Worst Trade No. 6: Sending Bill Laimbeer to start the Bad Boys
One of the most iconic teams in NBA history were the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons, a team that fought its way to the top of the Eastern Conference and won two consecutive titles in 1989 and 1990. Names such as Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman became household personalities as they knocked their opponents around.
The quintessential member of the Bad Boys was Bill Laimbeer, a burly center who wasn’t afraid to administer violent justice to anyone who trespassed on the paint. While Laimbeer seemed like a lifelong Piston, he actually got his start on another East team: the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After going 65th (!) in the 1979 NBA Draft, Laimbeer played a year in Italy before the Cavaliers brought him over. He played in 81 games as a rookie and the first 50 of the next season for the Cavs before they traded him to the Pistons.
Unlike many of the deals on this list, you can see something akin to sound process from Cleveland. Laimbeer was a late-round pick who had a strong start to his career and was worth something in a trade; they were trying to “sell-high” on Laimbeer, moving him for two players, a future first and a second.
The problem is that Laimbeer was just getting started, and established himself as one of the better centers in the league. The players the Cavs got back were nothing special, and the first-round pick was used on a bust. They weren’t crazy for making the deal, but their player evaluations on both sides were poor, and as such they got to watch Laimbeer rule the East for years while they stayed home when the games mattered the most.