10 Times NBA Teams Gave Away the Wrong Draft Pick

The 2019 NBA draft is in the books. Ten players were drafted, and either immediately traded, or are expected to be traded as soon as NBA rules allow. It may take years before we know if those trades are brilliant or horrible moves. Brilliant is the GM who can bring in a proven player for an unknown talent that does not work out. But often fans watch those draft picks turn into stars somewhere else, and are left to lament what “could have been”. Here are ten times, a team traded a draft pick, or selected a player in the NBA draft, and traded that player before he ever played for them, leaving fans to wonder. 

10: Rajon Rondo was the 21st overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft. He was drafted by the Phoenix Suns.  Phoenix traded him to the Boston Celtics along with Brian Grant for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick in the 2007 NBA draft and cash considerations. Phoenix wound up taking Rudy Fernandez and trading him for cash. Rondo would make 4 All-Star appearances and win a championship with the Celtics. 

9: Mark Price was taken with the 25th overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks. Cleveland traded a future 2nd round pick to Dallas for Price. The pick would turn out to be Jeff Hodge in 1989, who never played in the NBA. Price would be a four-time All-Star and help turn the Cavs into an elite Eastern Conference team.

 8: Ray Allen was drafted with the 5th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Immediately after his selection, Allen and Andrew Lang were traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for the rights to the fourth pick Stephon Marbury.  Allen would be named to 10 All-Star games and win 2 Championships.  

7: Vince Carter was drafted in the 1998 NBA draft with the 5th overall pick. Carter was initially drafted by the Golden State Warriors. He was then traded to the Toronto Raptors for the fourth overall pick, Antawn Jamison. Carter would lead the Raptors to a lot of success, and be named to 8 All-Star games.

6: James Worthy was selected with the 1st overall pick in the 1982 NBA draft. The Los Angeles Lakers had received the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 1982 first-round draft pick in a 1979 exchange for Don Ford. The Cavs finished with the NBA’s worst record in the 1981–82 season, leaving a coin toss to decide whether they or the worst record runner-up San Diego Clippers would get the number one pick in the upcoming draft. The Lakers won the flip, the first and only time for a reigning league champion. They chose Worthy who would make the All-Star team 7 times, and be part of the Lakers dynasty during the 1980s. 

5: Dirk Nowitzki was taken with the 9th overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft.  A few minutes after Vince Carter was drafted, The Milwaukee Bucks selected Nowitzki with the 9th pick in the draft and traded him to the Mavs for Robert Traylor.  Dallas also received the Bucks 19th pick in the draft and used that to trade for future star point guard Steve Nash in what may be one of the best use of draft picks on draft night by any franchise ever.  Nowitzki would bring a Championship to Dallas, win league MVP and go down as one of the greatest European born players in the history of the NBA.

4: Scottie Pippen was drafted in the 1987 NBA draft. He was selected 5th overall by the Seattle Supersonics and traded to the Chicago Bulls for Olden Polynice and future draft pick options. Pippen would go on to play in 7 All-Star games and win six Championships while playing with Michael Jordan and the Bulls. 

3: Moses Malone is the most unusual player on the list. Malone started his career in the ABA, with St. Louis.  The ABA–NBA merger occurred after the 1975–76 season, but the Spirits of St. Louis were not among the ABA teams chosen to join the NBA. Malone had already been selected by the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz in a December 1975 pre-merger draft for ABA players of undergraduate age. However, the NBA let them place Malone into the 1976 ABA Dispersal Draft pool in exchange for the return of their first-round draft pick in 1977, which they used to trade for Gail Goodrich. In the 1976 dispersal draft, held for the remaining ABA players, Malone was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the fifth overall pick in the draft. The Blazers, however, had also acquired power forward Maurice Lucas in the draft and believed that Malone and Lucas had similar skill sets. Concerns over the team’s salary costs compelled them to choose one and release the other. Prior to the first game of the 1976–77 season, Portland traded Malone to the Buffalo Braves for a first-round draft choice in the 1978 NBA draft and $232,000. Malone played in two games with Buffalo and because they could not meet Malone’s demands for playing time, they then traded him to the Houston Rockets in exchange for two first-round draft picks, one in each of the 1977 and 1978 drafts. Malone would go on to win three league MVPs while being named to 12 All-star games and winning a championship with the 76ers in 1983.  

2: Kobe Bryant was picked 13th overall in the 1996 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets. The Lakers were looking to trade their starting center Vlade Divac for a player’s draft rights in order to free up salary cap space to make an offer to free agent center, Shaquille O’Neal. The two teams agreed to the trade, and the Lakers had the Hornets draft a high school kid with their pick and trade him after the draft. Kobe would go on to be an 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA Champion.   

1: Bill Russell was selected with the 2nd overall pick in the 1956 NBA draft by the St. Louis Hawks. One of the greatest players of all time, Russell would lead the Celtics to 11 Championships, while winning five league MVPs. Red Auerbach knew that the Rochester Royals, who owned the first draft pick, already had a skilled rebounder in Maurice Stokes. They were looking for an outside shooter and were unwilling to pay Russell the signing bonus he requested. Auerbach offered the Ice Capades if they didn’t draft Russell number one. Rochester got their ice show. The St. Louis Hawks, who owned the second pick, drafted Russell but were competing for Celtics center Ed Macauley, a six-time All-Star who had roots in St. Louis. Auerbach agreed to trade Macauley if the Hawks gave up Russell. The owner of St Louis demanded more in the trade. Not only did he want Macauley, who was the Celtics premier player at the time, but he also wanted Cliff Hagan, who had been serving in the military for three years and had not yet played for the Celtics. Auerbach finally agreed to give up Hagan, and the Hawks made the trade.