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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Placing the Kevin Garnett Deal in Historical Context

Boston's seven for one (five players, two draft picks) trade for Kevin Garnett is unprecedented in NBA history but there have been several other occasions when one All-Star was dealt for multiple players. Often, the traded star eventually takes his new team to the NBA Finals at some point, while his old team understandably generally has to do some rebuilding. Here is a look at how some of the more famous of those transactions turned out for both teams:

Wilt Chamberlain was twice traded for three players. The first time it happened was on January 15, 1965, when the San Francisco Warriors sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers for Paul Neumann, Connie Dierking and Lee Shaffer (plus cash considerations). Chamberlain led the Sixers to the 1965 Eastern Division Finals, where they lost in seven games to Boston ("Havlicek stole the ball!"). Philadelphia went 55-25, 68-13 and 62-20 in the next three seasons. The 1967 team set a record for most regular season wins (since broken by Chamberlain's 1972 Lakers team and two Michael Jordan Bulls teams) and won a championship. Chamberlain won three of his four MVPs during that period, leading the league in rebounding each time while also claiming three field goal percentage titles, one assists crown (the only one ever won by a center) and the last of his then record seven scoring titles. Without Chamberlain to finish the 1965 season, the Warriors ended up with the worst record in the NBA (17-63). The addition of Rookie of the Year Rick Barry in 1966 helped the Warriors to improve to 35-45. Ironically, in 1967, the 44-37 Warriors lost to Chamberlain's 76ers in the NBA Finals. In 1968, Barry sat out his option year so that he could jump to the ABA the following season and the Warriors went 43-39.

After the 76ers lost in seven games to Boston in the 1968 Eastern Division Finals, Philadelphia traded Chamberlain to the L.A. Lakers for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff. The Lakers went 55-25, 46-36 (Chamberlain missed 70 games with a knee injury), 48-34, 69-13 and 60-22 in Chamberlain's five years with the team. The 1972 squad won the championship and set a record for regular season victories that stood for 24 years. Three of the other teams lost in the NBA Finals, while the fourth fell in the 1971 Western Conference Finals to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. In Chamberlain's four full seasons he won four rebounding titles, three field goal percentage titles and one Finals MVP. The 76ers went 55-27 in the first post-Chamberlain season but tumbled steadily after that as other great players also departed: the ledger reads 42-40, 47-35, 30-52 and 9-73, which is still the worst record in NBA history.

Technically, on June 16, 1975 Milwaukee traded Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Wesley to the L.A. Lakers for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman but since Wesley only played one more NBA game this was effectively a four for one deal. Abdul-Jabbar played the remaining 14 years of his career in L.A. but for the purposes of this discussion we will just look at what happened in the four seasons after the trade, because prior to year five the Lakers drafted Magic Johnson. The Lakers missed the playoffs with a 30-52 record the year before they acquired Abdul-Jabbar and even an MVP performance by him in 1975-76 only lifted the team to a 40-42 record, still not good enough to qualify for postseason play. Abdul-Jabbar again won the MVP in 1977, leading the Lakers to the best record in the NBA (53-29), but L.A. lost to Bill Walton's Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals. L.A. went 45-37 and 47-35 the next two seasons. During those four seasons, Abdul-Jabbar won two MVPs while leading the league in blocked shots twice and rebounding and field goal percentage one time each. Meanwhile, Milwaukee went 38-44 in the team's first post-Abdul-Jabbar season, exactly the same record that the Bucks had in his final year with the team. The Bucks went 30-52, 44-38 and 38-44 the next three years.

Charles Barkley was twice traded for at least three players. On June 17, 1992, the Philadelphia 76ers traded him to the Phoenix Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang. In 1992-93, Barkley won his only MVP and made the only NBA Finals appearance of his career as the Suns lost in six games to the Chicago Bulls. Phoenix had been a good team prior to Barkley's arrival (53-29 in 1991-92) and went 62-20, 56-26, 59-23 and 41-41 during his four seasons in the Valley of the Sun. Barkley made the All-NBA First Team in 1992-93 and followed that with two Second Team selections and one Third Team selection. The 76ers were a bad team in Barkley's last season (35-47) and got worse after he left, going 26-56, 25-57, 24-58 and 18-64 in the next four seasons. On August 19, 1996, Phoenix traded Barkley to Houston for Sam Cassell, Chucky Brown, Robert Horry and Mark Bryant. Barkley was 33 years old by then and clearly on the down side of his career, though he did average 23.2 ppg and 11.6 rpg in his final year in Phoenix. Barkley spent four injury-riddled seasons in Houston, teaming first with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and then for one season with Olajuwon and Scottie Pippen. Those would have been formidable trios a few years prior to that but all of those players were past their primes by that time. Houston went 57-25, 41-41, 31-19 and 34-48 during Barkley's seasons with the team; Barkley only played 20 games in his final season. The 1997 squad lost to Utah in the Western Conference Finals but Houston failed to advance past the first round in each of the next two seasons and missed the playoffs altogether in 2000. Without Barkley, Phoenix went 40-42, 56-26, 27-23 and 53-29.

It will be interesting to look back in four or five years and see what the Kevin Garnett blockbuster deal looks like in comparison to these trades.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:10 PM



At Thursday, August 02, 2007 3:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee Shaffer should not count, either. If I recall correctly, he had retired like one year earlier, walking out in mid-season after receiving a business offer much more lucrative than his NBA contract at the time.

The Warriors contacted him after the trade to try and talk him into a comeback, to no avail.

At Thursday, August 02, 2007 6:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

You are right that Shaffer never played for the Warriors.

Even without "counting" Shaffer, Chamberlain was still dealt for two players plus cash considerations.

It is worth noting that active rosters were smaller at that time, consisting of 10 or 11 players, while rosters now can consist of up to 15 players (with 12 being activated on a given night). I bring this up because Ratliff and Telfair may not end up "counting" in the Garnett deal, so in this instance we may be in effect comparing a three for one (plus two draft picks) for Garnett in an era of 15 man rosters to a two for one for Chamberlain in an era of 10 or 11 man rosters.


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