Sometimes the most minor assets being exchanged between teams can result in the course of NBA history changing dramatically. Picks are often thrown around into packages to make them more lucrative, especially 2nd round ones. Teams usually ask for a pick to “win the trade,” without a specific player in mind they are targeting. But every once in a while, you can strike gold with the right player falling into your arms.
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of those teams that are always relevant and fun to watch no matter how good of a team they have purely because of the bright lights and illustrious history of the franchise. After all, 17 championships, numerous Hall-of-Fame players, and some of the most iconic teams ever bring a certain glamour to the purple and gold uniform. Even though they never had trouble bringing in stars or talent through free agency, one of their best deals happened in 1980, with a simple trade involving a draft pick.
During the 1979-1980 season, the Lakers and the Cavaliers engaged in a trade that would send Don Ford and the 22nd pick in the Draft to Cleveland in exchange for Butch Lee and a future first-round pick in the 1982 Draft. It was a trade that didn’t really sound off at the time, as it didn’t involve any stars, but rather a few serviceable role players and a few picks. But little did the Lakers know what that future first-round pick would bring them.
The Cavs were an average team at the time, hovering in mediocrity and trying to get into the playoffs, so their first-round pick was projected to be of little value. But things would go bad quickly for them in the 1981-1982 season, with the Cavs having the worst record in the league and one of their worst seasons in franchise history.
It was a horrible time to be a Cavaliers fan, as they didn’t even get the chance to get young talent in the Draft because the Lakers had their first-round pick. Out of nowhere, the Lakers would hit the lottery and have a chance at the number one pick. In a coin toss between the Lakers and the San Diego Clippers, luck would be on the Lakers’ side again, as the coin landed on their selection and got them the number one pick, which they would use to select James Worthy.
The rest was history, as James Worthy became one of the greatest small forwards and Lakers ever to play in the NBA. Worthy spent his entire 12-year career in Los Angeles, winning three championships and notching 7x All-Star appearances, as a key part of the “Showtime” Lakers next to Magic Johnson. Looking back at that trade in 1980, you could argue it is one of the biggest steals and best trades ever, as the Lakers had the luck of turning a seamlessly worthless draft pick into a Hall-of-Fame player that helped them win several championships. Sometimes you just gotta be lucky.