Moon and Mo Williams to the Los Angeles Clippers for Baron Davis and a 2011 first-round draft pick. The deal didn’t do much to change the course of their season, but it became an absolute steal when the Clippers won the draft lottery with just a 2.8% chance to do so.
As we all know, Cleveland took Kyrie Irving out of Duke with the No. 1 overall pick that year, and all he did was make the biggest shot in franchise history to seal the 2016 NBA Finals for the Cavs.
Sometimes, teams just happen to win the lottery at the trade deadline… literally.
2. Lakers and Grizzlies exchange Gasol brothers in 2008
Not many pairs of brothers have made it to the NBA in the history of the sport, and even fewer have actually been traded for each other. But that’s exactly what happened in 2008 when the Lakers traded Marc Gasol, Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and two first-round picks for Pau Gasol and a second-round pick.
The deal was a massive victory for the Lakers, as they went on to win back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 thanks to the addition of Pau. Oh, and Marc had a pretty decent career in Memphis, too.
1. Pistons acquire Rasheed Wallace before their 2004 title run
Our most impactful trade deadline deal of all time comes from the 2004 Detroit Pistons. The Pistons landed Rasheed Wallace in a three-team deal with the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics, and they went on to beat the Lakers the same year to win their first NBA title since 1990. Wallace averaged 13.0 points and a team-high 1.6 blocks per game in the series.
Detroit also went to the NBA Finals in 2005, but it lost in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs.