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Worst Trades in Sports History

As a life-long Nets fan, I’ve come to accept the fact that the next decade is going to suck. The debacle of a trade that was Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for all those draft picks is coming back to haunt the Nets and their fans. With Billy King long gone and the Celtics sitting pretty with the first pick of the 2017 draft while simultaneously playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, it lead me to think that this could be one of the worst trades of all-time. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving for the Celtics, who took Jaylen Brown third overall in 2016, will more than likely nab Markelle Fultz in June, and will own the Nets 2018 pick. The Celtics look like bandits while the Nets lay in the fiery depths of basketball hell. Without further ado, and before I talk myself into depression, here are ten of the worst trades in sports history:

Honorable mentions: Nets/Sixers Julius Erving, Dodgers/Expos Pedro Martinez, Mets/Astros Nolan Ryan, Colts/Broncos John Elway.

#10: Nets and Celtics (2013)

Brooklyn Nets receive: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, and DJ White

Boston Celtics receive: Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans, three first-round picks (2014, 2016 and 2018), plus the right to swap first-rounders in 2017

Inside Scoop: The Nets had just finished their first season in Brooklyn after a tumultuous last few seasons in New Jersey. With Deron Williams and Joe Johnson forming a formidable backcourt and Brook Lopez anchoring the center spot, GM Billy King tried to make the splash of the century and shift the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.

Why it Failed: Garnett was already 37 years old. Pierce was already 36 years old. Their best days were way way way in the rear view mirror. And Danny Ainge knew it, obviously. He would not trade a Boston sports icon if he didn’t know the time was right.

The Aftermath: The Nets went on to win a whopping two playoff series before dismantling the team and once again dropping to the bottom of the league. In 2014, the Celtics used the Nets first rounder on James Young out of Kentucky (swing and a miss). In 2016 they selected Jaylen Brown out of Cal (the jury is still out on this one but he should be a solid player). And now the Celtics have the #1 pick in the 2017 draft while also playing in the Eastern Conference Finals. Oh, and they have a ton of cap room to potentially sign a star like Gordon Hayward. The position of the 2018 pick is still TBD, but knowing the luck of both teams, expect it to be at least in the top 5.

#9: Jets and Red Wings (1993)

Winnipeg Jets receive: $1

Detroit Red Wings receive: Kris Draper

Inside Scoop: Draper struggled early in his career with the Jets, spending most of his time in the AHL. With the Jets being threatened with relocation and wanting badly to make the postseason, the Jets traded Draper to Detroit for future considerations. The future considerations turned out to be one American dollar. 100 cents. It earned Draper the nickname “One-Dollar Man”. Draper got the last laugh and so did Detroit.

Why it Failed: Draper played 17 seasons for the Red Wings, while the Jets were eventually relocated anyway.

The Aftermath: In his 17 seasons for Detroit, Draper played in over 1,000 games, won 4 Stanley Cups, and became on of the most beloved Red Wings players of all-time. The Jets, well, the Jets got their one dollar. They also relocated to Phoenix, Arizona in 1996. Fortunately, the Atlanta Thrashers franchise was relocated back to Winnipeg in 2011.

#8: Saints and Redskins (1999)

New Orleans Saints receive: 1999 1st rd. Pick #5 overall- Ricky Williams

Washington Redskins receive: 1999 1st (#12 overall),  3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 2000 1st (#2 overall) and 3rd round draft picks. 

Inside Scoop: After back-to-back miserable 6-10 seasons, Mike Ditka decided to go for it all and trade his entire 1999 draft and two of his top picks for the following season just to move up from 5th to 12th and take Ricky Williams, a running back out of Texas who had just won the Heisman Trophy. Ditka ended up being fired at the end of the season, and Williams battled injuries throughout his entire rookie campaign. The Saints finished 3-13.

Why it Failed: Ricky Williams loved marijuana more than he loved football. Mike Ditka could not justify trading eight draft picks for one player, let alone a running back. Surely, there had to be some way to get Williams for less. Or better yet, not get Williams at all.

The Aftermath: It could have been worse for the Saints. After all, the Redskins really never made them pay for their trade robbery. The Redskins new GM (Daniel Snyder) proved to be a complete jackass. The Redskins packaged up those picks and traded away the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th round picks in 1999 along with their own 3rd round pick in 2000 to the Bears so they could move up in the 1999 draft and take Champ Bailey. They also traded the 6th and 7th round 1999 picks from the Saints to the Broncos so they could move up in 1999 and draft Derek Smith. They held on to the Saints 1st and 3rd round picks for 2000 and drafted LaVar Arrington and Lloyd Harrison.

Williams revealed that he battled a social anxiety disorder while playing in New Orleans and had more success than people realize during his three years playing for the Saints.He ran for 1,000 yards in just 10 games in 2000; that season, the Saints picked up the first playoff victory in franchise history. Then Williams gained 1,756 yards from scrimmage in 2001. He was then traded to the Dolphins for two first-round draft picks, which helped New Orleans salvage something from that 1999 mess.

The Saints actually had a better record (42-38) than the Redskins (34-46) from 1999-2004.

#7: Falcons and Packers (1992)

Atlanta Falcons receive: 1992 1st rd. Draft Pick

Green Bay Packers receive: Brett Favre

Inside Scoop: Atlanta had taken Favre in the 2nd round of the 1991 draft. He played in just four games as a rookie, attempting four passes and completing none. (His first ever NFL pass was a pick-six, the next two were incompletions, and his four attempt was also an interception) Head Coach Jerry Glanville was famously disturbed by the selection of Favre in the second round of the ’91 draft.

Why it Failed: The Falcons lost a franchise altering quarterback, while the Packers rejuvenated their franchise and once again became a dominant force in the NFL.

The Aftermath: Playing for Green Bay, Favre started the final 13 games of the 1992 season and the next 240 consecutive games spanning the next 15 years. The Packers went on to make 11 postseason appearances, including winning a Super Bowl, from 1992-2007. Favre won 3 MVP awards for the Packers and set multiple NFL passing records. The Falcons have yet to win a Super Bowl.

#6 Expos and Mariners (1989)

Montreal Expos receive: Mark Langston and Mike Campbell

Seattle Mariners receive: Randy Johnson, Gene Harris, and Brian Holman

Inside Scoop: Mariners fans and players were devastated when the news broke about losing Mark Langston. Langston, at the time, was seen by many as the best pitcher in Mariners history. The truth was that Langston was set to become a free agent after the 1989 season and the Mariners didn’t feel like they could afford to keep him. Johnson was seen as a wild card with control issues.

Why it Failed: Langston left the Expos after the 1989 season and signed with the California Angels. Langston went on to pitch  combined no-hitter for the Angels, in a World Series for the Padres, and at the time of his retirement, held the Major League record for most pickoffs at first base (91)

The Aftermath: The Big Unit turned into one of the best pitchers of all-time. He spent 10 seasons in Seattle, becoming a five-time All-Star and a Cy Young award winner. He is now a member of both the Mariners Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Johnson went on to win a World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. He ended his career with 303 wins and 4,875 strikeouts, second most all-time. Many consider Johnson the most intimidating pitcher to ever toe the rubber.

#5: Hornets and Lakers (1996)

Charlotte Hornets receive: Vlade Divac

Los Angeles Lakers receive: Kobe Bryant

Inside Scoop: Coming off a .500 season in which they missed the playoffs and lost nine more games than the season before, the Hornets felt like they needed to reinforce their rotation with a proven veteran presence. The previous November, Charlotte dealt center Alonzo Mourning, a rising 24-year-old perennial All-Star, to the Miami Heat for Glen Rice. Rice was 28 at the time, and made the All-Star team in his three seasons as a Hornet. But in the mid-90s, the NBA prioritized size, rebounding and paint protection over three-point shooting. The Hornets badly missed Mourning’s presence in the paint, so they decided to trade for veteran center Vlade Divac.

Why it Failed: Divac spent just two seasons with Charlotte before bolting for Sacramento in free agency. Bryant, on the other hand, spent the next 20 seasons in Los Angeles. He won 5 championships, an MVP award, and is looked at by many as a top-15 player to ever play the game.

The Aftermath: It’s more complicated than it looks. The Hornets actually were very good in the years following the trade. They went 54-28 and 51-31 in the two years immediately after the trade, but they didn’t advance past the second round of the playoffs in either season. With Bryant, they might have advanced to an NBA Finals.

Off the court, the trade had a much deeper impact. Attendance numbers in Charlotte eventually plummeted, to the point that the franchise relocated to New Orleans. If the Hornets had kept Bryant, and their attendance stood pat, they would have stayed in Charlotte. This means the Charlotte Bobcats never would have existed. And with no team in New Orleans, Oklahoma City never would have become a temporary home for the Hornets immediately following Hurricane Katrina. And without that short and very successful stint in OKC, which led to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett later bidding on the Seattle SuperSonics and ultimately moving the franchise to his hometown, the Seattle SuperSonics might still be in existence today.

#4 SuperSonics and Bulls (1987)

Seattle SuperSonics receive: Olden Polynice, a 1988 2nd round draft pick (Sylvester Gray) and a 1989 1st round draft pick (B.J. Armstrong)

Chicago Bulls receive: Scottie Pippen and a 1989 1st round draft pick (Jeff Sanders)

Inside Scoop: The Bulls wanted to play more “above the rim” and become more athletic. They also drafted Horace Grant in 1987. Chicago needed to take some pressure off Michael Jordan and had keyed in on Pippen before pre-draft workouts even started. The Bulls, picking 8th, were sure they’d get Pippen to fall into their laps. Then Pippen killed it in pre-draft workouts and ended up going 5th overall to Seattle. Jerry Krause knew Pippen would be the perfect Robin to MJ’s Batman and decided to pull off the trade.

Why it Failed: In three and a half seasons for the Sonics, Polynice averaged 4.6 PPG and 3.8 RPG while playing in 289 games. Scottie Pippen is one of the 50 greatest players of all-time and regarded by many as the best perimeter defender to ever play the game.

The Aftermath: Pippen averaged 18 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG & 2.1 SPG in 833 games for the Bulls. He became one of the best second-options in basketball history, winning 6 NBA championships, becoming a 7x All-Star, an 8x All-Defensive player, and a 3x All-NBA first team player. This trade changed the face of the NBA forever and finally catapulted Michael Jordan and the Bulls past the Bad Boy Pistons.

#3: Warriors and Celtics (1980)

Golden State Warriors receive: 1st pick of the 1980 NBA draft (Joe Barry Carroll) and the 13th pick (Rickey Brown)

Boston Celtics receive: Robert Parish and the rights to the 3rd pick in the 1980 NBA draft (Kevin McHale).

Inside Scoop: Robert Parish was considering retirement thanks to his miserable time playing for the Warriors. He stated a lack of passion while playing with selfish teammates as a reason for potential retirement. Carroll was by far the best player on the 1980 draft board. A seven-foot center out of Purdue, he was the school’s all-time leader in blocks and rebounds.

Why it Failed: Carroll is often considered one of the most disappointing first overall picks in NBA history. Statistically, he was solid, averaging 20.4 points per game during his seven seasons with the Warriors, while Rickey Brown turned out to be a total bust. Carroll often struggled to get the Warriors into the playoffs, let alone contend for a title.

The Aftermath: Both McHale and Parish went on to Hall of Fame careers while playing major roles in 3 NBA championships for Boston. The Celtics even won the champions the season right after the trade. They are regarded by many as the best front court in the history of the sport. The Celtics won at least 50 games in 11 of 12 seasons following the trade.

#2: Vikings and Cowboys (1989)

Minnesota Vikings receive: Herschel Walker, 3rd round (Mike Jones), 5th round, ( Reggie Thornton) and a 10th round pick (Pat Newman) in the 1990 Draft and a 3rd round pick( Jake Reed) in the 1991 Draft.

Dallas Cowboys receive: 5  players (LB Jesse Solomon, LB David Howard, CB Ike Holt, RB Darrin Nelson, and DE Alex Stewart), the Vikings’ 1st round pick in 1990 (Hall of Fame RB Emmitt Smith), Vikings’ 2nd round pick in 1990 (Alexander Wright), Vikings’ 6th round pick in 1990 (traded to Saints), Vikings’ 1st round pick in 1991 (Alvin Harper), Vikings’ 2nd round pick in 1991 (Dixon Edwards), Vikings’ 2nd round pick in 1992 ( Darren Woodson), Vikings’ 3rd round pick in 1992 (traded to Patriots), Vikings’ 1st round pick in 1993 (traded to Eagles)

Inside Scoop: Dallas got off to an 0-4 start and looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Jimmy Johnson was never enamored with Walker. The Cowboys were struggling to win games with him, and Johnson wanted to get younger and more versatile offensively. He wanted to start building the team around quarterback Troy Aikman and considered Walker’s best days to be behind him. So, he sent the running back to Minnesota in order to restock the Cowboys roster and rebuild it the way he wanted.

Why it Failed: Walker played two years for the Vikings and never surpassed 1,000 rushing yards. The Cowboys became a dynasty, thanks to many players acquired within this trade. The deal is often referred to as, “The Great Trade Robbery”

The Aftermath: The Cowboys won three Super Bowl’s in four seasons, becoming the team of the 90’s. Emmitt Smith went on to become the leading rusher in NFL history, with 18,355 yards. His 175 total touchdowns are the second most all-time. Darren Woodson was selected to five pro bowls, and was named all-pro four times. He is the Cowboys’ all-time leading tackler with 1,350 career tackles. The trade is still celebrated by Dallas today. Inside the team’s new facility, The Star, one of the walls along the hallway which runs between executive office and football operations is used to display the date and details of the greatest trade in NFL history. The Vikings have still never reached a Super Bowl.

#1: Red Sox and Yankees

Boston Red Sox receive: $100,000 

New York Yankees receive: Babe Ruth

Inside Scoop: Technically, this was a sale and not a trade. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was also a producer of Broadway show and at the time, needed money to finance a play. So, he sold Ruth for what was an astronomical amount of money at the time. Feeling that the amount was enough to finance his plays and still go out and purchase good ballplayers, Frazee thought he won the trade at the time it happened.

Why it Failed: Ruth is regarded by many as the best baseball player to ever live. Making his debut in 1914, Ruth made an immediate impact for the Red Sox…but not as an outfielder. Ruth broke in as a starting pitcher. His career record on the mound: 94 wins and 46 losses. His career ERA stood at an amazing 2.28   His talent on the mound led the Red Sox to consecutive World Series titles in 1915 and 1916. At the same tim, team management took notice of Ruth’s talent at the plate, and started playing him in the outfield on days he didn’t pitch.  Boston’s offense became even more powerful as the team won the World Series in 1918, the first season in which Ruth consistently played in the outfield.  However, the team’s successes was short-lived. Ruth drank, smoked, partied, ate like a slob, got into bar brawls, and was a womanizer. Red Sox brass had reached a boiling point and decided it was time to cut ties.

The Aftermath: This trade dramatically changed the history of the two teams involved. Bitter rivals for over 100 years now, this trade transformed the Yankees into becoming the most successful franchise in sports history. While, up until 2004, the Red Sox were considered to be cursed. Yes, the Curse of the Bambino was considered bestowed upon the franchise since the day of the Ruth trade. The Red Sox did not win a World Series from 1918-2003. They had numerous close calls, but Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, and Aaron Boone woke up the ghosts and drove Boston fans into depression.

During his career, Ruth hit .342 and smacked 714 career home runs. He won 4 championships and an MVP award with the Yankees. Who now own 27 championships, the most of any professional sports franchise.

The Red Sox struggled to break the Curse of the Bambino. Many thought it would never happen. But in October of 2004, the Red Sox did the unthinkable. They exercised their demons and played the ghost of Ruth, coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS for the first time in MLB history, against who else but the New York Yankees. The curse lasted 85 years, all because of a Broadway play. Before the final out of the 2004 World Series was recorded, and the Red Sox had finally won a championship, outfielders Gabe Kapler and Johnny Damon stood next to each other during 9th inning warmups. Kapler wearing the number 19 and Damon wearing number 18. Forming the date 1918 upon their embrace.

About Joe Stabach

Lead writer for the New York Mets and College Basketball. Fantasy Football enthusiast. Former college basketball player. Available on Twitter @JoeyS_7

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