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The Roots of It All

Every NBA roster spot has a story. Some combination of draft picks, trades, and signings led to each one. We pored over the transaction logs to find the roster spot on each team with the longest history.

Marc Jackson, Jermareo Davidson, Brandan Wright, and Draymond Green Getty Images/Ringer illustration

No one will blame you if you don’t know who Arturas Gudaitis is. The 25-year-old Lithuanian center isn’t a household name in the U.S., and for good reason—besides a three-game summer league stint in 2016, he hasn’t played stateside at all. But little do fans know that Gudaitis has been a part of some of the NBA’s most important and league-shaking deals this decade.

He’s a sort of Forrest Gump of recent NBA transactions: In 2011, the second-round pick ultimately used to select him went from New Orleans to the Los Angeles Clippers in the Chris Paul trade; two more swaps later, that pick—47th overall in 2015—was used by Philadelphia to select Gudaitis, who was shipped immediately to Sacramento in the Kings’ ill-fated salary dump that led to Philadelphia taking Markelle Fultz and the Celtics receiving Jayson Tatum and a future first-rounder; Gudaitis’s rights then went from Sacramento to Cleveland at the 2018 trade deadline, as the Cavaliers remade their roster in an effort to compete in LeBron James’s final season with the team.

Gudaitis is important not because he was the key to unlock all of those deals, but rather because he epitomizes the Byzantine nature of NBA trades. The league still has its share of straight player swaps, but so many deals involve far-off, far-flung draft choices and contorted pick protections and vestigial veterans cluttering the transactions log. No modern GM has observed a simple two-team trade he couldn’t transform into a four-team monstrosity, and thus tracking every deal would seem a stone best left unturned.

Until now, that is. With the 2019 trade deadline approaching on February 7, we figured we’d trace the transactional history of every current NBA roster spot, mostly using the player records at Basketball-Reference and the draft details at Pro Sports Transactions and RealGM. How did Andrew Wiggins get to Minnesota? Simple, in exchange for Kevin Love. But how did Love get to Minnesota? And how did the branch before that on the broader Wiggins trade tree settle into place?

Here we present the farthest-reaching roster spot on each NBA team in reverse chronological order, with the shortest trees listed first, much as Ben Lindbergh did for MLB trades at Grantland. (The start date of each tree will be included alongside each team name.) NBA trades are winding and complex, and for many teams they involve multiple branches that build off each other and curl in new and sometimes delightful places. We tried to show them all—except in the few cases where even the infinite real estate of the internet wasn’t enough to contain all the relevant limbs. (Thanks, Danny Ainge.)

Read along for every team, or just find your favorite and reflect on all the players who had to shuffle through the roster to make space for the current configuration. We’ll start, fittingly, with a tree that includes Gudaitis himself.

Arturas Gudaitis
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T-29. Sacramento Kings: June 26, 2008

A. Draft: Jason Thompson → De’Aaron Fox (as future pick)

B. Draft: Jason Thompson → Arturas Gudaitis → Iman Shumpert

We also start with a relatively easy tree to follow. The Kings picked Thompson in the 2008 draft and then traded him for—eventually—two current members of the roster: Fox, whose future draft rights they obtained directly in the Thompson swap, and Shumpert, whom they acquired for Gudaitis’s rights (and George Hill) last year.

Yet that reading makes Sacramento’s front office look far savvier than it actually acted. In 2015, for the privilege of shedding salaries, the Kings sacrificed a future unprotected first-round pick and agreed to a future pick swap with Philadelphia. In return, they freed enough cap space to sign, uh, Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli, and Rajon Rondo. It’s one of the worst trades in recent history, and everyone knew it at the time. But Fox has made the pick-swap part of that deal look better this season, as he’s carved a steady role in Sacramento’s newly up-tempo system. (And, as mentioned above, Philly ultimately came away from that draft with Fultz, one of the NBA’s biggest enigmas.)

T-29. San Antonio Spurs: June 26, 2008

A. Draft: George Hill → Davis Bertans

B. Draft: George Hill → Kawhi Leonard → DeMar Derozan + Jakob Poeltl

This truncated list is merely another manifestation of the Spurs’ severe change in recent years. Not only does their longest tree not extend back to the early days of the Popovichian dynasty, but by the time Hill was drafted in 2008, the Spurs had already won four of their five titles. And this is the only Spurs tree that contains multiple limbs: Every other player on the roster was either drafted by the team or signed with them outright, with no complicated backstories at all.

T-27. Philadelphia 76ers: June 28, 2007

A. Draft: Thaddeus Young → Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (as future pick) → Mike Muscala

B. Draft: Thaddeus Young → Alexey Shved → Sergei Lishouk → Cenk Akyol → Furkan Korkmaz (as future pick)

One might expect the Process to have yielded some more pizzazz with this kind of project—that some future second-round pick acquired in the Julius Erving–Moses Malone era would have evolved into Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid. But no, the 76ers’ tree is one of the shortest and least star-studded. Just wait until that 2021 Miami pick conveys, though.

T27. Indiana Pacers: June 28, 2007

Future pick → Stanko Barac → Emir Preldzic → Cory Joseph

The branch that sprung from the swap of Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis contains a lot more talent, but alas, it dates back to only 2010. Of greater interest is Preldzic, a Turkish forward who never played in the NBA but, before his rights went to Indiana, was involved in trades that featured Rashard Lewis, Serge Ibaka, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Antawn Jamison, and Drew Gooden. It’s a wonder Indiana exchanged him for a backup point guard rather than a midlevel starting big.

Damian Lillard
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26. Portland Trail Blazers: August 25, 2004

Free agent: Joel Przybilla → Gerald Wallace → Damian Lillard (as future pick)

Never forget that when the Nets traded for Wallace at the 2012 deadline, the first-rounder they sent to Portland was only top-three protected because, as a source told ESPN at the time, “there are only three players in the upcoming draft the Nets covet—Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson.” Lillard has since qualified for three All-Star teams; no Net has since Joe Johnson in 2013-14. Oops!

25. Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets: June 22, 2004

A. Expansion draft: Gerald Wallace → Tobias Harris (as future pick) […]

B. Expansion draft: Sasha Pavlovic → Jared Dudley (as future pick) → Raja Bell → Stephen Jackson […] → Corey Maggette → Noah Vonleh (as future pick) → Nicolas Batum

The ellipsis means that both the Wallace and Pavlovic paths independently led to Maggette, who then led to Vonleh and finally Batum. So, basically: Wallace and Pavlovic came to Charlotte in the then-Bobcats’ expansion draft and yielded a bunch of solid if uninspiring wings. More interesting is Bismack Biyombo’s roster spot, whose history includes Timofey Mozgov, post-prime Dwight Howard, Miles Plumlee, Spencer Hawes, and post-prime Roy Hibbert—a veritable tree of tree-like NBA players.

Udonis Haslem
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24. Miami Heat: August 6, 2003

Free agent: Udonis Haslem

Thanks to Haslem, the Heat are the only team in the league whose longest tree contains just one branch. (Dwyane Wade doesn’t count because he left Miami in the summer of 2016 before returning at the trade deadline last season.) The lifelong Miami man is the Heat’s career leader in rebounds, and he ranks in the top 10 in most other counting stats. Only Wade, LeBron James, and Alonzo Mourning amassed more career win shares in Miami than Haslem, who boasts three championship rings, too. Not bad for an undrafted big.

T-22. Toronto Raptors: June 26, 2003

Draft: Chris Bosh → Jonas Valanciunas (as future pick)

This is a clean and uncluttered tree: one great big for a good-but-not-great big. More broadly, the current Raptors team owes much to its mid-2000s predecessors: Bosh begat Valanciunas, 2005 free-agent signee Jose Calderon begat OG Anunoby and Norman Powell (through a few intermittent links), and 2006 no. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani begat Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green (via Jakob Poeltl).

T-22. Chicago Bulls: June 26, 2003

Draft: Mario Austin → Malcolm Lee (as future pick) → Nikola Mirotic → Chandler Hutchison (as future pick)

Austin never played a minute in the NBA. Lee never played a minute for the Bulls. Mirotic left in a trade last season because he was playing so well—after missing time following a mid-practice punching—that it ruined the Bulls’ tanking efforts. Hutchison has scored 5.2 points per game and is shooting 45.9 percent as a rookie. Fun chain for the Bulls!

21. Utah Jazz: July 20, 2001

Free agent: John Amaechi → Pavel Podkolzin (as future pick) → Linas Kleiza (as future pick) → Deron Williams (as future pick) → […]

A. Derrick Favors

B. Enes Kanter (as future pick) → Josh Okogie (as future pick) → Ricky Rubio

C. Enes Kanter (as future pick) → Thomas Bryant (as future pick) → Tony Bradley

D. Gorgui Dieng (as future pick) → Trey Burke → Future second-round pick → Kyle Korver

This notation—which will appear far more as this exercise continues and the trees grow longer and wind—means that the paths the Jazz took to each of Favors, Rubio, Bradley, and Korver began the same way, only to diverge at the Deron Williams juncture. From there, new branches opened, each yielding a different player on the current roster.

One lesson of this project is that when teams can exchange a star for a meaningful return before he reaches free agency, it can generate ripples that help the trading team shape its future for years to come. Through the trade of Deron Williams in 2011, the Jazz collected the assets that led to four players on their current roster. Trades to come like the Chris Paul–to-Houston and Carmelo Anthony–to–New York swaps affirm this theory. The Pelicans with Anthony Davis might take note.

T-18. Los Angeles Clippers: June 28, 2000

Draft: Marko Jaric → Austin Rivers (as future pick) → Chris Paul → […]

A. Patrick Beverley + Montrezl Harrell + Lou Williams

B. Omari Spellman (as future pick) → Danilo Gallinari

Besides those players connected to the trade of Paul to Houston in the summer of 2017, no current Clippers roster spot extends beyond 2009 (when Blake Griffin was picked first overall). Perhaps David Stern wanted Paul to go to this L.A. team instead of the other one for trade-tree purposes.

T-18. Detroit Pistons: June 28, 2000

Draft: Mateen Cleaves → Carlos Delfino (as future pick) → Kyle Singler (as future pick) → Reggie Jackson

This is the Pistons’ only thread that dates back to before this decade, which means it’s also the Pistons’ only thread that dates back to a time the Pistons were capable of winning a playoff series. No current Piston can trace his origins with the team to any of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, or Ben Wallace.

Kenyon Martin
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T-18. New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets: June 28, 2000

Draft: Kenyon Martin → Marcus Williams (as future pick) → Darius Morris (as future pick) → JaJuan Johnson (as future pick) → MarShon Brooks → […]

A. Kyle Kuzma (as future pick) → D’Angelo Russell

B. Kevin Garnett → Thaddeus Young → Caris LeVert

The 2000 draft goes down as one of the worst ever—the leader in career win shares from that class is Hedo Turkoglu—so even though Kenyon Martin played for two Finals teams, he wasn’t nearly as productive as a typical no. 1 overall pick. But he at least paved the way for two current members of the roster—who double as two potential members of the Nets’ more promising future.

17. Phoenix Suns: August 3, 1999

Free agent: Rodney Rogers → Joe Johnson → Boris Diaw → Jason Richardson → Marcin Gortat → Tyler Ennis (as future pick) → Brandon Knight → Ryan Anderson + De’Anthony Melton

The Suns’ tree is one of the sadder ones around, if only because it traces a neat path through the different iterations of the Steve Nash–era teams that failed to reach the Finals. The versions with Johnson fell short; ditto Diaw and Richardson; then came Gortat in December 2010, and Phoenix hasn’t made the playoffs since.

16. Dallas Mavericks: June 24, 1998

Draft: Robert Traylor → Dirk Nowitzki

Of course it’s Dirk. Dallas sent the Tractor to Milwaukee in exchange for its future Hall of Famer on draft night in 1998, and the Mavs haven’t looked back since. (Some Mavs can’t look back that far. Luka Doncic wasn’t born yet.) And it’s a good thing for their trade tree, too—besides Dirk, no present-day Maverick can trace a path earlier than 2011.

15. Golden State Warriors: June 25, 1997

Draft: Marc Jackson → Jermareo Davidson (as future pick) → Brandan Wright → Draymond Green (as future pick)

Sure, this isn’t that Mark Jackson, but it’s a nice bit of poetry nonetheless that the originator of Green’s tree has the same name as the coach who didn’t fully tap into his talent. In Green’s last season under Jackson, he started 12 games and averaged 6.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per contest; in his first season under Steve Kerr, he started 79 times and averaged 11.7-8.2-3.7.

Pau Gasol
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14. Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies: June 24, 1995

Expansion trade: Randy Livingston (as future pick) → Roy Rogers (as future pick) + Chris Robinson (as future pick) → Tony Massenburg + Michael Smith (respectively) → Othella Harrington → Jamaal Tinsley (as future pick) → Pau Gasol → […]

A. Marc Gasol

B. Greivis Vasquez (as future pick) → Quincy Pondexter → Jeff Green → future first-round pick → Deyonta Davis → Garrett Temple

The Grizzlies’ trade tree is so warped at the root that it confounds even the mighty power that is Basketball-Reference. Based on contemporary news accounts, here’s what seems to have happened (it gets confusing, so strap in). In their early days, the Vancouver Grizzlies made a pair of trades that brought back extra second-round picks. They acquired one pick that initially belonged to the Bullets, via the Magic, in exchange for a promise that the new franchise wouldn’t take Orlando reserves Darrell Armstrong or Geert Hammink in the expansion draft, and they acquired another pick that initially belonged to the Knicks, via the Timberwolves, in exchange for guard Darrick Martin.

Then, at the 1996 trade deadline, the Grizzlies traded again with Orlando, this time for veteran Jeff Turner, and squandered one of those second-round picks in the process. Basketball-Reference and Pro Sports Transactions think this second-rounder was the pick Orlando had sent to Vancouver a year earlier; this is the pick that became Randy Livingston. But according to an L.A. Times piece from that day, “The Grizzlies had three second-round picks in the 1996 draft, having earlier obtained selections from Washington and the New York Knicks. Orlando will get the worst of the three.”

The worst of those three was not the Washington-to-Orlando-to-Vancouver pick, but rather the New York–to-Minnesota-to-Vancouver pick, which became Amal McCaskill. He was Orlando’s second-round selection in 1996, so that part checks out. The pick that became Livingston, meanwhile, appears to have stayed with Vancouver until the Grizzlies completed another trade a week before the 1996 draft, which sent future Livingston and other parts to Houston—and indeed, the Rockets did pick Livingston, so that part checks out, too—for the picks that became Rogers and Robinson, and thus truly kick-started the Grizzlies’ tree.

That tree is interesting in and of itself, with both Gasol brothers making appearances and reminders of, somehow, two separate instances in which Memphis traded a future first-round pick to Boston. (The first was in the deal that shipped off Pondexter and returned Green; the second was a future Clippers’ first, acquired when Memphis swiveled to trading Green, which Memphis then exchanged for Davis and Rade Zagorac for some reason.) But the real lesson here is that conditional trades are confusing but delightful fun, and expansion franchise roster machinations are confusing but delightful fun, and the NBA hasn’t added a new team in 15 seasons so it’s high time for more controlled chaos.

James Harden
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13. Houston Rockets: August 26, 1994

Free agent: Tim Breaux → Othella Harrington (as future pick) → Steve Francis → Reece Gaines → Mike James → Rafer Alston → Kyle Lowry → Steven Adams (as future pick) → […]

A. James Harden

B. Cole Aldrich → Thomas Robinson → Kostas Papanikolaou → Isaiah Hartenstein (as future pick)

C. Cole Aldrich → Thomas Robinson → Dillon Brooks (as future pick) → De’Anthony Melton (as future pick) → Marquese Chriss + Brandon Knight

Breaux scored 289 points in 96 career games for Houston. Harden, his trade descendant, has scored 610 points in 14 games this month.

12. Milwaukee Bucks: June 24, 1992

Draft: Todd Day → Sherman Douglas → Tyrone Hill → Scott Williams → Kevin Willis → Dan Gadzuric (as future pick) → Corey Maggette → Shaun Livingston → John Henson (as future pick) → George Hill + Jason Smith

That essentially every player in this long chain was competent but not spectacular—they combined for zero All-Star Game nods for Milwaukee—reflects the Bucks’ existence for the past quarter-century. They were seldom truly awful, but until this season, they rarely excelled, either: Only once since Day was picked in 1992 have the Bucks advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Luckily for them, Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose entire tree reads “2013 draft: Giannis Antetokounmpo,” doesn’t need long trade tree limbs to succeed; the superheroic limbs attached to his body do just fine.

11. Washington Wizards: June 11, 1991

Future pick → Michael Adams → Predrag Drobnjak (as future pick) → Bobby Simmons → Jerry Stackhouse → Antawn Jamison → Emir Preldzic → DeJuan Blair → Markieff Morris

Through another, shorter branch, Morris also calls Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson roster-spot ancestors. And Trevor Ariza dates back to Gilbert Arenas’s 2003 signing in free agency. So it’s almost like the present-day Wizards still have roots with their entertaining mid-aughts squads, right?

Carmelo Anthony
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10. Denver Nuggets: January 4, 1991

Until it reaches the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to New York, the Nuggets’ longest tree has too many branches and sub-branches and loops to properly include them all. We’ll choose just the longest to display here:

Free agent: Reggie Williams → Mark Jackson → Jason Lawson (as future pick) → Kris Clack (as future pick) → Eric Williams → Ron Mercer → Popeye Jones → Tracy Murray → Kevin Willis + Aleksandar Radojevic → Josh Smith (as future pick) → Rodney White → Petteri Koponen (as future pick) → Allen Iverson → Chauncey Billups → […]

A. Jamal Murray (as future pick)

B. Kosta Koufos → Joffrey Lauvergne → Monte Morris (as future pick)

C. Dario Saric + Romero Osby (as future picks) → Andre Iguodala → Thomas Welsh (as future pick)

D. Raymond Felton → Devyn Marble (as future pick) → Arron Afflalo → Malik Beasley (as future pick) + Will Barton

E. Timofey Mozgov → Harry Giles (as future pick) → […]
i. Mason Plumlee
ii. Shake Milton (as future pick) → Justin Jackson (as future pick) → Jarred Vanderbilt

Look at this mess. Look at what nonsense Melo wrought when he demanded to leave Denver, and the Knicks decided they couldn’t wait a few months for free agency but, like Veruca Salt with a golden egg, wanted him now.

Zach Kram

Multiple Billups trades make an appearance. So do multiple Antonio McDyess trades. So do the Nuggets’ first-round draft picks from 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2003. So yeah, with that background in mind—and that diagram shows only up to the Melo trade, and none of the transactions that followed—it makes sense that seven current Nuggets would trace their origins to the same root. Granted, nearly a decade has passed since Anthony left for New York, but the Nuggets look like a real and sustained contender, and they largely have their former star to thank.

9. New York Knicks: October 1, 1990

Free agent: John Starks → Latrell Sprewell → Keith Van Horn → Nazr Mohammed → David Lee (as future pick) → […]

A. Ronny Turiaf → Tyson Chandler → Jose Calderon → Damyean Dotson (as future pick)

B. Anthony Randolph + Quincy Miller (as future pick) + Romero Osby (as future pick) → Carmelo Anthony → […]
i. Mitchell Robinson (as future pick) + Enes Kanter
ii. Doug McDermott → Emmanuel Mudiay

Five of these Knicks are All-Stars, and the Starks-Sprewell-Anthony-Lee-Chandler quintet might win a tournament against the best individual pieces from every other team’s longest tree. Alas, for Knicks fans concerned with the real world rather than a thought experiment, the group of players who eventually replaced those All-Stars can’t get a grasp on the whole winning thing.

There’s also a bonus here: Even after the Denver and New York trees, we’re still not done with Melo trades.

T-7. Los Angeles Lakers: June 27, 1990

Draft: Elden Campbell → Glen Rice → Greg Foster → Lindsey Hunter → Kareem Rush → Patrick Beverley (as future pick) → Ater Majok (as future pick) → [...]

A. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (as future pick)

B. Future second-round pick → Isaac Bonga

It makes sense that a prestigious franchise like the Lakers would see its trade tree depend on the likes of Ater Majok and Kareem Rush, and end up on two current Lakers who have played a total of 406 minutes this season. But that’s what happens when seemingly half the roster is made up of LeBron and the friends LeBron brought with him as free agents last summer.

Dee Brown
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T-7. Boston Celtics: June 27, 1990

Like with Denver, we have to abridge the Boston tree because it contains no fewer than half a dozen different ways of reaching its final destination. Here’s the longest such manifestation:

Draft: Dee Brown → Popeye Jones → Kedrick Brown (as future pick) → Chris Mihm → Gary Payton + Rajon Rondo (as future pick; the first time of two Boston held his rights) → Antoine Walker → Edin Bavcic (as future pick) → Dan Dickau → Theo Ratliff + Sebastian Telfair → Kevin Garnett → […]

A. Jaylen Brown (as future pick)

B. Markelle Fultz (as future pick) → Jayson Tatum (as future pick)

C. Keith Bogans → Dwight Powell → Jae Crowder → Kyrie Irving

The highlight of this tree, naturally, is the immense load of talent Boston reaped from trading Garnett, who had already boosted Boston to a title—its first since before Dee Brown was drafted nearly two decades prior. But perhaps no tree on this whole list is a better representation of the knotty, twisty directions NBA transaction logs can wind. The pick used on Rondo went to Boston in 2004, then left in 2005, did its own journeying independent of the Celtics, and finally came back to Boston on draft night in 2006. Dickau was once traded with Ratliff, going from Atlanta to Portland in a 2004 trade for Rasheed Wallace; two years later, he was traded for Ratliff. And the deal that sent Walker to Miami for, among other pieces, the pick that became Bavcic was only the largest, at five teams and 13 players, in NBA history. Oh, and what was Bavcic’s most recent NBA transaction? It was a move to Cleveland in a three-team trade that involved the Celtics, of course, after he made stops in New Orleans and Toronto and Philadelphia and New Orleans again and Brooklyn along the way.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: June 27, 1989

Draft: Doug West → Anthony Peeler → Sam Cassell → Marko Jaric → […]

A. Mike Miller → Ricky Rubio (as future pick) → Josh Okogie (as future pick)

B. Kevin Love → Andrew Wiggins

For a franchise that has advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once in its history, the Wolves have rostered a bunch of fun and interesting players over the years. Okogie also belongs to a shorter tree that includes Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, Wally Szczerbiak, Ricky Davis, and Antoine Walker, who would form a fascinating small-ball lineup just by themselves.

5. Orlando Magic: June 15, 1989

Expansion: Scott Skiles → Keon Clark (as future pick) → Keyon Dooling (as future pick) → Marcus Williams (as future pick) → Sergei Lishouk (as future pick) → Drew Gooden → Tony Battie → […]

A. Ryan Anderson → Gustavo Ayon → Tobias Harris → Ersan Ilyasova → Serge Ibaka → Terrence Ross

B. Vince Carter → Earl Clark + Jason Richardson → […]
i. Wesley Iwundu (as future pick) + Nikola Vucevic
ii. Arron Afflalo → Evan Fournier

Who would have thought that this bit of befuddlement wouldn’t be the most complicated discovery related to a Magic trade this month?

4. Charlotte Hornets/New Orleans Pelicans: June 23, 1988

Expansion draft: Muggsy Bogues → B.J. Armstrong → Eddie Jones → P.J. Brown → Tyson Chandler → Emeka Okafor → Darius Miller (as future pick)

Miller might be averaging only 5.7 points per game in a largely mundane career, but just look at all the nostalgic names in his trade tree. Even better is that his overall trade tree includes not only the players listed here but also Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning, All-Star Glen Rice, and Larry Johnson, who like Bogues was so talented he attracted the Monstars’ eye and talent-draining powers in Space Jam. It’s like every memorable Charlotte Hornet—excuse me, New Orleans Pelican—joined forces to produce a backup small forward.

Update, January 30: As some readers have noted, Miller was waived after his initial acquisition and then spent time in Europe before returning to New Orleans. We’re counting him because he didn’t play for any other NBA team in the interim, but for those curious: If Miller’s tree were disqualified, the Pelicans’ longest would become that of Anthony Davis, who was drafted in 2012 and might see his New Orleans–based tree pruned rather soon.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: June 17, 1986

Like with the Nuggets and Celtics, the Cavs’ longest trade tree is too involved to show how all the various branches intersect, so here’s the longest in that mess’s stead.

Jeff Hodge (as future pick) → Mark Price → Vitaly Potapenko (as future pick) → Andrew DeClercq → Matt Harpring → Jumaine Jones → Ryan Gomes (as future pick) → Tony Battie → Drew Gooden → Joe Smith → Mo Williams → Kyrie Irving (as future pick) → […]

A. Ante Zizic

B. Collin Sexton (as future pick)

C. Isaiah Thomas → Jordan Clarkson + Larry Nance Jr.

D. Future pick → […]
i. Rodney Hood
ii. George Hill → John Henson + Matthew Dellavedova

Seven current Cavaliers owe their roster spot in some part to the team’s trade of Irving—who himself came to Cleveland only after the Clippers sent the Cavs an unprotected first-round pick to dump Baron Davis’s contract and bring back Mo Williams. Neil Olshey, the Clippers GM at the time, told ESPN he didn’t care about losing the pick because he was done “speculating on another kid that’s 19 years old with one year of college experience. And I’m not that high on the draft to begin with this year.”

But this section is about the Cavs, not the Clippers, and Cleveland’s problem is that they’re once again in the running for another no. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. That’s because of another problem: It’s possible that none of the seven players they owe to the Irving trade is particularly good. Only one player from the Cavaliers’ first post-LeBron roster (Anderson Varejao) was still on the team by the time James returned, and Cleveland might once again be waiting for its first real building block—the Kyrie of the second post-LeBron phase—before it can start clawing back toward contention.

2. Atlanta Hawks: June 19, 1984

Draft: Kevin Willis → Steve Smith → Jim Jackson → Brevin Knight → Jamaal Tinsley → Boris Diaw (as future pick) → Joe Johnson → […]

A. Shane Larkin (as future pick) → Mike Muscala → Justin Anderson

B. Frank Jackson (as future pick) → Miles Plumlee + Tyler Dorsey (as future pick)

Kevin Willis was picked in the same draft lottery as Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, and Michael Jordan. He played a full decade in Atlanta, made an All-NBA team, and then spearheaded another quarter-century of Hawks production through his trade tree. If only Anderson, Plumlee, and Dorsey—currently combining for 11 points per game—made the most recent limbs as sturdy as the roots.

Jack Sikma
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1. Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder: June 10, 1977

Draft: Jack Sikma → Alton Lister → Gary Payton (as future pick) → Ray Allen → Jeff Green → Kendrick Perkins → Enes Kanter → Carmelo Anthony → Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot + Dennis Schröder

The 1977 draft was the first for four new NBA teams that had just arrived in the ABA merger. That’s how long ago this tree began. Bill Russell left his post as the Seattle SuperSonics’ coach and GM just a month before the team took Sikma eighth overall in the draft, and three full decades would pass between Sikma’s selection and the Sonics’ move to Oklahoma City.

And that’s just the start of this captivating tree. Sikma was a seven-time All-Star. Payton’s a Hall of Famer. Allen’s a Hall of Famer. Anthony will be a Hall of Famer one day, too (though surely not for his play with the Thunder). The Thunder have played in Oklahoma City for only a decade now, giving them the shortest geographical roots of any NBA team. But they have the longest trade roots of any team by a margin of nearly a decade—which of course extend to Seattle in the end.

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