One of the great things to watch in the NBA is to see various players make their climb to basketball stardom. It is a joy to witness the evolution of these players turn from good to elite. Throughout NBA history, we’ve seen various players shine in the league. Some of them would shine from the get-go, while others needed a change of scenery before they were able to showcase their full arsenal of basketball talent. Of course, the former is the ideal path for every basketball player in the NBA. However, the basketball journey for every player is different more often than not.
There is no doubt that struggling on the court while playing limited minutes, and getting traded for it are no easy pills to swallow. These are tough obstacles that have forced some players to give up their NBA dreams. But despite the struggles, some players have managed to overcome these obstacles and patiently waited for a breakout opportunity.
It is also worth noting that there are talented players that were assigned to a limited role in their old teams. However after getting traded and given a bigger role, they simply flourished and powered their way to basketball stardom. For this piece, let’s take a look at five players that became stars after getting traded.
If there is a player that took some time before stamping his class in the league, it was Jermaine O’Neal. Drafted out of high school in the same class as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Ray Allen, the 6’11 center was full of potential that the Blazers couldn’t resist. The franchise drafted him with their 17th overall pick during the 1996 NBA Draft. In fact, at that time O’Neal eventually became the youngest player to play in the NBA at that time.
O’Neal, however, couldn’t shine in Rip City. With the roster already composed of solid bigs in Rasheed Wallace, Brian Grant, and Arvydas Sabonis, the high school standout just couldn’t get it going. O’Neal only averaged 3.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 0.3 assists per game. His limited production forced team management to ship him to the Indiana Pacers for Dale Davis.
Fortunately, O’Neal emerged to become a star for the Pacers. After the trade, the Pacers big man bagged the Most Improved Player Award in 2002. He also racked up six straight NBA All-Star distinctions and was named to three All-NBA Teams. For the Pacers, he was a walking double-double post-up threat as he averaged 18.6 points and 9.6 boards per game in eight seasons with the team. With O’Neal around, the Pacers reached the postseason for six straight years including an Eastern Conference Finals stint in the 2004 NBA Playoffs.
Although O’Neal had a frustrating stint with the Portland Trailblazers, his trade to the Pacers was indeed a blessing in disguise that allowed him to establish himself as one of the best big men during his peak years.
Ben Wallace was certainly a diamond in the rough. As an undersized center that played his college years in a NCAA Division II school, Wallace did not really gain a lot of suitors when he entered the draft in 1996. In fact, as the draft concluded, the 6’9 center was undrafted. Although Washington eventually took a chance on him, Wallace was hardly utilized. He only averaged 3.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game off the bench.
Wallace would only start his rise in the NBA when he was traded to the Orlando Magic for Isaac Austin. As part of the famous Heart & Hustle Magic team, Wallace started to establish himself as a legitimate starter in the league. His Magic stint saw him put up 4.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per outing.
Although his stint in Orlando was decent, his true rise to stardom came when he was traded to the Detroit Pistons for Grant Hill. Given how Hill was a rising star that time, the trade was dubbed as a one-sided one. However as history unfolded, we all found out which team benefitted from the trade.
Wallace eventually blossomed into a star center that emphasized on defense and hustle. His presence gave the team a defensive anchor in the paint. The 6’9 big man eventually became the league leader in blocks and rebounds. He was also named the Defensive Player of the Year on four separate occasions. It was also worth noting he made the All-NBA Team and All-Defensive Teams five and six times, respectively. But the most important of all, Wallace helped the Pistons win the NBA Championship in 2004 when they defeated the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers which were led by the late Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. In the championship clinching game, Wallace dropped a monster double double that saw him register 18 points and 22 rebounds while trying to limit Shaquille O’Neal, which is not an easy task at all.
For a player that wasn’t highly recruited in the league and averaged less than five points a game, Wallace came a long way to achieve his career milestones.
Drafted with the second overall pick in the draft, Victor Oladipo was selected by the Orlando Magic to be the next star of the franchise after the departure of Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, Oladipo just couldn’t live up to the expectations in his stint with Orlando. Although he still managed to put up 15.9 points per game and showcased his perimeter defense in three seasons with the Magic, his outside shooting was inefficient. The 6’4 guard’s perimeter game on offense left team management unimpressed as he only shot 33.9% from beyond the arc. Furthermore, Oladipo just couldn’t carry a young Magic team back to the postseason.
With team management left unimpressed and Evan Fournier’s better perimeter game, the Magic eventually shipped Oladipo to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Domantas Sabonis and Serge Ibaka. Oladipo was decent with the Thunder, as he averaged 15.9 points per outing. However, his rise to stardom started when he was shipped to the Indiana Pacers for Paul George.
Oladipo improved his numbers and averaged 20.7 points per outing in four seasons so far with the Pacers. Furthermore, he also bagged the Most Improved Player Award in his first year with Indiana. The 6’4 guard was also able to collect two straight All-Star declarations.
Although Oladipo has suffered a ruptured tendon that forced him to sit out a lot of games, he has so far returned to action successfully last season and will prove to everyone that he is back in all star form in this 2020-2021 season.
With his rise in Indiana, Oladipo proved that he wasn’t only a steady starter but an elite guard that a franchise can build around.
Before he was a star for the Toronto Raptors, Kyle Lowry was just another role player back in the days. While playing for the team that drafted him, the Memphis Grizzlies, Lowry was hardly a factor when he stepped into the NBA court as he was barely part of the team’s rotation. Furthermore, his lack of playing time certainly prevented him from shining on the court. In three forgettable seasons with the Grizzlies, he only averaged 8.6 points and 3.6 dimes per game.
The spitfire guard was eventually traded to the Houston Rockets in a multi-team trade, where finally had the opportunity to show flashes of his potential. Lowry showed a steady improvement in his production while with the Rockets as he put up 11.6 points and 5.6 assists per outing in four seasons which promoted him the team’s starting guard.
However, Lowry would reach his peak when he played for the Toronto Raptors. After a trade that sent Gary Forbes to Houston and Lowry to the Raptors, it wouldn’t be long before the 6’0 guard established himself as one of the best playmakers in the league. In a Raptors uniform, Lowry was declared an NBA All-Star for six straight years and was also part of the All-NBA Third Team on one occasion. But more importantly, Lowry played a key role in bringing the Raptors its first ever NBA championship in 2019 by dethroning the heavily stacked Golden State Warriors. In the 2019 Playoffs, Lowry averaged 15.0 points, 6.6 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per outing. Although Lowry was not a Finals MVP candidate, his all-star presence and timely contributions played a big part in the team’s success.
The Beard wasn’t all too bad when he came off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder, as he averaged 12.7 points per game. In fact, Harden would also win the Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 as his scoring certainly gave a boost to the all-star duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He would also play a role in helping the Thunder reach the NBA Finals that year.
However, Harden would solidify himself as a superstar in the league when he was part of a multiplayer trade to the Houston Rockets. For the Rockets, Harden was entrusted to become the face of the franchise and his individual performance became better than ever. In eight seasons so far with Houston, Harden has averaged 29.6 points, 7.7 assists, and 6.0 rebounds per game. Since his arrival with the Rockets, The Beard has been to eight All-Star games, earned six All-NBA team distinctions, and bagged the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 2018. He has also led the league in scoring and assists as the main cornerstone of the Houston Rockets.
Harden certainly proved to everyone that he was capable of carrying the scoring responsibilities of a franchise superstar when he moved to Houston. Thus, he successfully evolved from a role player into a superstar which is not an easy feat.
Unfortunately, the Rockets star is currently dealing a lot of issues off the court. First, Harden made headlines for his absence in the initial stages of the team’s training camp, as he was reportedly seen partying in various cities. Aside from this, the eight time All-Star has also demanded a trade from his team despite bringing John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins to Houston. And just shortly after, Harden was also penalized for breaching COVID-19 protocols as the NBA fined him for $50,000. His breach in protocol also played a role in the postponement of the Houston Rockets’ season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder, as the team couldn’t field at least eight players for the game.
The future of James Harden with the Houston Rockets is no doubt a big question mark. However one thing is for sure, if Harden can sort out his off-court issues, the former league MVP is surely a talented player that can bring a lot of star power to any team he plays for.