Philadelphia has pushed in all their chips by trading for the number one pick, and historically, that has been a risky gamble.
In what has turned out to be just the opening salvo of a chaotic pre-draft week, the Boston Celtics traded the first overall pick in this week’s NBA draft to the Philadelphia 76ers. This trade both marks the final touch on a process years in the making for Philadelphia and gathers more assets for Danny Ainge’s war chest.
This deal marked just the seventh time in league history where the first overall pick was traded before playing a game for the team originally holding the pick. While we cannot properly judge winners and losers from the deal before Markelle Fultz even plays a game for the Sixers, we can look back through history to get an idea of how these deals usually pan out.
1950 – Boston Celtics trades pick to Fort Wayne Pistons
- Boston receives: Bill Sharman
- Fort Wayne Receives: 1st Overall pick Chuck Share
1950 was the first year the number one pick was traded away, and its disastrous outcome has likely led to the infrequency with which it has happened since. Chuck Share was drafted first overall by the Celtics in 1950, but was traded to Fort Wayne before he could ever suit up for Boston. In Share’s 151 games for the Pistons, he struggled to make an impact and averaged just 4.2 points per game. After just two and half seasons, Fort Wayne had seen enough and traded him to the Milwaukee Hawks.
The player Share was swapped for, Bill Sharman, was on the opposite end of the spectrum for Boston. Sharman was the league’s fifth-leading scorer over his 10 seasons in Boston, where he made eight All-Star appearances and won four titles. Sharman was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976 and his number 21 still hangs in the Boston Garden today as permanent reminder of one of the first swindlings in league history.
1957 – Rochester Royals trades pick to Minneapolis Lakers
- Rochester receives: Clyde Lovelette and Jim Paxson
- Minneapolis receives: 1st Overall pick “Hot” Rod Hundley, Bob Burrow, Ed Fleming, Monk Meineke, and Art Spoelstra
While this deal wasn’t as lopsided as the one in 1950, again the team who traded the pick for assets came out on top. Clyde Lovelette was a Hall-of-Famer and though he was traded after just one season in Rochester, the player he was traded for, Wayne Embry, was no slouch himself. Embry made five All-Star appearances over his eight seasons for the Royals and was later inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Of the five players Minneapolis traded for, only role player Ed Fleming and first overall pick “Hot” Rod Hundley made an impact for the Lakers. While Hundley played over 400 games for Minneapolis and made two All-Star games, he was never quite able to live up to his lofty draft position and his career was ultimately cut short due to injuries.
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1980 – Boston Celtics trades pick to Golden State Warriors
- Boston receives: 3rd Overall pick Kevin McHale and Robert Parish
- Golden State receives: 1st Overall pick Joe Barry Carroll and 13th Overall pick Rickey Brown
Any case to be made regarding the benefits of trading away the first overall pick will likely include this trade as case and point. In 1980, Boston had a promising season due in large part to rookie Larry Bird. Boston had traded with Detroit for the first overall pick earlier that year, but instead of keeping it, they sent the pick to Golden State for what would become the other two-thirds of a legendary trio.
Most of you are familiar with the story already, but third overall pick Kevin McHale and fifth-year player Robert Parish thrived in Boston. McHale made seven All-Star games, six All-Defensive teams, and won three titles over his nearly 1,000 games for the Celtics. Parish made nine All-Star games while winning four titles. Both players have had their numbers retired by the Celtics and have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
From Golden State’s perspective, Joe Barry Carroll became a solid player, but was unable to elevate a bunch of mediocre Warriors teams. Over his seven seasons in Oakland, Carroll made the All-Rookie team and an All-Star game, but was never able to out-grow the immense shadows of the two Hall-of-Famers he was traded for.
1986 – Philadelphia 76ers trades pick to Cleveland Cavaliers
- Philadelphia receives: Roy Hinson
- Cleveland receives: 1st Overall pick Brad Daugherty
The case of Brad Daugherty is the only instance where a team has absolutely regretted trading the first overall pick. Roy Hinson was a promising 24-year-old player in Cleveland, and was coming off a season where he averaged 19 points and eight assists. After being traded for Daugherty, Hinson never averaged 15 points a game again, and was traded away after just two seasons in Philadelphia.
While Daugherty wasn’t the greatest number one pick of the ‘80s, he became a solid, five-time All-Star in Cleveland. Over his time with the Cavaliers, Daugherty led the team with 65 win shares before his career was cut short at the age of 28 due to recurring back injuries. Though his back problems prevented him from possibly reaching his full potential, he certainly brought Cleveland more value than Hinson did for the Sixers.
1993 – Orlando Magic trades pick to Golden State Warriors
- Orlando receives: 3rd Overall pick Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, 1994 future 1st Rounder,1998 future 1st Rounder, and 2000 future 1st Rounder
- Golden State receives: 1st Overall pick Chris Webber
In 1993 we again saw Golden State trading up for the first overall pick in 1993, and again they received disappointing results. The Warriors gave up four first round picks, including three that would fall in the top-10, to jump up two spots to grab Chris Webber. While he certainly wasn’t a bust, almost all of his success came after his season and a half in Oakland.
After Webber’s Rookie of the Year first season, disagreements with coach Don Nelson led him to be traded away that next year. The Warriors dealt him to Washington for a package of Tom Gugliotta, a future first round pick, and the rights to the 1994 and ‘98 picks they had originally sent to Orlando. The Warriors would eventually trade those picks away again (one of which became Vince Carter), meaning they traded away the third overall pick and a future first rounder for Tom Gugliotta, Chris Mihm, and a year of Chris Webber.
On the other side, Orlando came away much happier with their return. The Magic got the perfect point guard in Penny Hardaway to pair with their second-year superstar Shaquille O’Neal. Hardaway made four All-Star appearances for Orlando and became an Eastern Conference force alongside Shaq. Though Hardaway’s career was ultimately cut short due to injuries, his value over his time in Orlando made the Magic the clear winners.
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2014 – Cleveland Cavaliers trades pick to Minnesota Timberwolves
- Cleveland receives: Kevin Love
- Minnesota receives: 1st Overall pick Andrew Wiggins
The most recent instance of the first overall pick being traded came just three seasons ago, and unlike the other five, we can’t determine the outcome quite yet. If you were just going by results so far, Kevin Love has far outplayed Andrew Wiggins. Love has made an All-Star game and was an integral piece in winning a title last year while Wiggins has struggled to win games in Minnesota.
At this point, however, Wiggins’ value is still TBD. The 22-year-old is still growing as a player and may become the perennial All-Star many thought he would be coming out of the University of Kansas. Minnesota gets credit for getting any value at all for a player in Love they likely would have lost in free agency, but I think both teams are pretty happy with how the trade has worked out for their franchises.
While it is impossible to say whether Sunday’s deal will be closer to 1950 or 1986, both teams seem content with the deal so far. Boston took a risk in becoming just the second team to ever trade the first overall pick for only draft picks and not known assets, but they will almost certainly get high value from those selections.
Once Philly selects Markelle Fultz on Thursday, they will have acquired one of the final pieces of Sam Hinkie’s vision years ago. The way we look at this trade years from now will hinge almost entirely on whether Fultz develops into the superstar that Philly was more confident than Boston that he would become. If history is any indication, Boston has a greater chance of being happy with the outcome than Philly does, but that outcome is far from certain.
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