Every so often there are trades that appear neutral or irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. What may look like a deal that everyone will forget about in five years could end up looking like a significant move for one team. Whether it’s getting a late first-round pick that ends up being a stud or getting a player thrown into a trade that ends up being a major contributor, these are operations that can be identified as sneaky good sometime after they were made.
Here is a list of sneaky good trades over the last decade:
Rudy Gobert to the Jazz (2013)
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
On 2013 draft night, the Nuggets traded Rudy Gobert to the Jazz for the 46th overall pick (Erick Green) and cash. That was a pretty underwhelming return for a late first-rounder even if he turned out to be an average player. A typical trade out of a later first-rounder nowadays often goes for multiple high second-rounders or gets rolled over into a future first-round pick.
At the time, the Nuggets were committed to a center with a similar skillset and wingspan in JaVale McGee. They were relatively deep in the center position with Timofey Mozgov as the primary backup along with JJ Hickson and Darrell Arthur in the rotation. Gobert may not have played into Denver’s long-term plans given where they are now but they could’ve developed him and traded him for a lot more.
Khris Middleton to the Bucks (2013)
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
This trade was originally viewed as the Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight trade, but it is now remembered for a guy who was thrown in named Khris Middleton. Middleton’s ascent to being a perennial All-Star, one of the league’s most efficient high-volume scorers, and a major contributor to bringing Milwaukee’s first championship in 50 years makes him arguably the sneakiest throw-in ever in a trade.
The Pistons were deep into their rebuild having put together a core of recent draft picks including Knight as well as Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. They had just missed the playoffs for the fourth season in a row and wanted to get back into the playoff mix. Along with acquiring Jennings, they also signed Josh Smith, but the accumulation of talent was not enough to overcome the fit issues.
The Jennings-Knight swap itself got interesting in the 2014-15 season when both players were having years worthy of All-Star consideration. Jennings was having one of his best individual stretches while Knight led the Bucks to a 30-23 start to the season. Unfortunately, both players would later suffer major lower body injuries and wouldn’t regain their previous forms.
Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic to Denver (2014)
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
On 2014 draft night, the Nuggets traded the 9th overall pick to the Bulls in exchange for the 16th and 19th overall selections. The Bulls traded up to select Doug McDermott while the Nuggets traded down to select Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris. The Nuggets did a great job identifying two players who would eventually become good starters.
It took a while for McDermott to come along and it wouldn’t happen with the Bulls. While this trade was excellent for the Nuggets, it didn’t really hurt the Bulls and it’s hard to say if they would’ve done a better job with their original selections. The 2014 draft was a weird one where many of its best players weren’t at the top of the first round. While players like Nurkic and Harris would’ve been available to them, they easily could’ve taken someone else who wouldn’t pan out.
Norman Powell and OG Anunoby to the Raptors (2015)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
In 2015, the Raptors traded Greivis Vazquez to the Bucks for a future 2017 first-round pick and the 46th overall pick of that year’s draft. Those two players turned out to be OG Anunoby and Norman Powell, respectively. In fairness to the Bucks, they previously acquired that 2017 first-rounder from the Clippers for taking on Jared Dudley, so they had an extra first-rounder to dangle in trades. But putting aside the level of talent Anunoby and Powell have, trading a first-round and a second-round pick is too much for a player who was projected to come off the bench.
While this trade didn’t hurt the Bucks in the long run, it greatly benefitted the Raptors to a degree they couldn’t have imagined in 2015. This is one of those trades that seemed irrelevant at the time but helped shape a big part of the Raptors’ current identity, especially after swapping Powell for Gary Trent Jr. They were also contributors in the Raptors’ rotation when they won the championship in 2019.
Jarrett Allen to the Nets (2017)
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
At the 2017 trade deadline, the Wizards traded several players and a lottery-protected 2017 first-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Bojan Bogdanovic. This was also one of those deals where the selection ended up being a really good player. In this case, the Nets used the pick to select Jarrett Allen, which was massive for them considering they were still deep in the hole from their trade with the Celtics.
The Wizards were having their best season in the John Wall and Bradley Beal era and wanted to add reinforcements for a playoff run. Reflecting on this trade, a lottery-protected first-round pick is actually good value for Bogdanovic considering he only kept getting better as the years went on. The issue with this trade is that Bogdanovic was most likely going to be a rental for the Wizards and that ended up being the case. The Wizards ended up paying a modest $7 million luxury tax payment for that season, but matching Bogdanovic’s $10.5 million annual salary he received from the Pacers would’ve raised their penalty to $30 million.
Jusuf Nurkic to Portland (2017)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Around the 2017 trade deadline, the Nuggets traded Jusuf Nurkic along with a 2017 first-round pick to the Trail Blazers for Mason Plumlee. At the time the Nuggets were playing Nikola Jokic as a power forward with Nurkic at center. The pairing wasn’t working out so they swapped him for Plumlee. That pairing didn’t work out for the Nuggets either and eventually, they finally shifted Jokic to center.
This was a very savvy transaction from the Blazers’ front office. At the time, those two weren’t too far off from each other from a talent perspective, but prior to the trade, Plumlee looked a little better just because of how limited Nurkic was in his role in Denver. As soon as Nurkic put on a Blazers jersey he finally started looking like the player we all know him as. And Portland also extracted a first-round pick in the process.
Donovan Mitchell to the Jazz (2017)
(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
On 2017 draft night, the Nuggets traded the 15th overall selection in Donovan Mitchell to the Jazz for Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon. After gifting Rudy Gobert to the Jazz four years earlier, they helped them solidify their core for their playoff run over the following five years. Utah had just lost Gordon Hayward in free agency, so it goes without saying this trade came at the right time.
In a weird way, it’s hard to criticize the Nuggets because they ended up drafting a strong core in Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. They couldn’t have kept all the great players they drafted and they could’ve gotten better returns for them, but at least they drafted well enough to be in contention now. Still, Mitchell would’ve been an amazing piece for the current Nuggets.
Cameron Johnson and Dario Saric to Phoenix (2019)
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
On 2019 draft night, the Suns traded the 6th overall selection to the Timberwolves for the 11th overall selection and Dario Saric. Minnesota would select Jarrett Culver with their pick while the Suns would select Cameron Johnson with the 11th. The deal did not work out for the Wolves as they’d end up trading Culver after two seasons and he’d subsequently get the fourth year of his rookie scale contract declined.
At the time, this trade felt underwhelming from the Suns’ perspective, especially after drafting Johnson which was viewed as a reach. That selection turned out to be optimal considering all the players that were selected between 6 and 11. Saric also was a great contributor for Phoenix prior to his ACL injury and played a role in helping them reach the 2021 Finals.
Desmond Bane to Memphis (2020)
Joe Rondone-USA TODAY Sports
In what may be the sneakiest great trade in the past decade, the Grizzlies acquired the 30th overall pick of the 2020 NBA draft in a three-way deal with the Celtics and Blazers. Memphis, who originally was down a first-round pick in that draft to the Celtics, acquired one of the best players of that class in Desmond Bane for two second-round picks, cash, and for taking on the expiring minimum contract of Mario Hezonja.
Boston had a surplus of first-round picks for a while which included three first-round picks in the 2020 draft. They couldn’t consolidate them for a veteran player or a higher selection so they ended up trading the lowest selection for two second-round picks while getting off the $5 million salary of Enes Kanter Freedom. The Celtics are doing just fine, but the Grizzlies identified an All-Star caliber player through tight margins and acquired him for a very low price.