After reflecting on his uncharacteristically poor performance in the playoffs, a star player decided that he wanted to be traded. He informed the team at a meeting in the summer.
The perennial All-Star had chosen this organization in free agency with his eyes on a championship. In the two years that he’d been on the court, though, they’d come up short. He didn’t like where things were going.
The trade request put the front office in an uncomfortable position. It was not looking to rebuild. Getting swept had been unpleasant, but that’s what happens when you’re nowhere near full strength and you run into an elite opponent. With him, the team projected to remain a contender, as long as it could stay healthy. The near 7-footer had been drilling jumpers over helpless defenders since he was drafted No. 2 overall during George W. Bush’s second presidential term. It’s not as if it could simply swap him for a player of equivalent talent.
“I was very candid with him,” Gregg Popovich recalled months later. “I told him, ‘I’d be happy to trade you. You get me a talent like Kevin Durant, and I’ll drive you to the airport. I’ll pack your bags. And I will drive you there, get you on the plane, and get you seated.’ He laughed, you know, that kind of thing.
“I said, ‘But short of that, I’m your best buddy because you’re here for another year, and you ain’t going nowhere. Because we’re not gonna get for you talentwise what we would want. So let’s figure this thing out.’ And we did.”
The trade request didn’t become public until Popovich told reporters that it had been a catalyst for Aldridge’s best season in San Antonio. Their discussions had made Popovich realize that he had been “overcoaching” Aldridge, the legendary coach said. Popovich changed his approach, and Aldridge signed a two-year extension before the regular season started. Aldridge made the All-NBA Second Team in 2018, made his seventh All-Star team in 2019 and remained with the Spurs until they agreed to a buyout in 2021.
This is far from the only example of a trade request going unfulfilled. And with Durant himself now more than a month removed from asking the Brooklyn Nets to move him, history tells us that it is possible to salvage his situation in a similar way — or at least prolong the inevitable.
Kareem’s other trade request
The first time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tried to force a trade — Oct. 3, 1974, “after a dinner of beef Wellington, red wine and assorted cheeses,” per the Los Angeles Times — it took eight months for him to get his wish. For the first five of those months, almost nobody knew that Abdul-Jabbar, already a three-time MVP, had made the request. Then Marv Albert reported on television that he was only interested in playing in Los Angeles or New York, and Abdul-Jabbar confirmed that he wanted out.
The second time Abdul-Jabbar tried to force a trade — in July 1981, per The New York Times — nothing much came of it. Magic Johnson, injured for more than half of the previous regular season, had recently signed a 25-year, $25 million contract. Abdul-Jabbar, then 34, was not thrilled to see reports that the Lakers would try to acquire 26-year-old center Moses Malone, whose Houston Rockets had just defeated them in the first round of the playoffs.
After a meeting with Lakers owner Jerry Buss, and before going on vacation to the Philippines and Hawaii, Abdul-Jabbar told his business representative to tell Buss he wanted to be traded to the New York Knicks or New Jersey Nets.
As detailed by Kelly Dwyer at The Second Arrangement, Abdul-Jabbar changed his tune upon his return. He came out of a meeting with Buss that August saying he wanted to spend the rest of his career with the Lakers.
“Had I thought it was impossible to win here, New York is my home and is the only other place I would want to play,” he said. “However, my teammates and I are looking forward to the upcoming season and winning the world championship again.”
Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers did win the championship the following season, and they did it again in 1987 and 1988. He retired in 1989 after 20 seasons, 14 of them in Los Angeles.
When Hakeem was done with Houston
Late in the 1991-92 season, the Houston Rockets accused a 29-year-old Hakeem Olajuwon of faking a hamstring injury. A team doctor cleared him to play, and when he refused, the Rockets suspended him. Olajuwon said publicly that he wanted to be traded in the offseason.
In September 1992, Olajuwon’s agent demanded that the Rockets trade Olajuwon and retract “what we believe to be defamatory statements,” adding that he’d hired an attorney “for a complete investigation of Hakeem’s rights and remedies under the circumstances.”
Olajuwon was still a Rocket on media day, so he showed up and called owner Charlie Thomas a coward. He was still a Rocket when the team traveled to Japan for a season-opening back-to-back against the Seattle SuperSonics, too. And at some point during the more-than-14-hour- flight, he and Thomas had a productive conversation.
Olajuwon had wanted to be traded to Seattle. Then, in Rudy Tomjanovich’s first full season as coach, he played the best basketball of his career. In March 1993, he signed a four-year extension with Houston. He finished second in MVP voting, then won the award the following season. The Rockets won the 1994 and 1995 championships, and Olajuwon stayed with the franchise for the first 17 years of his career, the beef all but forgotten.
Stuck in Clipperland
In January 1993, in the middle of the best season of his career, Danny Manning asked the Los Angeles Clippers to trade him. His agent, Ron Grinker, told the Los Angeles Times that “he feels he has no future with the team,” adding that “it’s just become an irreconcilable situation.” Manning himself said, “I think it’s time for me to get away from Larry Brown,” who had coached him for four years at Kansas before they reunited in the NBA.
Manning would not go on to win championships with the Clippers. But he wasn’t traded immediately, either. He quickly retracted his public comments and rescinded his trade request. He represented the Clippers at the All-Star Game in February, remained on the roster after the trade deadline and said in May that he’d be open to re-signing.
In July, after Manning “almost” signed a five-year, $26 million deal, per the Los Angeles Times, he signed his one-year qualifying offer and the Clippers shopped him. In October, then-team owner Donald Sterling vetoed a trade that would have sent him to the Heat just as Manning was about to fly to Miami, according to Grinker. The Clippers said that the decision was made by committee, and they held off because they thought they could still keep Manning long-term.
“He won’t be with the Clippers,” Grinker told the Los Angeles Times.
Manning wanted a trade, but said he was focused on playing for the Clippers. He put up All-Star numbers again and was finally traded to Atlanta at the 1994 trade deadline for Dominique Wilkins and a first-round pick. Manning bolted for Phoenix a few months later.
Pippen vs. Krause
You’ve seen The Last Dance, so you know the story: Scottie Pippen demanded a trade in 1997, fed up with Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause.
“I’m very serious about this,” Pippen told the Chicago Tribune during a road trip in November, while he was rehabilitating after a controversially timed foot surgery. “I don’t feel Jerry Krause respects me.”
Pippen also went on WGN and said, “I’m not going to play there anymore.”
Asked the next day what he would do if the Bulls don’t oblige him, Pippen told reporters, ‘I don’t know. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
They had almost traded Pippen for Shawn Kemp in 1994 and for Tracy McGrady at the 1997 draft. Pippen was in the final season of a terrible (for him) contract, and both sides knew he would leave in free agency. Pippen also knew that, if Chicago played hardball, he’d lose — when he got healthy, he wasn’t going to sit out and let the team fine him.
Pippen returned to the court in January. A month later, he said publicly that he was leaning toward playing on the West Coast the following season. Pippen won his sixth championship with the Bulls in June, and, after the NBA’s six-month lockout, he went to the Rockets in a sign-and-trade.
An attempt to leave the Kingdom
Peja Stojakovic finished fourth in MVP voting in 2004. He averaged a career-high 24.2 points on 62.4 percent true shooting in 40.3 minutes, leading the Sacramento Kings to a 55-win season despite Chris Webber missing most of it.
Stojakovic was incredible in the regular season, but his efficiency dropped off in the playoffs. In August, he told the Associated Press that he’d asked general manager Geoff Petrie for a trade, citing poor chemistry “late in the year.” Webber returned from a knee in March and immediately became the focal point of of Sacramento’s attack, even though he couldn’t move the way he did before the injury. The Kings’ beautiful offense suffered for it.
After they lost Game 7 of the second round against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Webber said they hadn’t been tough enough. It was easy to interpret this as a shot at Stojakovic. Sacramento letting Vlade Divac leave for the Lakers in free agency didn’t please Stojakovic, either.
The Kings shot down the request immediately and publicly. Stojakovic still had two years left on his contract, plus an option, and Petrie called him “one of the last guys on our team that I would want to trade or would even want to think about trading.”
Stojakovic averaged 20 points for Sacramento the following season, and outlasted Webber, who was traded at the 2005 deadline. The Kings eventually traded Stojakovic to the Indiana Pacers in January 2006 for Ron Artest, but he returned to the organization as a member of the front office for five years starting in 2015.
The one everybody remembers
When Kobe Bryant demanded a trade on May 30, 2007, he was under contract for four more years but had an out after the 2008-09 season. Bryant felt that management had misled him about the direction of the team, and he didn’t want to wait around for a 19-year-old Andrew Bynum to develop — you’ve probably seen a clip of the infamous “ship his ass out” video, which was filmed without Bryant’s knowledge and peddled all over the place.
The Lakers, who could’ve acquired Jason Kidd before the 2007 trade deadline but didn’t want to lose Bynum, took a strong stance: Bryant isn’t going anywhere.
At media day in October, Bryant said he regretted “the way it all came out, the way everything blew up,” and he pledged to “do what I need to do to help us win.” Los Angeles might have traded him to the Bulls if Bryant, who had a no-trade clause, had not been hellbent on killing any deal that sent Luol Deng back to the Lakers.
When the Lakers made a different move at the 2008 deadline, Bryant suddenly felt a lot better about the. It turned out that he and the organization did have a future together.
In Las Vegas in 2007, a 29-year-old Paul Pierce told Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, “I’m you’re missing piece,” per Sports Illustrated. The Boston Celtics had won a combined 57 games in the previous two seasons, and Pierce had told ownership that they should trade him. He had squashed a trade to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2005, but, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, he said that he’d go public with a trade demand if the Celtics didn’t acquire a co-star on draft night.
The Mavericks, Celtics and Hawks had a three-way deal “done,” according to Cuban. Each of the teams agreed to their individual components of the trade, but Atlanta killed the deal when they learned that Boston was going to emerge with a first-round pick.
The Celtics traded for Ray Allen on draft night, traded for Kevin Garnett weeks later, and then went on to win the 2008 NBA championship. Just before meeting Bryant and the Lakers in the Finals, Pierce told The Boston Globe, “I thought I was going to be anywhere but the Celtics.”
Boston traded Pierce in 2013. Timing is everything.
A not-so-Smoove exit
Josh Smith never made an All-Star team, but he should have. And after The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported in March 2012 that he had requested a trade, the depth of the blog posts about his future — and the sheer amount of them — reflected his All-Star talent.
Atlanta didn’t trade him before the deadline, and he was back the next season, too. In January 2013, we were still talking about the complexities of hypothetical Smith trades. Smith turned down an extension, made it clear that he wanted a max contract and finished the season with the Hawks because they didn’t get the kind of trade offers they wanted.
In the summer of 2013, Smith signed a four-year, $54 million contract with the Detroit Pistons. I don’t want to talk about how his tenure in Detroit went, but I do want to talk about what Sekou Smith reported in March 2012 — while the trade request didn’t become public until then, it was made more than a full year earlier, in advance of the 2011 deadline. Smith played two and a half seasons for Atlanta after asking out.
This is far from an exhaustive accounting of unfulfilled trade requests. Compiling such a list would be impossible, anyway, since many never get reported. Cam Reddish‘s request for a trade out of Atlanta became public knowledge the moment that general manager Travis Schlenk revealed it in the post-trade press conference. Jrue Holiday‘s request for a trade out of New Orleans became public knowledge when J.J. Redick brought it up on a podcast five months after the trade. (Redick himself asked the Pelicans for a trade around the same time that Holiday did, but his situation played out quite differently.)
Trade requests are fairly common, not new and not exclusively the domain of stars. Marvin Bagley III’s father asked the Kings to trade his son in January 2021, and, the following October, agent Jeff Schwartz put out a statement blasting the team for excluding him from the opening-night rotation after passing up trade opportunities at the previous year’s deadline and in the offseason. In late 2019, Dewayne Dedmon, another Kings big man, went on the record with a trade request less than six months after signing a three-year contract.
Furkan Korkmaz re-signed with the Philadelphia 76ers the summer after they turned down his option and he asked for a trade. His former teammate with the Turkish national team, Omer Asik, asked the Houston Rockets for a trade as soon as they signed Dwight Howard in 2013, but they said no, so he spent the next season as Howard’s backup. (This was not as dramatic as the Dwightmare, which began with a trade request before the 2011-12 season and only ended after Howard had rescinded it midseason, picked up his qualifying offer and then, the following summer, demanded a trade again.)
Having grown up in Toronto, I have vivid memories of not only the Vince Carter trade saga, but the Damon Stoudamire trade demand that preceded it. (Did you know that, the night before the wildly lopsided trade, Carter told coach Sam Mitchell he wanted to stay?) At some point in the last 24 years, though, I had forgotten that Doug Christie demanded a trade shortly after Stoudamire’s departure. Christie had just signed a seven-year contract, and Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald rejected it right away. Christie finished that season in Toronto and stayed for two more, helping the franchise make the playoffs for the first time in 2000.
Trade requests have the same variables — contract length, market value, willingness to hold out or create a circus — regardless of who is involved. The dynamics are different with stars, though, because the stakes are so much higher. Rushing into the wrong deal can be catastrophic. LeBron James directly asked the Cleveland Cavaliers not to honor Kyrie Irving‘s trade request in 2017, and, after leaving for the Lakers in free agency, called their decision to send Irving to Boston “the beginning of the end for everything.” The dire, dismal downside of a bad trade involving a star is why, when Ben Simmons held out last season, Sixers president Daryl Morey repeatedly said they had to be patient. Morey even said that the standoff could last four years.
Like Simmons, Durant has four years left on his contract. There is no indication, however, that he will refuse to report to the team if he’s not moved. This is not to say definitively that Brooklyn should tell Durant he’s not going anywhere, in hopes of his trade request becoming a small part of a story that ends with a championship, like it did for Abdul-Jabbar, Olajuwon, Pippen, Pierce and Bryant. But if there are no better alternatives …