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Five Spurs trades that were the most painful for fans

No one likes to see fan-favorites traded, even if it works out for the better in the end.

Boston Celtics v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Sometimes, even the best trades can also be the most heartbreaking at the time they happen, usually because of player that is being lost. That can be especially true in San Antonio, where as the only team in the city, fans can become more attached to players than usual, even role players. While the Spurs weren’t in the trade market often until recently, and they are usually very calculated and only make moves for a purpose, it doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult choices to make when conducting a trade.

Today, we will be looking at five trades that were the most painful for fans when they happened because of who was lost, but in typical Spurs fashion most of them still worked out in the end. But first...

Honorable Mention: Dejounte Murray for picks (2022)

While this will go down as a very noteworthy trade in Spurs history since it showed what direction the Spurs were picking and it paid off both in the short and long term, it doesn’t make the top five in terms of heartbreak just because Murray wasn’t exactly an endearing personality, he didn’t take long to alienate himself from fans after the trade, and fans had become somewhat immune to the shock of trades at this point (especially due to one listed below). Now, onto the top five.

5. Sean Elliott for Dennis Rodman (1993)

I admit I was only seven-years-old and not watching the Spurs regularly when this trade went down, but looking back, it definitely would have hurt my feelings, so I can only imagine what die-hard fans of the time thought. (Or maybe I have this completely wrong, so if you were watching back then, let me know.) Still, I knew who Elliott was and came to love him as I began watching the Spurs religiously a few years later, and considering his legacy with the Spurs today, it’s weird knowing he didn’t spend his entire career here, even if it was for just one season.

Was it worth it? I’d call it a wash. While Rodman only spent two seasons with the Spurs, his defense and grit almost helped them reach their first Finals in 1995 before they were upset by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. However, his childish attitude was too much, and he was shipped to Chicago. The Spurs also brought Elliott back after just one season in Detroit, and he later helped them win their first championship (albeit after Rodman won three more with the Bulls). In all, this trade was short-lived, changed nothing over the course of Spurs history, and mainly just robbed us of one year of prime Elliott.

4. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl (2018)

The heartbreak from this trade is 75% about the why and 25% about the who. By the time Leonard was traded, fans were done with the drama from him and Uncle Dennis, and there was almost a sense of relief (which keeps this trade from ranking higher). It still hurt that it came to this with him, but the “who” part of the heartbreak comes more from Green being included in the trade. He had become a fan favorite and ultimate Spurs underdog story, and the main response from fans to this trade was, “But why Danny?!”

Was it worth it? Sorta. The drama needed to end, and the Spurs did what they had to do to move on, but it would be a lie to say the results were as hoped. While they got one more playoff appearance out of the DeRozan era and plenty of production from Poeltl, Leonard and Green have combined for three more championships since.

3. Malik Rose for Nazr Mohammed (2005)

This is the first Spurs trade that truly upset me as a fan. I may have cried a little and legitimately hated Gregg Popovich for a game or two after. (If I recall, fans even booed Pop at the first home game after this trade.) Rose was and still is one of the Spursiest Spurs of all time. He’s the one player I met multiple times, sometimes randomly, and I loved talking to him. This trade truly hurt my heart.

Was it worth it? Yes. However briefly, Mohammed provided the Spurs with the defensive presence at center they had been lacking since David Robinson retired, and they needed every bit of it to get by the defending champion Pistons to win the championship. While he ultimately went down as just one of many in a long line of centers to start next to Tim Duncan, the trade paid off.

2. Derrick White for Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford (2022)

Maybe recency bias plays a role in this one being so high, but this was another shocking trade that left fans’ hearts hurting when it happened. Another ultimate Spurs underdog story and fan favorite, everyone was hoping White would be a part of their future. It hurt seeing him go, and it hurts seeing him in another uniform, but as a sign to what a great human being he is, Spurs fans are also finding themselves thrilled to see him thriving as the ultimate role player with the Celtics. That’s how much he is still loved here.

Was it worth it? Considering this was one of several tank moves, and the Spurs ended up with the ultimate prize in Victor Wembanyama, yes it was. However, if they hadn’t gotten lucky in the lottery and the tank dragged on for many more seasons, fans would probably still be wishing this trade had never happened because it wouldn’t have been worth the pain.

1. George Hill for Kawhi Leonard (2011)

Even Pop cried over this trade, that’s how much it hurt. While everyone knew the aging Spurs needed to change things up and start finding their future, no one saw this coming until it was announced during the draft, and the shock of learning Hill was gone is to this day the main memory I have of that night. Several Spurs players expressed sadness about losing Hill as well, making this the most heartbreaking Spurs trade of all time.

Was it worth it? Of course it was. While Leonard ultimately cut his Spurs career short, it’s probably the best trade in team history since they essentially traded a glorified role player for what turned out to be a top-10 player and got another championship out of it. Still, it just goes to show that sometimes even the best trade can still be the most painful when the player going out is an all-time fan favorite.

What do you think, Pounders? What trade was the most painful for you when it happened? Are there any that are missing from this list? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.