How Do NBA Teams Fare After Trading Away Their Star Player?

When the Pacers traded Paul George to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, NBA Twitter exploded. Indiana had sent a four-time All-Star (up to that point) and got back an All-Rookie First Team member and a second-year forward. The Pacers didn’t get any draft picks in the deal either. From the outset, it appeared Oklahoma City had fleeced Indiana for a two-way All-Star.

Fast forward to this season and the trade has been a fair return for both sides.

Oladipo exploded into an All-Star himself and Sabonis has shown all the skills necessary for a big man in the modern NBA. The Pacers were able to extend Myles Turner and keep their cap space clean in order to fill out the roster. Oklahoma City re-signed George, who’s having one of the best seasons of his career, after he flirted with signing with the Lakers.

After recently chatting with Buddy Hield, another notable player who was involved in a massive trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins from the Kings to the Pelicans, I started wondering: have NBA teams actually gotten great value when trading their star player?

Let’s start with the Kings and their deal that sent Cousins to the Pelicans in 2017.

Kings Received Pelicans Received
Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, 2017 first-round pick (top 3 protected), 2017 second-round pick DeMarcus Cousins, Omri Casspi

 

At the time of the deal, Hield wasn’t putting up great numbers and Evans hadn’t panned out after being named the Rookie of the Year in Sacramento in 2010. The Kings dealt that 2017 first-round pick to Portland for two first-round selections in the same draft. Those picks turned into Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, while the second-round pick was used on Frank Mason III. Even though Galloway and Evans are no longer with the Kings, Sacramento secured a starter and three intriguing rotation players in the Cousins trade.

After a strong finish to his first season in New Orleans, Cousins tore his Achilles after 48 games the following year. The Pelicans didn’t want to commit major money to him in the offseason, so Cousins signed a one-year deal with Golden State. Casspi is currently in Memphis.

Here’s what the trade looks like now for the two franchises:

Kings’ Haul Pelicans’ Haul
Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Frank Mason III, Harry Giles

The Bulls kicked off a rebuilding phase in 2017 when they dealt two-way All-Star Jimmy Butler on draft night to the Timberwolves.

Here’s a closer look at that trade:

Bulls Received Timberwolves Received
Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn Jimmy Butler, Justin Patton

 

LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn have all proven to be strong rotation players with the former two showing glimpses of star potential. LaVine recently inked a long-term deal with the Bulls this offseason despite questions surrounding the ACL injury he suffered before the trade. He is averaging 23.8 points per game through December 11.

While the Timberwolves ended their playoff drought with Butler on the team, the superstar demanded a trade before his second season in Minnesota started. The Timberwolves eventually dealt him and Patton, who failed to become a dependable contributor, to Philadelphia for Jerryd Bayless, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and a 2022 second-round pick.

Here’s what the Bulls-Timberwolves trade looks like today:

Bulls’ Haul Timberwolves’ Haul
Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, Robert Covington, 2022 second-round pick

Kawhi Leonard was the most recent All-Star to be dealt. He was sent to Toronto in the offseason for a package centered around another All-Star, DeMar DeRozan.

Spurs Received Raptors Received
DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, 2019 first-round pick (top 20 protected) Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green

 

It’s too early to evaluate how that trade will look given Leonard’s impending free agency and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich not wanting to sit through a rebuild. If San Antonio had opted for Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby instead of Poeltl, DeRozan and the pick, would they be better off than they are now? Recent history suggests organizations that deal their All-Stars for seemingly little in return often end up getting great value.

As for grading this blockbuster trade, we’re currently at the stage in the process in which both teams genuinely believe they made the better deal.

That is, until Leonard bolts in free agency, leaving the Raptors heartbroken.