Since entering the NBA as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks during the 1949-1950 season, the Atlanta Hawks franchise is known for being a team that is usually on the losing end whenever it swings for the fences and makes a trade. After all, this is the same team that drafted Bill Russell only to trade him to the Boston Celtics for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley. Decades later, they shipped rookie Pau Gasol to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
But the Hawks, who were once based in Milwaukee and St. Louis before relocating in Atlanta just before the 1968-1969 season, have also acquired talented players by making trades with other teams. Whether its by trading for talented rookies or dealing to acquire veterans that complemented the rest of their lineups, the Hawks franchise has also made trades that improved their teams and gave fans some of the best players to ever don the uniform.
Here are the best trades in Atlanta Hawks history.
5. Acquiring Kyle Korver from Chicago for cash considerations (2012)
It’s hard to believe that the Hawks got one of the NBA’s greatest 3-point shooters just for some bags of money, but that’s exactly the heist they pulled off when they acquired Korver from the Chicago Bulls in 2012. In five years in Atlanta, Korver averaged 10.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while shooting 46.2% from the field and 45.2% from beyond the arc. By the time he left the Hawks for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017, Korver was the franchise’s all-time leader in free-throw percentage and ranked third all-time in 3-pointers made with 818.
Korver was part of the 2014-2015 Hawks team under Mike Budenholzer that finished the regular season with a franchise-record 60 wins and went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Together with teammates Jeff Teague, Al Horford, and Paul Millsap, Korver was named an All Star in 2015, which marked his only All-Star appearance. No word yet on how many points cash considerations was able to put up during his stint with the Bulls.
4. Acquiring Mookie Blaylock and Roy Hinson from New Jersey for Rumeal Robinson (1992)
Mookie Blaylock was an important part of the Hawks during the 1990s while they transitioned from having Dominique Wilkins to Steve Smith and Dikembe Mutombo as the stars. In his seven seasons in Atlanta under coach Lenny Wilkens, the guard averaged 14.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 2.6 steals, with the Hawks making the playoffs in all his years with the team.
He made his lone All-Star appearance in 1994, and he was particularly a menace on defense during his time with the Hawks. He was named to the All-Defensive First Team twice and the All-Defensive Second Team four times during his time with the Hawks, all while leading the NBA in steals for two seasons. The Nets, meanwhile, didn’t get as much from Robinson, who averaged 8.0 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in two seasons in New Jersey.
3. Acquiring Steve Smith and Grant Long from Miami for Kevin Willis (1994)
The Hawks made several changes during the 1994 season, including trading their franchise player in Dominique Wilkins to the Los Angeles Clippers for Danny Manning. But that wasn’t the only notable transaction by the team. Willis had played well in 11 seasons for Atlanta, but Steve Smith went on to become the team’s leading scorer in his five years with the team, even earning an All-Star selection in 1998.
Together with Dikembe Mutombo, Mookie Blaylock, and Alan Henderson, Smith led the Hawks to five straight postseasons, including a 56-win season in 1996-1997 and a 50-win season the following year. Smith averaged 18.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists for Atlanta, and he helped keep them in playoff contention.
Long, meanwhile, played three seasons in Atlanta, putting up 11.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. The deal wasn’t a good one for Miami, as Willis didn’t stick for long, averaging 14.1 points and 10.0 rebounds in 112 games.
2. Acquiring Joe Johnson from Phoenix for Boris Diaw and two first-round picks (2005)
Before the Hawks acquired Joe Johnson from the Phoenix Suns, they were an NBA-worst 13-69 during the 2004-2005 season. The team needed a star that could lift them out of the cellar of the league’s standings. Fortunately, they found one in Johnson, who was already putting up impressive numbers in Phoenix but wanted a bigger role, which he got in Atlanta. In his first season for the Hawks, Johnson averaged 20.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.5 assists as the trade to acquire him immediately paid dividends.
Johnson went on to play for the Hawks for seven seasons, which were also his best years in the league. He averaged 20.9 points on 44.9% shooting, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.2 assists during his time in Atlanta, and was named an All-Star six times and made the All-NBA Third Team in 2010. More importantly, he led the team to the playoffs in five of his seven seasons with the Hawks, including a 53-win season in 2009-2010.
Boris Diaw may have gone on to play an important role for the Suns, but the Hawks got a star in Johnson who turned their franchise around and helped begin one of the most successful stretches in their history.
1. Acquiring Dominique Wilkins from Utah for John Drew and Freeman Williams (1982)
The Hawks acquired one of the greatest players in their history through a trade in the summer of 1982. But that deal wouldn’t have happened if not for two things: his desire to play for a different team other than the one that drafted him, and the Utah Jazz running into financial problems at the time. During the 1982 NBA Draft, the Jazz took Dominique Wilkins out of Georgia with the third overall pick, but because of those factors, they traded him to the Hawks for John Drew and Freeman Williams.
Drew went on to play for three seasons with the Jazz, averaging 18.5 points on 47.0% shooting, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists, while Williams averaged just 5.1 points in 18 games in Utah. Meanwhile, every Hawks fan knows what they got out of Wilkins in his 11-plus seasons in Atlanta: their first bona fide star since Bob Pettit in the 1960s, who did not only dazzle fans with rim-rattling dunks but was able to keep them in playoff contention.
With the Hawks, The Human Highlight Film was a nine-time NBA All-Star, an All-NBA First-Team selection in 1986, a four-time All-NBA Second-Team selection, and a two-time All-NBA Third-Team selection. He was the league’s scoring champion in 1986 and was even a two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion.
But more than that, Wilkins brought success to the franchise, as Atlanta reached the playoffs in eight of his 11 seasons with the team, which included four 50-win seasons. Despite his Hawks tenure ending prematurely with a trade to the Clippers midway through the 1994 season, the team’s decision to trade for Wilkins remains one of their best decisions as a franchise.