Note: Following the success of last week's NBA Cult Classics series, each SB Nation team site will be contributing an article on the best trade in franchise history. Follow all of the entries from the network here or on Twitter with the hashtag #NBABestTradeEver.
Is the draft-day trade for Scottie Pippen the Bulls best trade ever? Yes. But lets stick to the BlogABull era, and to a trade that may not have turned out as well but may have been more impressive: Paxson's grand fleecing of Isiah Thomas: The Eddy Curry trade.
The whole thing was bizarre, starting with the circumstances it arose from. Eddy Curry was just about to finish his 4th season for the Bulls and was in line to hit restricted Free Agency at age 22. However, his season was cut short when he was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat (thanks Wikipedia, I sort of forgot the timeline), and before the Bulls would re-sign him they asked him to take a DNA test to determine if he was predisposed genetically to a heart condition. I remember some kind of deal where the Bulls would give him an annuity for life if the test indicated he shouldn't play basketball again.
At first it made sense, then at second glance seemed kind of weird, and after so many years of following this organization seems more on the weird paternalistic side that the Bulls often show.
Curry, as was his right, refused to take the test, and there was a bit of a standoff until good ol' Isiah Thomas came calling. Paxson had just dealt with Isiah the year prior, sending Jamal Crawford in a sign/trade for spare parts, the type of deal Bulls fans pretend to like because it's nice to feel smart instead of overpaying for talent, though in this case that Crawford contract admittedly didn't make much sense for the Bulls.
I still don't know what Isiah's play was, here. The Bulls didn't really want to sign Curry long-term, though maybe he could've played under the qualifying offer (maybe the Bulls weren't as scared of him dying if it was just a few million?). I don't remember there being much interest from any other team. But I guess being the only suitor makes for an ideal suitor, as Curry was signed to a 6yr, ~$56m deal, and traded to the Knicks. For salary matching, the Bulls also gave up Antonio Davis, who was a nice rotation big on an expiring deal whose absence was part of the reason the Bulls took a step back the next season. But while they didn't really improve on the court that year, the Bulls received a lot of assets. And...other things:
Michael Sweetney, who was a BaB hero for his steady production in an unorthodox package. Unfortunately that package got larger and larger and he pretty much ate himself out of the league.
- Jermaine Jackson, who was waived before the season, sparing BaB readers dozens of Jackson 5 jokes.
- Tim Thomas, who was bought out after the trade deadline, only to return 3 years later in another salary dump deal (for Larry Hughes)...after which he was bought out again.
- Two second-rounders, who thanks to roster flowcharts from Wyn Douglas (of Canis Hoopus) we can easily track down as helping the Bulls trade up for Thabo Sefolosha, and then later one of the three picks used to land Omer Asik.
- The unprotected Knicks 2006 First-Round pick. This wound up being #2 overall. Unfortunately it led to one of the Bulls worst trades (sad to admit it...) as they selected LaMarcus Aldridge but traded him for Tyrus Thomas and Veektor.
And what turned out to be the real prize: the right to swap picks in the 2007 draft. This was a revolutionary concept at the time, so much so that the Bulls cap guru Irwin Mandel got a shout-out from Sam Smith:
The Bulls were desperate to make the deal but didn't want anyone on the Knicks' roster and already were slated to get the Knicks' first-round pick in 2006. NBA rules have prohibited teams from giving up consecutive first-round picks since Ted Stepien 20 years ago crippled the Cleveland franchise by trading off No. 1s for years. As a way around the rule, Mandel suggested a swap of first-round picks, believing that despite Curry's prowess, the Knicks would have a poorer record than the Bulls after the 2006-07 season.
That season did indeed see the Bulls finish above the Knicks, and while Isiah made a decent save with the selection of Wilson Chandler at #23, the Bulls took Joakim Noah at #9, nearly two years after the Curry deal was made.
That was a major haul. And though thankfully Curry didn't see a return of his heart ailment, he did encounter many other troubles on and off the court as his Knicks career helped symbolize the disaster that was the Isiah Thomas era. Curry is an NBA champion now, though!
I guess we'll never know if the Bulls would've re-signed Curry if not for the heart risk (and thus lucked out in a way), but they definitely didn't want him afterwards. So even just having Joakim Noah as the only one still around makes it a fantastic trade, and if you're stretching it you can see the 'legacy' of those assets live on in Taj Gibson (for Thabo) and the 2016 Charlotte pick (for Tyrus). It even showed creativity from the Bulls, though in the taking-candy-from-a-baby variety.
But I suppose it also shows the problem with lauding asset-gathering deals like this where you're the team giving away the NBA talent. The Bulls obviously got worse and didn't make enough of such an amazing opportunity, as their team fizzled out on a Knicksian level in Noah's rookie season to put them in a position to win the Derrick Rose lottery. I thought the next line in that Sam Smith (before he was a team employee) column was prophetically disappointing:
And that [right to swap picks] could be the deal-making big chip if the Bulls get in trade discussions for an elite player like, , , or .
It's now many years (and many assets) later, and the Bulls are still 'looking' for that superstar trade. But in this case where they had a player they no longer wanted and were looking to get what they could, they did quite the job.