There have been 633 players traded at the NBA trade deadline since the league established a cutoff date in 1987. For years, only a handful of players would be moved. Now, This League (tm) is as well-known for its off-court drama and maneuvering as it is the on-court product.
However, if you look back through NBA history, it’s hard to argue that the trade of Kevin Durant could be the most consequential NBA trade deadline deal in league history, and the most pivotal to securing an NBA championship since the Detroit Pistons traded for Rasheed Wallace on deadline day in 2004.
Sure, there have been better players and flashier names swapping jerseys on deadline day. Just last year, James Harden went from the Nets to the Sixers. Baron Davis was traded to the Cavaliers for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon in 2011, but the most consequential part of that trade was the unprotected Clippers first-round pick that went to Cleveland and ended up winning the NBA Draft lottery, which then became Kyrie Irving.
But it was all the way back in 2004 after a bizarre and, in retrospect, hilarious one-game stint with the Atlanta Hawks, that the Detroit Pistons were able to flip Lindsey Hunter, Chucky Atkins and a 2004 first-round pick (that became Tony Allen) to the Celtics, Zelko Rebraca, Bob Sura and a 2004 first-round pick (that became Josh Smith) to the Hawks, the Celtics sent Chris Mills to the Hawks and Mike James to the Pistons, and the Hawks sent Sheed to the Pistons. Hunter was eventually released by the Celtics and re-signed with the Pistons a week later.
It was a huge deal at the time, but Wallace’s star had dimmed after years of outbursts and bad headlines with the “Jail Blazers,” and disappointments in the playoffs. But for the Pistons, he was likely the difference between a championship and just another good season. He also helped the Pistons return to the final next year, and kept them atop the standings until 2008.
Nobody knows what the future holds for the Phoenix Suns and Kevin Durant, but there window is now wide open for at least the next couple of years, and should be viewed as the front-runners in the West.
Yes, Chris Paul is aging, but with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker flanking him, he can focus on passing and defense and less on playmaking and generating his own offense. Sure, the Suns sacrificed two of the game’s better wings in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, as well as all future draft equity, but they can score, they still have Deandre Ayton (for now), and it is clear they want to do what it will take to bring home a title.
The Pistons were also a very good but not yet great team at the time. Nobody knew if they were going to get over the hump. Wallace’s versatile offense and suffocating defense made all the difference in Detroit.
I’ve talked ad nauseam about the seismic difference Sheed made in Detroit that nobody decided to notice because at the time of the trade, the Pistons were already 34-22 and thought of as an Eastern contender. But they got a lot better after the Rasheed Wallace trade.
The Detroit Pistons had the third best defensive rating of ALL TIME in 03-04 at 95.4 (Spurs the same year rated 94.1, Spurs in 98-99 rated 95.0). After the Sheed trade, the Pistons defensive rating was 88.3(!!!!)— Sean Corp (@sean_corp) August 28, 2019
I’m not sure what the Durant trade will mean for Phoenix, but you can be sure every GM is now on the phone with their owner thinking about what they will need to do to respond.