Getting something for nothing

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Building a team is like putting together a puzzle, with each piece complementing the other to form one collective unit.

Most teams are a mishmash of pieces that will never come together to form anything resembling a single entity. Sometimes, however, a team can find that all-important missing piece in the most unusual places.

And a lot of times, for one reason for another, that great player is acquired for nothing.

Nearly every great team that we've seen in the past 15 years, has pulled off one of these trades, including this year's Pats.

Let's review how some of these clubs, including New England, acquired their final championship piece.

The Deal: April 29, 2007 -- Acquired Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders for a fourth round draft pick (John Bowie).

It's been two years since the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. It's been about that long since anyone has heard from Moss, who was shipped from Minnesota to the NFL's equivalent of Siberia, the Oakland Raiders in 2004. While Moss was a five-time Pro Bowler with the Vikings, he was an irritated receiver in Oakland, bickering with coaches and teammates on his way to 553 receiving yard and one touchdown last season despite starting 13 games. The Raiders dealt him to the Patriots for a second-day draft pick in April, giving Tom Brady and New England the premier receiving threat they have always craved. After nine games Moss has basically doubled his season totals from last year and is on pace to have a career-year. Oh, and the Raiders? Do you even need to ask?

The Deal: August 26, 1992 -- Acquired Charles Haley from the San Francisco 49ers for a second round draft pick (Adrian Hardy).

Jerry Jones has long maintained that the Cowboys couldn't spell Super Bowl before Haley arrived in Dallas. It was a feeling echoed by Al Davis moments after the trade was completed when he called Jones and congratulated him on winning the Super August. The Cowboys would not only win the Super Bowl that season but would go on to win three Super Bowls in the next four years after the trade, beating the 49ers in consecutive NFC Championship games. The reason the 49ers were willing to gift-wrap Haley to Dallas, an immensely talented team that was a pass rusher away from winning it all, was that he and his volatile personality had become a cancer in the 49ers locker room. Not so coincidently enough, the same day the 49ers traded Haley to Dallas, they named Steve Young the starting quarterback over Joe Montana. It was Haley who nearly knocked out Young after a game against the Raiders the previous season only to be restrained by former teammate Ronnie Lott, who was called over from the opposing locker room. Over the next five seasons, Haley would have plenty of opportunities to knock down Young and the 49ers.

The Deal: July 28, 1995 -- Acquired David Cone from the Toronto Blue Jays for minor league pitchers Marty Janzsen, Jason Jarvis and Mike Gordon.

The Yankees most recent dynasty began in 1995, and no player was more influential to the turnaround of the pinstripes than Cone. He went 9-2 during the Yankees playoff push in '95 and during the next five seasons became a team leader on a squad that won four World Series. "We got him for nothing," said Don Mattingly at the time. "I don't even know the other three guys." Neither would Blue Jays fans. None of the pitchers they acquired would play in the majors. Meanwhile Cone was named to the All-Star team twice, led the AL in wins with 20 in 1998, compiled a 55-38 record and pitched a perfect game. As if that wasn't enough, the Yankees would return to the scene of the crime three years later to steal Roger Clemens from Toronto for David Wells and a couple of journeymen. "The Yankees," a Toronto executive told the New York Times after the trade, "are in a league of their own." Yes, thanks to you they were.

The Deal: October 2, 1995 -- Acquired Dennis Rodman from the San Antonio Spurs for Will Perdue.

It may be hard to remember, but there was a time in the late '90's when Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson walked off the floor at the United Airlines Arena as playoff losers. The Bulls may have won three straight championships from 1991-93 but that was a distant memory as former teammate Horace Grant was carried off the floor after Chicago was knocked out of the 1995 playoffs by the Orlando Magic, whose frontline overpowered the Bulls. That all changed when Chicago sent benchwarmer Will Perdue to the Spurs for the eccentric Dennis Rodman, who had just helped San Antonio to the best record in the league the previous season. On the Bulls, Rodman and his ever-changing hair color proved to be the final piece on a championship team that won a league record 72 games in 1996. With Rodman manning the boards and doing the dirty work on the frontline the Bulls would go on to win three straight championships during his three season in Chicago.

The Deal: June 28, 1996 -- AcquiredKobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets for Vlade Divac.

In hindsight, this has to be one of the worst trades in sports history, but at the time it was just the opposite. The Lakers were trading a proven starting center to Charlotte for a skinny high school guard that was years away from contributing anything. Two years later, Divac was on his way out of Charlotte and Bryant was the youngest player to ever start an All-Star game. Within four years of the deal, Bryant had already become one of the best players in the NBA and was on his way to leading the Lakers to three straight championships and four Finals appearances alongside Shaquille O'Neal, who replaced Divac in the middle. As luck would have it, Divac ended his career replacing O'Neal for a season in Los Angeles, playing alongside Bryant, two years after the Hornets left Charlotte and relocated to New Orleans.

The Deal: February 20, 2004 -- Acquired Rasheed Wallace from the Atlanta Hawks in a three-team trade involving the Boston Celtics that also netted the Pistons Mike James for Zeljko Rebraca, Bob Sura, Chucky Atkins and a first-round draft pick (Tony Allen).

Wallace falls under the same category as most players on this list: incredibly talented individuals with personality problems who become too much of a headache for their teams and eventually get dealt for far less than they are worth. In 2004 Wallace was traded twice in span of eight days, from Portland to Atlanta and then to Detroit. It was the Hawks' decision to ship Wallace to the Pistons, which was a power forward away from being an elite team, for a trio of role players that sent shockwaves through the NBA. "That's going to make the Pistons awfully tough," said a stunned Paul Silas after hearing of the trade. "I just don't know what some people are thinking about." Wallace was the final piece of a dream-like starting lineup that included Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace that went on to win the NBA Championship and advance to the Finals the following year.