Over the past 30 years, the NBA has relied heavily on trades and free agency signings to improve teams, often involving big-name players or draft picks. While the trade market is always active and can happen at any time, there is no guarantee that the move will work out for the team or the player.
The topic of discussion is about star players who had their best years with one franchise but experienced a significant decline after being traded to another team. These players were at the top of their game before being traded, but the deal led to the end of their careers or they faded into obscurity. While their accomplishments remain noteworthy, these trades accelerated the decline of some great players’ careers.
1. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook had a historical season with the Washington Wizards in 2020-21, averaging 22.2 PPG, 11.5 RPG, and leading the NBA in assists with 11.7 APG. However, after being traded to the Lakers for the following season, his numbers dipped and he faced harsh criticism from fans, ultimately leading to a tarnished reputation despite his all-time great status in NBA history.
2. Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson was an iconic player in the NBA during the 2000s, winning four scoring titles and an MVP with the Philadelphia 76ers. After being traded to Denver, he continued to perform at a high level, averaging 25.6 PPG and 7.1 APG in two-and-a-half seasons. However, Iverson was traded and recycled throughout the NBA despite still being able to play well. He spent his last two seasons with the Nuggets, Pistons, Grizzlies, and Sixers, averaging 16.2 PPG and 4.7 APG. The constant moves and rifts with coaches likely took a toll on him.
3. Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson was a key player for the Indiana Pacers, known for his defense and playmaking skills. He helped the team reach the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014. He then signed with the Charlotte Hornets, where he continued to excel in rebounding and playmaking. However, he was inexplicably traded to the Clippers, and his NBA career began to decline. By the end of 2019, Stephenson was playing in China. The author believes that leaving the Pacers in 2014 was a mistake and that he could have still been a good player for the Hornets if given a chance.
4. Josh Smith
Josh Smith was a highly regarded forward in the NBA during the 2000s and 2010s, playing nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks and helping them reach the playoffs six times. Although he never became an All-Star, his importance to those teams was notable. However, when he was traded to the Detroit Pistons in 2013, his production dropped significantly, and he eventually left the NBA for China at age 30.
5. Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker was an explosive and shifty point guard during his early career, becoming arguably the best player in Charlotte Hornets franchise history with three All-Star appearances and an All-NBA Team selection in 2019. However, since being traded to Boston, Walker’s numbers dipped, and he has struggled with injuries, averaging just 11.1 PPG in 2022. It’s unclear whether the trade or the injuries are responsible for his decline, but it’s clear that Walker was not the same after leaving Charlotte.
6. Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah was a defensive mastermind and legend in Chicago Bulls’ history, where he was named an All-Star twice and earned a Defensive Player of the Year award. However, after signing with the Knicks in 2015, his production on both ends of the court dropped severely and injuries began to pile up. Noah couldn’t even last for 50 games in a season, and his career withered away in one of the worst contracts ever given out in Knicks history.
7. Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom was a valuable player for the Los Angeles Lakers and helped them win two championships, even earning the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011. However, when the Lakers reportedly tried to trade him for Chris Paul in 2011, Odom’s relationship with the team soured. He was traded to the Dallas Mavericks and his performance regressed significantly, averaging just 6.6 PPG and 4.2 RPG. Odom retired from the NBA in 2013 after playing just two more seasons.
8. Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas, standing just 5’9″, exceeded expectations by becoming an All-Star and finishing top five in MVP voting twice while with the Boston Celtics. He played through personal tragedy and injury for the team, but was later traded to Cleveland, where his career began to decline. He struggled with injuries and inconsistency with subsequent teams and went from an MVP candidate to a player seeking 10-day contracts.
9. Deron Williams
Deron Williams was a top point guard in the NBA during the late 2000s and early 2010s, leading the Utah Jazz to their best seasons since the Stockton/Malone era with averages of 17.3 PPG and 9.1 APG. After requesting a trade to compete for a championship, he was sent to the New Jersey Nets in 2011, where he had an All-Star season in 2012 before declining rapidly due to injuries. Williams joined the Dallas Mavericks too late, as their championship window had closed. By 2016, he was averaging just 11.1 PPG and 5.6 APG.
10. Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard, a former Magic player who was one of the best players in the NBA in the late 2000s and early 2010s, had a disastrous outcome for a trade. He was traded to the Lakers in 2012 and after one season and a first-round exit, he was traded to the Rockets where his steady decline continued. Howard couldn’t remain with a team for more than one season and became a backup center. Howard won a championship with the Lakers in 2020 but has since left the NBA and now plays in Taiwan. If he could go back, staying with Orlando was the only way to maximize his potential and money.
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