Biggest trades of the decade
The Celtics won the title a year after trading for Ray Allen (front) and Kevin Garnett.
David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images
1. Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat from the Lakers for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round pick; July 14, 2004
Shaq wanted out of L.A. Kobe Bryant wanted him out, too. This trade lifted Miami from a 42-40 team that was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs to one that reached the conference finals in 2005 and won it all in 2006. It didn't turn out as badly for the Lakers as first thought. The immediate hit the Lakers took in '05, when they missed playoffs, provided them with the No. 10 pick in the draft, which brought center Andrew Bynum. If Bynum had not been injured, the Lakers might have won the title in 2008. They won it last season, with Odom playing a vital role. If they hadn't been suckered by Kwame Brown's eternal potential and traded Butler for him, they'd be even better, although Brown did serve a purpose in 2008 (see No. 3).
2. Kevin Garnett to the Celtics from the Timberwolves for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, two first-round picks and cash; July 30, 2007
Ray Allen and the draft rights to Glen Davis to the Celtics from the Seattle SuperSonics for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and the draft rights to Jeff Green; June 28, 2007
With two fell swoops, Celtics president Danny Ainge undid five years of aimless floundering and landed two stars to go with Paul Pierce. With Rajon Rondo, they formed a constellation that brought 42 more victories than in the previous season (a record turnaround) and the championship in 2008. Garnett, Allen and Pierce just might have enough juice left to contend for another year or two.
3. Pau Gasol and a second-round pick to the Lakers from the Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the draft rights to Marc Gasol and two first-round picks; Feb. 1, 2008
Gasol had proved in Memphis that he isn't the type of player to build a team around, but he's the perfect complement to a great player, like Kobe. The Lakers couldn't have won the title without him last season. At 29, he could pick up a few more rings.
4. Jason Kidd and Chris Dudley to the Nets from the Suns for Stephon Marbury, Johnny Newman and Soumaila Samake; July 18, 2001
The swap of All-Star point guards worked out far better for the Nets directly, but also great for the Suns indirectly. Kidd led the Nets to the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance, in 2002, and another one the following season. Marbury was an All-Star for the second time in 2003, when the Suns were eliminated by the Spurs in the first round, but eventually fulfilled his eternal destiny of wearing out his welcome and was traded to the Knicks in 2004 -- and that opened the door for Steve Nash to return to the Suns.
5. Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons from the Hawks as part of a seven-player, three-team deal; Feb. 19, 2004
This present from Atlanta general manager Billy Knight (with an assist from Boston's Ainge, who helped facilitate the deal) made up for the Darko-est day in Pistons draft history, when general manager Joe Dumars wasted the second pick on big man Darko Milicic. Wallace, who had played one game for Atlanta on his stop-over from Portland, should have come gift-wrapped with a bow taped to his head. The trade for the versatile power forward cost the Pistons only four backups (Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, Bob Sura and Zeljko Rebraca), two first-round picks (Nos. 17 and 25) and cash. Wallace provided the missing link for Detroit's championship run that season and helped the Pistons advance to the conference finals in each of the following four seasons.
Best free-agent signings
Note: Free agents who re-sign with the same team are not included on this list.
1. Chauncey Billups, Pistons; July 17, 2002
Billups was coming off a solid season in Minnesota when he became a free agent in 2002, but he had been with five teams in five NBA seasons and nobody was predicting what was to come. After signing a six-year, $35 million deal with the Pistons, he led them to a championship in 2004, winning Finals MVP honors, and a Finals appearance in 2005. He worked the same magic in Denver last season, transforming the Nuggets from an offensive-obsessed team to a more mature group that reached the Western Conference finals.
2. Steve Nash, Suns; July 14, 2004
Dallas owner Mark Cuban considered Nash too injury-prone and too old at 30, so he let him slide back to Phoenix. The Suns got him for six years and $66 million, money Dallas used to sign center Erick Dampier instead. Nash went on to win two league MVP awards, and while the Suns fell short of reaching the Finals, they became the league's most entertaining team and helped transform the thinking of some NBA coaches with their up-tempo style.
3. Bruce Bowen, Spurs; July 31, 2001
He had finally established himself in Miami, earning second-team All-Defensive honors after knocking around the league for five seasons, when the Spurs signed him to a two-year, $1.5 million deal. There were no reports of cannon fire or confetti celebrating that meager transaction for a 30-year-old journeymen -- that sort of thing came after Bowen went on to play a vital role on three championship teams. Bowen was the kind of semi-dirty player opposing fans hated but secretly admired. He earned five consecutive first-team All-Defensive accolades and turned himself into a legitimate three-point threat. The phrase "gets in your grill" was probably invented with him in mind.
4. Hedo Turkoglu, Magic; July 14, 2004
The versatile forward had five productive seasons in Orlando, earning the Most Improved Player award in 2007-08 and playing a crucial role in its run to the Finals last season -- nice return for his six-year, $36.8 million mid-level exception deal (Turkoglu opted out of the final year and became a free agent last summer). The five-year, $53 million deal he got from Toronto as part of a sign-and-trade with Orlando last July is a different story -- and so far not a promising one for the Raptors -- but he paid off for the Magic.
5. Robert Horry, Spurs; July 24, 2003
Big Shot Rob had already won five championship rings when he signed a two-year, $10.5 million contract with San Antonio. He found room for two more with the Spurs, in 2005 and '07 (the latter after he re-signed). The Spurs got their money's worth based on one performance alone: With the 2005 Finals tied at two games apiece, Horry scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime and made the go-ahead three pointer in the final seconds of San Antonio's victory at Detroit.