[With the Trailblazers in D.C. tonight, looking back at when a single trade helped both franchises. Before the deal, a young 'Sheed standing tall in the District. Photo: SI Vault.]
It’s NBA trade season. But there’s one kind of trade you shouldn’t expect.
The heads-up, big-name deal.
It’s got a playground sort of feel to it: You give me your guy; I give you mine. Maybe we throw in some spare parts to make it even.
But there hasn’t been a great one in 15 years. Not since Rasheed for Rod.
Dealing with dealmaking
Fans love to fantasize about swapping stars. Owners too.
But when it comes to star deals, that’s what it usually is: fantasy.
Most straight-up trades are for fringe players (Indiana’s Brandon Rush for Golden State’s Louis Amundson, free-agents-to-be (Sacramento’s Carl Landry for New Orleans’ Marcus Thornton), or garbage contracts (you might remember this one).
Even when good or great players are involved, one team typically gets fleeced.
Teams generally build complex packages, partly because of the NBA salary cap. Even if the Magic wanted to trade Dwight Howard for the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, their base salaries are so far out of whack the Clippers would have to include half their rotation to make the deal work.
So that’s what made the Rod Strickland-Rasheed Wallace deal so special.
Two players—one in his prime, one on his way there—who changed franchises for the better.
(At least for a bit.)
The elements for a Blazers-Bullets trade had been there for a year—a deal had been rumored since the 1995 draft.
Washington liked but didn’t need Wallace; he was the third forward behind Juwan Howard and Chris Webber. And while Portland hadn’t wanted to trade Strickland, the point guard hated coach P.J. Carlesimo and was begging to be set free.
The 1996 deal changed the destiny of both.
With Strickland anchoring a proto-Big Three, the Bullets made the playoffs for the first time in nine years. D.C. was the league’s young, exciting franchise…with the misfortune of facing the Michael Jordan buzzsaw.
Even the next year —when Washington missed the playoffs by a game—Strickland led the Association in assists and made 2nd team all-NBA. He helped deliver at the gate, too. The Wizards drew almost 20,000 fans per game (a total only topped during Jordan’s years in D.C.), good for sixth in the league and ahead of franchises like the Lakers.
Meanwhile, ‘Sheed blossomed into a two-time all-star in Portland, the best player on a string of playoff teams that were a shady Game 7 away from the Finals.
Both teams played hard
Of course, the honeymoon didn’t last.
And within a few years, fanbases had soured on both stars. Washington cut Strickland loose in 2001; Portland dealt Rasheed in 2004, helping him win a title with the Pistons.
But I challenge you, TAI readers: For immediate impact, what was a better player-for-player swap of the past two decades?
You give me your best trade. I’ve given you mine.