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NBA Stars Who Made Their Drafting Teams Regret Letting Them Go

From Kobe to Kawhi, these players still haunt the dreams of GMs who let them slip away.

Kobe Bryant and more NBA stars who made their drafting teams regret letting them go
Credit-Getty/Joker Mag Illustration

The pressure is high when it comes to drafting NBA players. Your pick may determine whether your team becomes an instant success or sinks like a rock.

Sometimes teams hit the jackpot, and sometimes they make a mistake that haunts them forever.

Sometimes they draft a player who becomes an NBA legend, only to trade him away without giving him a chance. And forced to watch on as he shines elsewhere.

Here’s our list of NBA players who made their drafting teams regret letting them go – whether through trade or free agency.

Kobe Bryant – Charlotte Hornets

Kobe Bryant was the first guard drafted directly out of high school.

Back in 1996, the Charlotte Hornets selected Kobe Bryant as the 13th overall pick in the NBA Draft. However, he was swiftly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on draft night in exchange for Vlade Divac.

Now, the Serbian star was hardly a bad player, but he couldn’t lace the Black Mamba’s boots.

Kobe went on to become one of the greatest inspirations to ever grace the court, winning 5 NBA championships, 18 All-Star appearances, and a league MVP award.

Shaquille O’Neal – Orlando Magic

Shaquille O’Neal, the first overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic, played a pivotal role in leading the team to the NBA Finals in the 1994-95 season.

However, in 1996, Shaq left the Magic after a contract dispute and joined the Los Angeles Lakers, where he continued his illustrious career, winning three consecutive NBA championships.

Kevin Durant – Seattle Supersonics/OKC Thunder

The Seattle Supersonics (later the OKC Thunder) drafted Kevin Durant with the second overall pick in the 2007 draft. He established himself as one of the finest players under the OKC Thunder banner, gathering numerous accolades.

However, in 2016, Durant decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors as a free agent. It was in California that the 35-year-old finally won his first two NBA championships.

He became a cornerstone of a Warriors team that dominated the league during his tenure. Durant has since moved on to the Brooklyn Nets, where he currently plies his trade.

Durant will be hoping to lead the Nets deep into the postseason this season. Last year, they were knocked off in the Conference Semifinals by the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. Despite Durant playing at an elite level this season, NBA odds and betting lines list the Nets’ chances to win the Larry O’Brien championship at +20000, meaning they are considered a longshot to win it at all in 2024.

Chris Paul – New Orleans/Charlotte Hornets

Basketball player Chris Paul's motivational quote says "Keep practicing. Never let someone tell you you're too small or too slow."

Chris Paul was drafted by the Hornets with the fourth pick in 2005 and made an instant impact by winning the Rookie of the Year award. The 6’0″ point guard became a six-time All-Star with his drafting team and helped them to the playoffs on numerous occasions.

Despite that, he was traded from the Hornets to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011, and he continued to dominate in SoCal. While he never managed to claim that elusive NBA championship ring, he continued to post blistering numbers and secured All-Star honors year after year.

RELATED: The Amazing Stories Behind the Shortest NBA Players Ever

Kawhi Leonard – Indiana Pacers

Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James join two former underdog NBA franchises in a battle for Los Angeles
Credit-Getty/USA TODAY/AP/Joker Mag Illustration

Kawhi Leonard was originally drafted by the Indiana Pacers 15th overall back in 2011, but he was quickly traded to the San Antonio Spurs on draft night for George Hill.

Indiana had no idea what they were giving up, as “The Klaw” went on to become a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and led the Spurs to an NBA championship in 2014. 

He would claim a second championship ring five years later when he led the Toronto Raptors to the Larry O’Brien, marking the first time in history that the trophy had been claimed by a team based outside of the United States.

The Pacers, on the other hand, struggled to compete in the Eastern Conference, and that remains the case even to this day.

Paul George – Indiana Pacers

Paul George Resurgence by Joker Mag, the home of the underdog
Credit-Getty/Joker Mag Illustration

Speaking of the Pacers, they made another regretful move in 2017 when they traded away Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The now-33-year-old had been the face of the franchise for years, but the Pacers decided to move on from him after a disappointing postseason.

The Thunder, on the other hand, were more than happy to add him to their roster, and the Palmdale native went on to put up some of the best numbers of his career in Oklahoma City, becoming an All-Star once again before eventually being traded to the LA Clippers.

Dirk Nowitzki – Milwaukee Bucks

Corey Brewer on the Miami Heat making fun of Dirk Nowitzki's illness during the NBA Finals: "Oh for sure Dirk took it personally...they were making fun of the big guy. You can't make fun of the big guy."

Dirk Nowitzki, the German sensation, was initially drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998 but was swiftly traded to the Dallas Mavericks. In Dallas, he became one of the most beloved players in franchise history, leading the Mavericks to their first and only NBA championship in 2011.

Despite Milwaukee winning an NBA Championship after Nowitzki’s departure, it was Giannis Antetokounmpo’s brilliance that brought them to the summit two years after Nowitzki’s retirement.

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